Soulbound – Book 1: Chapter 8


The Connections Trilogy_Soulbound_1


The First Connection

Chapter 8

Gird yourself, Lower Being, for that was but the simple truth of things. What is yet to come shall render all you know unto dust. That which should not yet be, that which should never be, and that which used to be now tangle together on their disparate paths.

When the Scooby meeting concluded, Giles returned to his office with Wesley trailing behind him. The two Watchers planned to discuss the night’s events minus the teenagers. There were potentially serious consequences to Angel’s return and their theories about the effects of Willow’s spells. Thing that might produce longterm issues were better considered away from curious ears.

Xander opted to go straight home having decided he had enough talk of vampires, especially that one, soul or no soul. His brain hurt from all the drama. Angel was back. Great, just great! In same the way that an ingrown toenail was great. Yeah, he was so done talking about Angel.

Feeling quite the opposite, the girls made their own plans for a night at the Summers’ house. They were far from finished with the subject of Angel’s reappearance, Buffy’s decision to hide it from everyone, and of course, those shocking theories linking him to Cordelia. Even though it was a school night, a sleepover seemed the only way to go.

A movie was playing on the television screen, but it was simply a cover for their true purpose. “So, how do we tell Joyce that Angel is back?” Cordelia cut right to it as they settled down on the living room floor.

Buffy sucked in a gasp of air. “We don’t! Mom will freak. As far as she’s concerned, he’s your psycho stalker.”

Angelus had certainly given everyone cause to think so. “Joyce and I had a long talk about Angel and Angelus while you were, um, out of town. I told her all about him and the curse.”

“Mom knows that Angel is a vampire?” Buffy’s jaw dropped in shock.

None of them had known exactly what happened during Buffy’s final confrontation with Angelus except that the world seemed to be safe. It had not been swallowed up by Acathla’s hell dimension. Willow had been confident that the soul restoration spell had worked on Angel, but he had vanished, and Buffy had disappeared, too. The pain of everything that happened was too much to bear, and she had run away without a word to any of them.

Squirming into a comfy position with a large throw pillow, Willow said, “Yup! She knows you’re the Slayer, too,” shrugging it off. “Vamps and demons are everyday things with your mom now. Who do you think made cookies after our long patrols while you were gone?”

Hiding the truth from Joyce Summers had never been a consideration for Cordelia. She had been in pain over the loss of her daughter. Just like Cordelia’s overwhelming distress over the loss of Angelus, even if she knew there was no other choice except the one Buffy had made. “It was kind of a shock at first,” she revealed, “but it was the only fair thing to do.”

“Fair! You basically told Mom that I gave my virginity to a vampire.”

“Not in so many words,” Cordelia pleaded her case. “I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. She didn’t either, not at first, anyway. Besides, you’re not the only one.”

With a disgusted little sigh, Buffy sneered, “Don’t remind me.”

“None of us knew why you disappeared. I thought it would make her feel better to know that Angel had died saving the world, but I didn’t want her to think you had killed a human.”

It didn’t matter that Angel’s death was tragic or heroic. In her mother’s eyes, he was still responsible for causing her daughter pain. Joyce had also been the one to help Cordelia through her struggles since her own parents were rarely in town long enough to take notice. “Buffy, I told her that you were in love, and that Angel loved you, too.”

Cordelia ached every time she thought about their feelings, but it was the truth, and needed to be said. Maybe if she kept that thought on a repetitive loop it would finally sink in that her own conflicted emotions about Angelus had just as much to do with Angel as they did with his soulless self. Angel had never been in love with her, while Angelus was incapable of it. Knowing that changed nothing.

Seeing Angel again had only cemented her feelings. When she learned that Angelus planned to end her life and turn her into a vampire, Cordelia’s survival instincts had kicked in. She overcame the effects of Willow’s spell, which compelled her to respond to his every need, and to love him no matter how he might behave. Those feelings never really went away, she realized, assuming that the magical effects lingered, but nothing felt forced. Now there was a connection between them no spell could break. They were bound together in ways she did not understand. One thing was perfectly clear. No way would she let this get to her. Angel needed her blood, not her love.

Convincing Buffy was a lot easier than convincing herself. “Angelus only wanted me because I threw myself at him. What we had was hot, passionate, intense, but it wasn’t real, was it?”

After the revelations and theories that came out about Angel’s soul at the meeting earlier, Buffy wondered if Cordelia was trying to distance herself from potential heartbreak. Yes, Angel’s love belonged only to her, and had bupkis to do with the cheerleader. There was nothing Buffy could do about her past physical relationship with Angelus, but there had to be a way to circumvent the consequences of this soul-binding connection.

Willow grabbed a pillow from the floor and hugged it tight looking for a little comfort from her self-imposed guilt. “Magic made it impossible to resist him. It amplified your feelings. Whatever you felt before, it just made you want more.” All because she had wanted a little revenge for Cordelia kissing Xander.

It still blew Buffy’s mind. The fact that Cordelia and Xander had been having secret make-out sessions was just as shocking as Willow’s jealous reaction to discovering them. Maybe it had all started off as a magical spell gone wrong, but things had happened that could not be taken back. What she had witnessed last night when Cordelia pulled Angel back from the edge of insanity might have seemed unreal, but it was undeniable.

“You’re Angel’s soulmate,” Buffy reminded finding it difficult to sneer and pout at the same time. “His demon’s mate. You’ve been with him. That’s real enough.”

Cordelia actually agreed. Everything she had felt for Angelus seemed real at the time. The passing months had made her question it, but it flamed to life again last night when Angel held her in his arms. “This vampire mate thing is— I-I don’t know what it is yet. Giles and Wesley seem to think I have to be around to help Angel recover.”

Willow wondered, “What about after he’s better?”

The brunette shrugged noncommittally.

“Pretending you don’t care?” Buffy recognized the deflection for what it was. “I’ve seen you with Angel. I heard what you said.”

“Those spells—”

“Don’t change a thing!” Buffy interrupted snapping back.

Hugging her pillow a little tighter, Willow stammered another apology. She didn’t know if she could ever apologize enough for interfering. First, for the unrequited love spell, which backfired. Then for binding Angel’s soul to his mate, which everybody knew should be Buffy, but was not. Distraught, the young witch felt lower than the slimiest pond scum.

Buffy hugged her friend assuring her that she did not hate her. “I love you for what you tried to do, Willow,” she told the girl. Sounding more calm than she felt, adding, “Things just don’t always work out.”

“Y-you’re not gonna leave Sunnydale again,” the idea popped into her head. “Are you?”

Honestly, the thought had not occurred to Buffy. “No, I’m back for good. I realized that I can’t run away from my life when it gets tough. I have to deal.”

“So let’s deal,” Cordelia figured they could manage to make Angel their priority. “Can we work this out? Be friends again— if we ever were— to figure a way to make Angel get better, and keep you two together?”

Startled at the offer of a peaceful solution, Buffy had to wonder how it would work. “Friends? Sure,” she said with a hint of the hesitancy she was feeling. “Angel seems to need you, or your blood, or both. Is that just temporary?”

“Why are you looking at me?” gulped Willow when they both turned to her for answers. “I don’t know. Ask Angel, or Wesley, or Giles.” Neither one would want to hear her suspicions, so it was better that someone else gave them the news. Already in the doghouse of her own making, she saw no reason to dig a grave under it, too.

“Whatever! Spells or no spells, Angel needs my help. He’s getting it no matter what,” Cordelia sounded almost defiant as if daring them to try to dispute her right to be useful.

Buffy calmly pointed out, “No one said you couldn’t help, Cor. There’s no need to be pushy about it.”

Especially because Cordelia had to be there for more than just Angel’s recovery. Wesley’s soulmate theory revealed she was the one who kept his soul tethered in place. Without some creative thinking there was no way Buffy would ever be able to be with Angel intimately ever again. It would mean perpetual friendship, and dying just a little bit every time she wanted to make love with him, but couldn’t.

“Why are you so eager to help me?” Buffy had to ask. She was certain that Cordelia had to be motivated by something other than a need to help restore her relationship with Angel to what it might have been if he had never lost his soul.

Cordelia quickly corrected her. “I’m helping Angel.” Anyone else that might require handholding, coddling, or extraordinary measures to improve their love lives could keep their needs to themselves. This was entirely about him, and because it seemed essential to secure anything that would result in his wellbeing—even if that meant finding a way to let him be with Buffy without losing his soul.

“Okay. I do get that.” Deciding not to question her motives any further, Buffy simply accepted that they were going to work together to fix everything.

Willow listened in on the planning session. They kept it very simple. Too simple, she thought. “What happens if Angel and Buffy decide to, um, get frisky?”

“Nothing!” Cordelia sounded a little snippy. “That’s the point. His soul will be safe.”

“You think Angel is going to do stuff to Buffy with you there?” Willow asked only to experience a weird sense of déjà vu. That sounded a lot like a question she had asked Angelus. Getting frisky was the least of it where he was concerned, but this was Angel.

Staring back at her, Cordelia shrugged, “Whatever happens, happens.”

Buffy declared, “I have an idea. We’ll have to go shopping.”

“Anything that takes me to the mall sounds like a great idea,” Cordelia agreed to the plan whatever it entailed. “Meet me at my locker after sixth period tomorrow. We can take my car.”

“Sure.”

Asking Willow if she was going to tag along, Buffy received a negative shake. “Giles kinda put me in detention for taking those two reference books without his permission.”

The trip to the mall was a short one. Neither of them wanted to linger because they knew Angel expected their arrival. Cordelia had a habit of driving like she was being chased by demons, so the Corvette got them from the mall to Crawford Street in no time. The cobblestones were cracked with age crunching under the tires as the car moved along the long driveway that kept the old fire ravaged mansion hidden from view. Even before Cordelia could put the car into park, Buffy opened the door, hopped out, and was halfway up the front steps when she realized she had forgotten something.

“You didn’t even close the door,” Cordelia tossed a complaint. “I’m not your chauffeur.”

Returning, Buffy leaned back into the car, grimacing a little because she figured her request might not go over so well, either. “I forgot to tell you we needed to stop by the butcher shop for more blood.”

“Seriously? We just got here. I want to see Angel. He’s still chained to the wall, and I’m sure he heard us pull up.”

“Can you go? It’s not that close, and you’ve got the car.”

Cordelia was not happy about having to run errands instead of going in to see for herself that Angel was okay. He had been so wild last night, still not quite like himself even if he was no longer the feral beast that Buffy found in the woods. The memory of his touch, those kisses, and the sting of his bite lingered even now.

Realizing that sitting there arguing about it would only delay things further, Cordelia huffed, “Fine. Just tell me where.”

Buffy described the location. It wasn’t so much a butcher shop as a slaughter house. The disgusted look on Cor’s face reminded the Slayer of her own feelings when she first sought out the local blood dealer. “Why are you so grossed out? You didn’t act that way when he drank your blood.”

“Sheesh! Give me a break. That was different, personal. This is new. I can handle it. I can handle anything.”

“Um, can you handle grabbing some Chinese takeout while you’re on that side of town? I’m getting hungry and we might be here a while.”

“Any other requests?” asked Cordelia sourly. “Maybe I could check on your dry cleaning while I’m at it.”

“Just hurry back.”

As soon as Buffy closed the car door, Cordelia zoomed off. It was only as the taillights disappeared around the drive that she realized it was going to be hard to keep the big news to herself until the other girl got back. She was excited to tell Angel that they could be together again—even if there was a catch or two.

“I’m nervous about seeing Angel,” she realized what the odd sensation had to be.

The struggles of the past few weeks had left her nerves a little raw. His feral state had required her to chain him up for his own protection as well as everyone else’s. Keeping Angel’s return a secret had been one of the most difficult things she had ever done, and she was so glad it was now out in the open.

Discovering Cordelia’s part in all of this made things worse. Since her own return to Sunnydale, Buffy had mentally boxed up Cordelia’s past relationship and stamped it with the name Angelus. Something to be completely separated from anything related to her own boyfriend. It wasn’t Angel who first seduced Cordelia, or repeatedly arranged secret assignations with her despite the dangers of getting caught on the end of a stake. Angel wasn’t the one whose fangs had marked her skin for all to see, for her to see, as if the scar on her neck not only proclaimed ownership, but was specifically designed to torment Buffy.

No, it was not Angel’s fault that Angelus had done any of those things, but the effects lingered. How was she going to tell him that Cordelia Chase, of all people, was now the key to their own future happiness?

Everything that happened between Angel and Cordelia last night had been instinct, not really him. The way he held her so desperately, as if they couldn’t get close enough, and then the way she willingly let him drink her blood. Though shocking, and a little terrifying to watch, Buffy had let it happen because Angel obviously needed it.

Afterwards, he had seemed better. Not entirely himself yet because he still seemed drawn to Cordelia, kissing both of them goodnight. That urge had to be temporary, she figured. Just a remnant of Angelus’ memory fogging up Angel’s brain. He might need more of her blood because of this bond the Watchers said they shared, at least until he was back on his feet again. Once that happened, Buffy felt certain that Angel would just think of this connection to Cordelia as a bad joke played on all of them by Angelus and Willow.

The front door creaked a little when she opened it just enough to get inside, rusty hinges making noise when she preferred to enter quietly. She blamed those nervous butterflies for any hesitancy, but wondered if it might also be because Angel had asked to remain chained up as if he worried he might slip back into that feral state again. What was she going to find?

She stood at the threshold of the lounge where Angel’s chains were looped through an iron ring bolted to the wall near the fireplace. Both it and the chains had already been there when Buffy brought him back to the mansion, a remnant of Angelus, Spike, and Drusilla’s time there no doubt. Choosing not to linger on the reasons for it, she had simply been relieved to find a way to secure him.

Angel was sitting on the floor, his back to the wall and his eyes closed. He seemed to be asleep or meditating, so she watched him for a few minutes, his handsome face and bare torso giving her plenty to think about. The unexpected, “Hello, Buffy,” caused her to startle when he greeted her even before opening his eyes.

“Angel!”

The vampire sat quietly for a moment, his eyes clear and lucent. “Yes, it’s me.”

Wondering how he knew she was worried about it, Buffy commented, “I know.”

Rising to his feet, the clanking of the manacles and chains sounded. Angel leaned back against the wall before speaking. “After last night, I had reason to doubt that it would be me talking to you today.”

Buffy’s mouth opened into a surprised circle when she realized that he had been worried about losing his soul last night. “Oh! You mean after you bit Cordelia?” Unable to talk about the very intimate activities that happened at the same time, she did not see why Angel would think it might be dangerous to his soul. That required perfect happiness, love, a moment of bliss, or so she had decided after Miss Calendar explained the curse. What did any of that have to do with Cordelia?

“There’s more to it.”

Whatever he meant, Angel did not sound pleased about it. Buffy had a notion that she would not like it, either. “Don’t feel guilty. Cordelia was happy to help you. Maybe you both got a little carried away. You’re still confused, and she must miss Angelus, as crazy as that seems.”

“My head is clear. I remember everything. Buffy, I’m so sorry.”

She wondered if the blanket apology covered every terrible tragedy his soulless self had inflicted upon them, or if it was just about last night’s shockingly sexual encounter with Cordelia. Even though their clothes had stayed on, for the most part, during their wild humping, bumping, writhing, grasping, clash of mouths and hands and bodies, they both reached a peak. The expression on Angel’s face after he swallowed her blood, and he morphed back into his human form, had been euphoric.

“This is hard for me, Angel. I thought you were gone forever. Cordelia blamed me for it, but she gets it, too. World had to be saved and all.”

“From me.”

“Angelus.”

Angel stared back in silence when she stressed the difference, but he obviously placed the blame on himself. “Did she suffer much?”

“Who, Cordelia? Because Angelus was gone?” Buffy honestly did not know why he would think Cor would care that much about a vampire who planned to turn her into one. Self-preservation had won out over the strength of Willow’s spell, and she had broken off her relationship with Angelus. “I wouldn’t know,” she had to admit. The suffering had definitely been hers. “I ran away. I left Sunnydale for a few months.”

If her actions surprised him, Angel did nothing to confirm it. She only felt strange sense of relief not to be pressed about it, at least until she realized that his thoughts were still focused on someone else. “Few can see past the shield Cordelia puts up. Withdrawal from a bond can be unbearable for some.”

“So Wesley was right about everything,” Buffy realized defeatedly. “You depend on her blood, you gave her yours, or—Angelus did. That’s why you needed it last night.”

“Yes,” he answered starkly. Then his brow scrunched down puzzling on a name he did not recognize. “Who is Wesley?”

With a wry laugh, Buffy realized that Angel had not been present for the new Watcher’s entry into her life. She remembered mentioning him during her Sunnydale tales to Angel, but he obviously did not recall it. Must have been during one of his confused periods.

“Long story,” she huffed irritably. “I’ll tell you everything later. The short version is that Giles was fired and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is my new Watcher. I’m so lucky to have him.” She added after a dramatic pause, “That was my sarcastic voice.”

“I got that,” Angel quipped. “Looks like I have been away for a while.”

“Too long.”

“So what does this Watcher think he knows?”

“Everything, I suppose. Wesley constantly reminds everyone about his vampire studies for the Watcher’s Council. He’s got a theory about you and Cordelia and your soul.”

Angel shifted away from the wall. “Where is Cordelia? Both of you said you would come back. I thought she would be here, too.”

Maybe he needed a snack, reasoned Buffy. He seemed anxious about it. “She’s on her way.”

“Good.” That one simple word thickened his voice giving away far more than his placid expression. “What’s the theory?”

Buffy pressed her lips together as if superglued shut and wishing that Angel had waited to ask that question. “Cordy will be here soon. We could just let her explain.”

“Now, Buffy.”

“Okay, just no killing the messenger.” Taking a step closer, she noticed that her quip caused his brow to crease in concern.

This was something Buffy did not want to talk about. She drew in a big breath of air, and let out a long sigh. “You may not remember because we talked about what happened on my birthday while you were still a little confused,” she began only to hear Angel confirm that he recalled most of it, “but when the gypsies cursed you with a soul they did not make it permanent. All it took to undo it was one moment of bliss and—poof! No more soul.”

Angel needed no reminders. His memory of that night was crystal clear from start to finish, even now. “Old news.”

It was a lot more than that to Buffy who felt a visceral response every time it rained as her memories filled with thoughts of making love to Angel, and the dream that turned into a living nightmare. “Angelus was really into Cordelia, obsessively into her, and she felt the same way for a while thanks to Willow’s spell. You know about the spell, right?”

A clipped response followed, “Yes.”

“So, it was all just a thing. A fake thing,” Buffy emphasized. That might be her own theory, but it was important. “Angelus didn’t know at first, or didn’t care. The way Cordelia tells it there was a lot of . . . a lot of sex, and biting, and sharing of blood.”

Pausing to assess his reaction, Buffy found Angel staring back calmly as if he simply accepted it as pure truth. Somehow, he did not find it shocking at all. Not like she did. Well, she’d fix that. “Wesley thinks Angelus made Cordelia his mate. How funny is that?” A shaky chuckle died on her lips at the silence coming from the other side of the room.

Cordelia had been Angelus’ lover, she knew. Undeniable no matter how much she wanted to block that idea out of her mind. She was willing to stretch it to girlfriend because that was how Cor had referred to it, too. The way Wesley had put it made it sound far more permanent. Hoping he was wrong about that, Buffy let out a long sigh before continuing.

“When you were so wild and barely recognized me, you kept calling for Cordelia like she was the only one you needed. Wesley says that you needed her blood, that you still need it.”

“This Wesley says a lot.”

Buffy nodded. “Told you so. He’s kind of a know-it-all.”

“He’s right.”

Wide-eyed, Buffy asked him to clarify. “Right about needing her blood? You got better so quickly.”

“Right about Cordelia being my mate.”

“Angelus’ mate,” she corrected swiftly, “your demon’s mate.”

Once again he gave her a silent response, drawing the seconds ticking by into painfully slow increments. Buffy wanted him to say more, but only if it was going to be something she wanted to hear. Validation of the first part of her Watcher’s theory meant that the next part might also be true.

“That’s important because of what happened when Willow tweaked the spell that returned your soul.”

Calling upon the memories of his time as Angelus, it suddenly became clear that the spell had not been destroyed along with Jenny Calendar, or her computer. “Willow found the curse. She’s the one who restored my soul?”

“Yes!” Finally, one piece of good news she could share.

Angel took a slow step forward, his feet bare on the wooden floor, the chains rattling along behind him. “What do you mean by ‘tweaked’?

Telling Angel of her friend’s bravery and determination, Buffy hoped he would understand, and not be too harsh on her when he learned that it came with consequences. “Willow wanted us to be happy. For us to be together. You know Willow! Loves the idea of love.”

Rather than sounding pleased, Angel gave her a growl. “Willow likes to play dangerous games with dark magic. She paid a price for interfering with me and mine. I warned her against it, but she snuck off with the Mortivaricus Incantations that had been locked in the library vault.”

“How’d you know that?”

Telling her, “Angelus caught her,” he left out the details deliberately not taking credit for that particular incident. He felt guilty enough already. “The incantations are demon magic. Most of them are dark, dangerous spells designed to create, control, or kill demons. A few deal with life and death, but there is nothing about soul restoration.”

“So, you’ve read them, too.”

Angel explained that he had reviewed most of Giles’ resources. “I like to know what I’m up against. We’ve done a lot of research. I was often given the restricted books to review rather than one of you, especially Willow.”

“Sounds like Giles. Overprotective, but probably for good reasons. You owe Willow a big hug—or maybe another spanking. It’s a bad news is good news situation,” Buffy told him while revealing that she knew all about the incident in the library. Or, at least as much as Willow passed on to her.

“Willow thought she was doing us a favor,” surmised Angel trying to sift through Buffy’s evasive tale. “What did she tweak?”

“Oh, that’s the good news. Wesley thinks Willow succeeded in securing your soul.”

Shock and wonder altered his normally placid expression. “My soul is permanent?”

Her answer, “It is, but it’s not,” only confused him further. Not that she could blame him. Her head was spinning, and she had already heard it all. “We found a copy of the spell on a computer disc. Willow admitted to us just yesterday that she had taken the Morty Vatican— that spell book, and another one on demons, in order to fix you.”

Angel realized that something had gone wrong. Furious that Willow had tampered with something so personal, and so vital as his soul, Angel charged forward until he reached the full extent his bindings allowed. “That little witch! She didn’t learn her lesson the first time, did she? I told her to lay off the spells.”

“Uh— Angel?” Buffy had to point out that Willow probably thought she could disregard anything Angelus had ordered if it meant she could save Angel’s soul. “Besides, Willow did this for us. No worries about perfect bliss. Soul secured. No more Angelus.”

Buffy stood with her arms wrapped around her small frame. Just out of Angel’s reach despite the long chains allowing him enough freedom to move around a bit. “What’s the catch?”

“Cordelia.”

“What does Cordelia have to do with my curse?”

“Nothing—at least not until Willow bonded your soul to hers. She’s not just Angelus’ mate, she’s your soulmate, too.” Buffy sounded flippant, but she was crying on the inside.

The chains rattled again as Angel backed off as if he could step away from the truth for better perspective. Was it out of fear? Buffy could not tell what he was thinking, but he deserved to hear it all. She told him everything. Cordelia might try to underplay the significance of it all. The cheerleader seemed so determined to let them resume their lovelorn relationship no matter the cost to her own feelings and future.

While Buffy was selfish enough to want Angel to herself, the Watchers’ explanation of the situation made it clear that whatever the connection between the vampire and Cordy, it was permanent. She just needed time to get used to the idea. The three of them needed to figure a way to deal with their twisted pretzel of a relationship.

As she shared the theory with Angel, he denied nothing about Angelus’ interactions with Cordelia Chase. It made her realize he already knew that his soulless self had officially claimed her, that Cordy was the demon’s mate— his mate. When she finished, they stood in silence for countless seconds as the impact of the truth sank in.

“Where is she?” Angel hesitantly asked what had been on his mind ever since Buffy appeared on her own.

“Grabbing take-out blood and Chinese food.”

“I feel— words can’t really express it, Buffy,” he looked pained. “I love you. You know I will stand by you forever, but being with you again would risk Angelus’ return. If I understand this correctly, the Watchers seem to think that Willow’s spell secures my soul, but not with you.”

“Not with me,” she repeated softly, her grief sounding in the words.

“There is one certain thing I know Buffy and that is I forget myself when we’re together. I forget anything but you. If I had my way, you’d be in my arms right now.”

She looked at him with her heart in her eyes. “It’s not that simple.”

“Love isn’t that simple,” he agreed. “I wouldn’t want it to be.”

“Looks like you get your way.” She quipped before countering with, “This is as complicated as it comes, because I want you, too.”

“We can’t risk it,” he told her, “being together the way we were before this happened.”

“Cordy said she would—,” Buffy trailed off sharply realizing the impact of what she was about to say. Double dating as a trio. That had other implications that Buffy suddenly figured out. No wonder Giles gave her that look.

Angel was waiting for her to finish. “Cordy said what?”

Fumbling for an answer, Buffy shifted toward the overturned couch. If she started pacing, Angel would know something was up. “Just that she wouldn’t stand in our way. She said that being your mate was only on paper, just a part of Willow’s spell.”

Whirling around at the sound of the irritated growl emanating from Angel’s throat, Buffy saw him struggling to maintain his human face. Bones and skin shifted before settling back. When he spoke it was with determination, “Like hell it is.”

These Angelus-like statements kept coming from Angel as if he was still confused about who he was. The memories of his soulless self were too fresh in his mind. Letting it go, Buffy wanted to get back to the topic of Angel’s soul. “Willow’s spell created a loophole to allow getting happy as long as Cordelia is there to secure your soul. I think he was hinting that there is only one way to prove the theory.”

“I think it was proven last night,” Angel admitted, still thinking about Cordelia even though Buffy meant them. The Watcher’s description of the little loophole was circling in his brain, making him think crazy thoughts. Ones that would be impossible for either one of them to accept. Thoughts that could get him staked. “I still want to be with you, Buffy. Those feelings haven’t vanished.”

Walking closer, Buffy spoke softly, “Do you think it’s any different for me? I am feeling so jealous and hurt and lost. I’m scared to hold you in my arms because I’m not sure that I can do it without wanting more.”

“I know,” Angel was having to accept the idea. “If Wesley’s theory is correct, I can’t risk being alone with you that way again.”

“Angelus’ return would not be of the good,” she admitted. “Obsessive vamps with apocalyptic tendencies make my job harder, especially when they’re my boyfriend.”

Our Warrior is torn between the demon’s desires and devotion to his love. These are disparate things, are they not? One cannot exist with the other. Such matters of the heart are mysteries to the Powers that Be. Yet one such as you remains subject to its call without understanding. Learn what you will, Lower Being, for the lesson we teach is not about the untamed nature of passion, but of the consequences of disruption, meddling, interference in that which is beyond your purview.

When Cordelia Chase arrived forty minutes later it was to find that Buffy had released the vampire from his manacles. They had righted the overturned furniture, Angel had found somewhere to shower, and was dressed in fresh clothes. He wore tailored black pants paired with a thin dark grey sweater, which she recognized as one of her gifts to Angelus. Most of her purchases had some color, but she had picked this one because it felt so soft knowing he would enjoy the sensation against his skin.

They were now in the kitchen gathering plates and silverware. The domestic scene made Cordy blink a couple of times before she was able to greet them with her trademark smile. “My favorite vamp and his Slayer,” she waltzed into the kitchen carting a small cooler and a large brown bag.

“Could you rephrase that?”

“Huh?”

Buffy reminded the other girl with a furious whisper, “I did slay Angel. I sent him to hell.”

“Oh!” Cordelia gasped and looked over to see if Angel was upset too. “I didn’t mean it that way. Geez, can’t a girl even say hello around here?”

Before either of them could respond, Cordelia thrust the brown bag into Buffy’s hands and waved her off in the direction of the kitchen table. “Take this— Chinese food.”

“Aren’t you eating?” Buffy asked.

“In a minute,” nodded Cordelia who took the cooler over to the refrigerator. She started to remove the contents as Angel stepped closer edging around the island counter. “I have to put this blood away.”

“You didn’t go to the butcher,” Angel realized. Seven pint-sized bags were all labeled neatly with biohazard signs and typed and crossed according to Rh-factor. “This is human blood, O-positive.”

“You can tell that by the smell?” Cordelia seemed surprised.

“I can read the labels.”

“Oh!”

Angel moved over to stand next to her, leaning on one elbow as she tucked all but one of the bags toward the coldest part of the fridge. “Where did you get it, Cordy?”

“I went to Willy’s,” she explained. “Still daylight, so there wasn’t much of a crowd. I called ahead, so he had it ready to go.”

“Blood-to-go?” Buffy was a little queasy at the thought. Human blood. At least it looked to be donated rather than drained. “Eew!”

The vampire was not as concerned over Buffy’s squeamishness as he was with Cordy’s venture into a demon bar to buy him blood. “That was a dangerous and unnecessary risk, Cordelia. Willy’s place is a demon haunt, not the local corner store.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia waved her hand in the air as if entering the bar was nothing at all. “Pfft!”

Leaning closer, Angel’s anger was apparent in the golden tint to his normally dark brown eyes. “Don’t risk going there again without me.”

“Whatever.”

“Cordelia.”

“Okay, okay. I promise not to go to Willy’s without an armed escort.” Cordelia told him then sent Buffy a look that indicated he was being overprotective.

Buffy had finished taking the Chinese food cartons out of the bag and was now standing on the other side of the kitchen island. She watched as Cordelia pulled down two glasses and a coffee mug from one of the cabinets. Ordering Angel to put ice and water into the empty glasses, she started to fiddle with the bag of blood, pouring its contents into the large mug.

“What are you doing?” Buffy hadn’t thought to put the pig blood in a mug. It came in a big plastic container.

Opening up the microwave, Cordelia glanced up as she put the mug inside. “Heating the blood.”

“You can use a microwave?” The look on the Slayer’s face suggested she had serious doubts about it. “Never saw you use the one at my house.”

“I was a guest!”

“Only because you invited yourself,” Buffy reminded her with a wry grin.

Poking her tongue out at the girl, Cordelia turned back to her task. Angel had finished filling the water glasses and set them on the table. Now he was back at the island next to Buffy, silently observing the brunette as she stared at the controls with frustration. “It doesn’t have a button for body temperature.”

Coming up behind her, Angel moved his hand around her waist to pull her against him as he reached around to operate the controls of the microwave. “Like this,” he explained as he set the device for two minutes on a low power setting. “The blood will warm up without it cooking.”

“Hmm! You learn something new everyday.”

“It’s not your typical everyday task,” Angel’s other hand came down to join the other, “unless you are a vampire on a restricted diet.”

He found himself pressing closer and leaning down to inhale the scent of her silky hair. She smelled so damn good! He was getting hard just from standing so close and touching her in this minimal way. Thinking he would like to wrap Cordelia’s long sensuous hair around his cock as he stroked it—or she did—made his fingers tighten on her hips. Less than five minutes together and he was already fantasizing what it would be like to have her again.

The microwave beeped suddenly, startling them both. Two minutes had elapsed in the time they were standing there. Opening his eyes, Angel reluctantly released the girl in his arms. “Go to the table, Cordy. Your food is getting cold. I’ll just finish up here.”

Nervous, Cordelia turned around noting his placid expression. Had she only imagined his arousal? The way he held her close against him, the sensation of his hands was so familiar. She missed his touch—well, she supposed it was Angelus’ touch. She wondered what Buffy had told the vampire during her absence. Nothing? Everything? What did he think about having her as his soulmate instead of Buffy Summers?

“Sesame Chicken. My favorite.”

Chickening out was more like it. The food seemed like a good excuse to put some space between them. Questions needed answering first. Besides, she lost her appetite for anything except Angel the moment he put his hands on her. Even Buffy seemed distracted, barely picking at her food when normally she ate enough for three teenagers. Slayer metabolism, she knew, but it wasn’t having much of an affect on her hunger tonight.

By the time Angel arrived at the table, he had already finished his blood. Eating in front of them— he wasn’t quite ready to do that. Then the thought made him want to laugh at the irony of it. Just yesterday, he had bitten Cordelia and sucked down precious bits of her blood while Buffy was watching. Then again, that was something other than Cordy’s quipped remark about being his liquid lunch. Though the O-pos from Willy’s had filled his need for food, the call of Cordelia’s blood seemed to sing to him from across the table as he watched her push her food around on her plate.

Angel’s ability as the kitchen clean-up crew far exceeded Cordelia’s interest in ruining her nail polish. When Buffy protested that it was only her and the vampire cleaning up the dishes, Cordelia defended herself. “Hey, I was the chef.”

“Hah!” Buffy dried the plate that Angel handed to her. “Picking up Chinese and trying to warm blood in a microwave is not going to get you recognition as the next Emeril.”

“No, but it keeps me from doing the dishes.” She flashed them a smile while settling onto a tall stool to watch them work. “So. Did you two talk about anything interesting before I arrived?”

“Subtle much?” Buffy rolled her eyes.

“You’d be just as curious, Miss Know It All,” countered the brunette defensively.

Angel handed over the last plate before telling Cordelia that Buffy revealed the entire tale to him. “The way I hear it makes it sound like our Willow needs another spanking.”

Gasping, Cordy blushed furiously. “You told Buffy that!”

“Willow, maybe,” the vampire claimed innocence in the matter. “This is not a time for secrets. I know all about the Scooby Meeting and what the Watchers had to said about the two of us.”

“Their theory where I-I—,” Cordelia couldn’t bring herself to say it aloud.

Angel beat her to it, “You’re my demon’s mate, Cordelia. Rejecting his claim changes nothing. Angelus bonded us through blood rites and no amount of wishing it otherwise will affect that.”

Bitterness, and a hint of accusation, singed his words. Obviously, Angel wouldn’t want that connection with her, she realized painfully, the raw sensation gnawing at her insides. Maybe it wasn’t exactly his choice, but there was no taking it back. Her feelings were all tangled up in knots, and it was too difficult to figure out why. Cordelia didn’t really care, she only knew that she needed to be here.

Too caught up in his own feelings to realize he had stung hers, Angel remembered just how devastated Angelus had felt when Cordelia had spurned him. The soulless vampire had never experienced that before, never felt those emotions himself. They overshadowed the memory of Darla’s rejection because it was the soul she could no longer stand, and for him that was already gone. Losing Cordelia filled him with such rage and misery that Angelus nearly let the whole world be consumed so everyone could feel it.

Whatever remnants of that remained with the return of his soul were nothing compared to the persistent need to possess her in every way imaginable. That was wrong on so many levels. Partly because Buffy would have problems accepting that Cordelia belonged to him. True, she had found the courage to bring her here, and despite her fear of what might happen, let him take her blood.

The claim had been renewed, and Angel could feel her essence inside him, healing him in a way no other human blood could. He could sense as well as see her agitation. Clearly, Cordelia had issues to deal with, but he was not going to let her ignore their mutual needs, especially now.

“Willow’s magic—I’m not sure I understand the extent of it, but Buffy tells me that my soul is bound to yours.”

“That’s what they say.”

The flippant tone irked him into testing Cordelia’s reaction. Yesterday, she had practically flown into his arms. The joy she felt at discovering him there was all too apparent even through the haze of his semi-feral state. She had denied him nothing, but he wondered if that had come with some regrets. Did Cordelia feel a fraction of the possessive need that clawed within him, or was she here out of some sense of duty?

Cordelia knew there was a lot to think about, but it was impossible to think at all with Angel standing so close to Buffy. He touched her, just his fingertips slowly trailing up the bare skin of her arm. Moving along, his hand opened up across her shoulder, gently rubbing at pressure points until Buffy let out a contented little mewl, obviously enjoying it.

When his other hand joined in, she sat up straighter on the stool, eyes flashing at Angel without understanding why a simple massage would be such a big deal. With their gazes locked, Cordy felt lightning charge across her skin, her body quickening with an urgent call for attention. It had only been a few minutes, but she missed the weight of Angel’s hands as he held her. Knowing just how capable a lover he could be, she knew precisely what Buffy must be feeling—and she did not like it one bit.

Buffy gave Angel a dreamy little smile tilting her head up inviting him to kiss her. A gentle caress pressed against the pout of her lips, softly at first, sweetly. Sipping tenderly, he seemed to be savoring a taste of their past. No matter how much Cordelia wanted to stop staring, she could not look away. Urgency overtook them. Buffy tiptoed higher into his arms, clutching him desperately.

The jealous kernel choking her into silence finally broke free. “Are you charging me for this peep show, or should I just tip generously?”

They flew apart faster than expected. Angel let go instantly causing Buffy to reel back a couple of steps. Catching her balance, she grinned like she had just won the Lotto. “Got a little carried away. Easy to do.”

“Whatever! It’s just a little tonsil hockey. No big deal.” Cordelia gave a shrug. “Saying I would help is one thing, but it’s not easy to watch.” Denying it, she knew that wasn’t quite true. It had been kind of hot in a spellbinding way, even if she felt almost desperate to stop it.

“That’s why we should stick to the plan,” Buffy stressed its importance.

Angel wondered what she meant, but had other priorities. He did get lost in that kiss temporarily forgetting that he had done it for a reason. Cordelia’s sarcastic little remarks had only proven that she cared more than she wanted. He could read her with a glance. The darkened pools of her eyes, flushed skin, rapid pulse, accompanied more flagrant signs of arousal. As much as this display angered her, and spurred a burst of jealousy, it had also stirred her lust.

His voice was deep and soft as he beckoned her forward, “Come here, Cordy.”

Shaking her head, the cheerleader wondered about his motives. She wasn’t about to set herself up for anything she did not want to hear. “I’m comfy here,” she said refusing to budge.

Buffy knew that Cordelia was upset about having to watch Angel kiss her. Considering the way both of them had reacted just yesterday, it was obvious they were connected by the bond that Giles and Wesley had described. It was definitely a big deal, and certainly not something to be easily ignored. Maybe those cravings would go away over time. For now, if Cordelia’s promise to help required the sacrifice of a few kisses on Angel’s part, she supposed she would be okay with it.

As if testing out her resolve, Angel rounded the island in the space of a few long strides, and put himself within touching distance of Cordelia. For a few crazed seconds, Buffy thought he was about to drag her into his arms for a tempestuous kiss that rivaled their own, but he did not even lay a finger on her. Cordelia jumped off the stool into a standing position, but Angel still had the advantage of his height as they were only inches apart. He wasn’t saying anything, just staring into her eyes as if expecting her to read them.

The tension between them was driving her nuts. Buffy could see that Angel was struggling with something. Probably with Angelus’ memories of his time with Cordelia. He had to remember things they had done, feelings Angelus might have had for Cordy that weren’t actually his. Whatever confusion might spring from that, Buffy strongly believed that Angel’s true feelings were for her, and this was just a phase.

Deciding that it was time for a distraction—before one of them melted from the heat of their intense staring contest, Buffy suggested, “Maybe now is a good time for us to check out the rest of the mansion.”

Cordelia blinked, instantly intrigued about seeing the place. “A tour?” It also gave her a good excuse not to jump Angel’s bones because she had been oh-so close to doing just that.

“Not exactly. I figure we should check things out if Angel is going to be living here on a permanent basis,” Buffy explained. “This was Angelus’ vampire lair, but there could be other dangers. Open windows. Dead bodies. No big!”

“Eew! I so could have done without the last part.” If Buffy was set on searching the mansion, it seemed safe to follow along. Besides, it gave her an excuse to spend more time with Angel.

They started in the basement and worked their way up. Nothing out of the ordinary had been found downstairs. Securing all of the doors, Cordelia suggested to Buffy, “Should this have been done earlier? I mean— geez, you’ve been here off and on for three weeks. Angel has been shackled to the walls. How safe was that? Not!”

“Lecture assimilated,” Buffy drolled. “I had Angel’s health to worry about. Finding open doors and windows wasn’t high on my priority list.”

Angel quietly listened to the girls banter back and forth. Friendly, he realized, even if in an argumentative way. Now on the upper level, they were nearing his suite of rooms. It occurred to him that Buffy had chained him to the wall downstairs and not to his bed. Convenience, he supposed.

“Whoa!” Cordelia soaked in the luxury of the master suite. It appeared to have been recently renovated compared to the rest of the mansion. “Angelus certainly knew how to decorate.”

Without bothering to make a distinction between versions of himself, Angel simply commented, “I have good taste.”

Teasing him with a little wink, Cordelia agreed, “You do.” There were several museum-quality landscapes scattered on the walls that held her attention. Although she would have preferred visiting St. Tropez over Italy on that unplanned family detour to Europe, it had given her a rudimentary appreciation of artwork. Then again, she had always appreciated beautiful things—including a certain gorgeous vampire.

Thinking about him made her glance over her shoulder. She expected him to be close to Buffy, but the slayer was checking out the boarded up windows and blackout curtains. Angel was leaning against the base of the huge sleigh bed, arms and legs casually crossed, staring not at his girlfriend, but directly at her instead as if waiting for her approval.

Cordelia found it a little disconcerting the way Angel couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off of her, especially with Buffy being in the same room. “You should be comfortable enough. The rest of the house is hideous, but I’m sure you can fix it up.”

Angel gave her a wry look. “Finding contractors won’t be quite as easy as it used to be.”

“Oh?”

Buffy called out, “Pretty sure I staked some of them all those months ago. Vampires with blueprints, tool belts, and hardhats. It was weird.”

“Cheaper to turn them than pay them?” asked Cordelia causing Angel to cringe inwardly.

Finished with going through the motions of checking out the windows, Buffy gave them the thumbs up. “All secure here.”

“Good,” Angel already knew they would be locked since he had never opened them. He had been up here just a short time ago to shower and dress finding nothing unexpected.

This room-to-room search seemed unnecessary, but it had saved him from doing something foolish. If Buffy’s interruption in the kitchen had not come when it did, he might have reminded Cordelia how Angelus dealt with stubborn disobedience. The notion was more tempting than it should be, especially because it usually ended with her in his arms replete with pleasure.

One thing puzzled him as he suddenly realized, “Someone has been sleeping in my bed.” Buffy had been up here before. She already knew the windows were boarded shut.

Walking past him, Buffy stopped short, staring at the huge sleigh bed noting that its comforter and pillows were perfectly aligned. No creases out of place. With a sheepish glance at Angel, she knew he could smell her lingering scent on the linens. During his early illness, she slept up here when she wasn’t lounging on the couch downstairs. Her curiosity about Angelus’ sleeping quarters, and the genuine concerns she had told them about, forced an exploration of the mansion.

What she found had given her a lot to think about during the past few weeks about Angelus’ relationship with Cordelia and his plans for their future together, as he must have seen it. This little tour was a sneaky excuse to bring her upstairs to share her discovery. Before Angel could move forward with his Three Bears routine by accusing Goldilocks of something else, Buffy grabbed for a nearby doorknob.

“Looks like a connecting room. C’mon, Cor, let’s check it out.”

Cordelia had just sat down on the edge of the bed testing it with a little bounce when Angel moved over to stand beside her. “Like it?”

“Big. Comfy. What’s not to like?” With a careless shrug, she jumped up to follow Buffy. “Gotta go! The boss is calling. Don’t want to be late for window inspection.”

Watching her scurry through that door made Angel wonder if now was a good time to panic. He worried that the contents of that room would reveal too much. Every handpicked item held meaning, placed with a purpose, exacting proof that Angelus intended to keep her at his side. He did not want to stir up painful reminders, but he was curious, too.

Angel followed, but paused on the threshold not wanting to disturb her exploration. “It’s beautiful,” she murmured, “feminine, but not flowery or gaudy.” She might have just been talking to Buffy about it, but each positive note gave him an odd sense of relief.

The room was set up with a sitting area and entertainment center on one side, and a vanity, dressing area, and a gilded trifold floor-length mirror on the other. One item was conspicuously absent. “Where’s the bed?”

“Out there,” Buffy answered pointing back in his direction.

Cordelia’s rosy lips formed a surprised circle, “Oh. I suppose it’s big enough for two.”

Standing next to her at the vanity, Buffy whispered, “Try four or five. It’s huge!”

“Angelus probably thought that was a plus when he bought it.”

“Tall guy, big bed?”

Cordelia let out a little snort, “Right. I’m sure it had nothing to do with his household guests.”

After such a promising start, Cordelia and Buffy were taking their little chat in a direction Angel doubted would be in his favor.

“Those interior decorators?” guessed Buffy remembering that she had staked a couple of female vampires about the same time as the guys. When Cordelia shook her head, she instantly honed in on another idea. “You mean Drusilla, I suppose. She’s his favorite one, right?”

“Crazy as a loon, but pretty. Then there’s Spike, of course, and I think someone named Edith, although I’ve never met her.”

“Well, I’m glad they’ve gone away.”

Nodding, Cordelia answered, “Me, too.”

Buffy was dusting off one of the beautiful brush and comb sets on the vanity when she added, “I guess Dru left in a hurry if she didn’t have time to pack all of this stuff.”

“But—”

“Oh, my favorite perfume!” Cordelia spritzed the air between them. “It looks like a new bottle. Such a waste leaving it behind like this.”

Curious, she set it down to pick up another one, glancing at the all too familiar label. After doing the same for a bottle of lotion, she lowered it back to the vanity top almost gingerly. A makeup tray was stuffed with lipgloss, lipstick, blush, foundation, mascara, and eyeshadow matching the items in her own bedroom at home. “They’re all my favorites.”

“Too much of a coincidence you think? Dru liking everything you do.”

Questioning it, too, Cordelia looked to Angel who confirmed, “None of this belongs to Drusilla.”

Only a second or two passed until she realized, “This was supposed to be my room. Angelus bought this for me?”

“There wasn’t much buying involved,” Angel admitted while leaving out the gorier details, “but I—he arranged all of it. So, yes, it’s yours.”

Cordelia had been hoping for a little assisted denial on this one. She should have guessed sooner. “Angel, it’s beautiful. I love it. All of it, but it was meant for the vampire Angelus wanted me to be. It’s not really mine. I can’t take this.”

A squeaky little protest sounded from Buffy whose wide eyes signaled that she might be making a mistake. “Cor—”

“Every perfume, brush, lipstick, and dress belongs to you, Cordy,” said Angel with quiet resolve. “There’s no need to let it go to waste. Unless you think Buffy wants some of it.”

“Oh, I do. Some of it fits.” Buffy edged toward the closet door. “I might have borrowed a few things while I was watching Angel.”

“There are dresses, too?”

Buffy opened the door to the walk-in closet that was almost as large as the rest of the room. Grabbing Cordelia’s hand, she pulled her into the closet and flipped on the light. “There’s everything!”

“Oh, my God!” Cordelia’s mouth was gaping open at the sight of wall to wall clothing and accessories. Drawers full of colorful bra and panty sets, sexy silk, satin, and lacy bits, and racks of gorgeous shoes were lined up next to rows of designer casual wear and dresses. “This is too much, Angel. Even for me.”

Buffy snorted at that one. “I’ll believe that one when I see Mr. Gordo take flight,” joked about her favorite stuffed pig.

Browsing through the clothes, Cordelia ogled them longingly. Then she grabbed a black leather ensemble to show Buffy. Giggling, she pointed out, “Cordy, the dominatrix.”

Angel watched her with equal parts lust and amusement. “You should try some of those on.”

Answering automatically, “Maybe if you beg for it,” she teased.

Cordelia was still giggling until she recognized the intensity in his gaze. He wasn’t really kidding. Glancing down at the silver-buckled corset and black pants, made her wonder just how much of Angelus crept to the surface when Angel made love.

“Maybe later.”

The colorful scenario filling her head with sexy images caused Cordelia to stagger against the frame of a built-in shoe rack. “We’re done with those kind of games,” she said tremulously remembering suddenly that this was technically not her boyfriend.

“Are we?”

Anger flared up. “Obvious, much? You’re not Angelus.”

Cursing silently, Angel realized his mistake. Cordelia’s ire was not just about the loss of her lover. “The only reason I’m here is because I have to be. You don’t want me, Angel. You don’t have to pretend that you do.”

No matter his feelings for Buffy, or the love they still shared, this basic connection with Cordelia Chase was undeniable and unchangeable. It was a permanent bond, present in the here and now, one that would gain strength with the passing of time. Angel acknowledged that the idea was in no way unpleasant. His lust for her existed before any spell of Willow’s had a chance to influence Cordelia’s feelings. If he regretted anything, it was that this had not happened purely of her free will.

Holding out his hand to her, Angel needed to provide her with some clarity about her place in his future. “Come here, Cordy,” he echoed the same deep tone from the kitchen, the command she had chosen to ignore.

This was no still no plea, but Angel needed her to respond. She was a delightful mixture of obstinate and submissive, mostly the former. It was important that Cordelia acknowledge she belonged to him as his mate. Oh, she might think it on some peripheral level, connecting it with Wesley’s theory, but she didn’t really understand the depth of this bond between them.

Visibly fighting her body’s urge to react to the order, Cordelia gripped the shoe rack with her unsteady hand. Shaking her head, she refused to make it easy on him. “No.”

Buffy had moved back into the main part of the room while the other girl browsed through her new wardrobe. She had suspected from the first that everything here was for Cordelia. It seemed like her style—except for the sexy leather costumes. Learning that she was Angelus’ mate solidified the conclusion. No evil vamp in play now, just Angel. One minute he looked sheepishly happy at her obvious delight, and the next almost desperate because she still refused to accept their undeniable connection.

“Has anyone ever told you how disobedient you are?”

“Pfft!” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “My parents, Giles, Xander, even you about a dozen times. I just don’t like being ordered around.”

“Then do it because I’m asking.” He stepped away from the doorway to stop in the middle of the room hoping she would meet him halfway.

Dropping her hand to her side, Cordelia walked the length of the closet pausing only a moment before continuing. Stopping directly in front of him, she brushed her palm down the center of his chest, pulling back so her fingertips rasped across his abdomen before curling into his soft sweater. It was impossible to be near Angel and not reach out to touch him.

“I’m here.” Just where I want to be, she acknowledged silently.

Suddenly realizing that Buffy was on her feet and about to leave the room to give them some privacy, Angel turned toward her with dark pleading eyes. “Don’t go, Buffy. This is something you need to hear. We all need to work this out together, and you must fully understand what’s between Cordelia and me.”

Buffy wanted to tell him that she didn’t want to hear anything he had to say to Cordelia Chase, even if it was just going to be him explaining that her feelings for Angelus had nothing to do with him. Any girl would be attracted to Angel. That was totally understandable. So was Cor’s reaction to being told he was a vampire. She had made an effort to avoid Angel after that night at the Bronze because he had waited too long to tell her the truth, or maybe just because of the fact that he was a vampire. Cordelia couldn’t be blamed for Willow’s spell, and neither could Buffy blame Willow. That meant no one was to blame. It was just a rather annoying fact.

Sitting down on the chaise lounge Buffy made herself comfortable. This sounded like it was going to take a while. “Okay, I’m listening.”

Full of trepidation, Angel hoped that Buffy would understand. “Good.” Dragging his eyes away, he turned back to Cordelia who watched him guardedly. She pounced almost instantly with demand for answers.

“What do you want, Angel?” Because it was torture to want him so much, yet know that he didn’t feel the same way.

Loaded question, Angel realized as he reached out to touch her cheek. “Everything about you. I want it all, Cordelia, starting with your body— because it never takes much more than your smile to make me hard.”

“W-wh—”

“Is that too honest for you?” Angel asked.

Cordelia gaped at him, her mouth curled into a circle. “Oh! No. It just reminded me of Angelus. Something he would say, not you, Mr. Polite Vamp.”

“I am Angelus, just with my soul intact,” he stressed. Pulling his hand away from her face, he resolved not to touch her again unless she initiated the contact. “Same thoughts, the same needs, and desires. They’re just regulated by my conscience. Less tendency to become maniacally homicidal.”

Hearing him say that only solidified her feelings. It was odd trying to think of him as two people when her feelings told her something else. She wanted him and was thrilled to hear him say that he was aroused by her. Being so close made her head spin, but Cordelia was all too aware they were not alone.

Angel wasn’t finished. “Your blood— I crave the taste of you more than ever. I need your essence inside me as much as I want, as I need your touch. The Watchers told you the truth about claiming rites. Angelus not only marked you that night outside Xander’s house, he had you accept his claim.”

“I-I said yes. I agreed?” Cordelia wanted confirmation even though she knew that there was nothing she would not have given Angelus that night.

“Do you need to ask?” An odd pang reminded Angel that Cordelia had been under the influence of Willow’s magic at the time. It had not been her choice to say yes. Although her agreement to Angelus’s claim was compelled from her, the result remained the same. Cordelia belonged to him, and even though he also felt guilty about the way it happened, there was a part of him that remained deeply satisfied at the outcome.

Nodding, “Yes. I mean— no. I guess I don’t need to ask. That’s why it makes me a little crazy watching you and Buffy just talking together.”

“Willow’s spell?” He gave her an out. “You feel more for me than you should.”

“No!” Then she realized what she was denying. “I mean— I don’t know what I mean, Angel. I thought you were hot before I even knew you were a vampire. Before Willow played hocus-pocus with my head.”

With a grin he asked, “You think I’m hot?”

“Pfft! As if you didn’t know. Lucky thing you can’t see yourself in the mirror. You’d be staring at your reflection all day.” Cordy waved toward the trifold mirror that revealed everything in the room except for him.

“Not with you around as a distraction,” Angel felt the words roll off his tongue unintentionally. He had a tendency to say things to her that might otherwise be held close to his chest.

There was a sniffle behind them, coming from Buffy who was doing her best to look like his words didn’t affect her. Unfortunately, the little whimper that followed gave it away. “I really don’t want to hear this,” she told Angel. “I’m going.”

She dashed into the adjoining master bedroom heading straight for the door. Angel caught her by the arm swinging her around to face him. He could not let her leave without making her understand the depths of their dilemma. “Stay, Buffy, please. Don’t go yet. We need to resolve this here and now.”

Grumbling, “Okay, okay,” she decided to tough it out. Maybe it was the way his voice softened as he spoke her name, or the compelling way he met her gaze.

Having followed them into the bedroom, Cordelia said, “Angel’s just being honest,” with a tone suggesting she meant it was no big deal. “He’s a hottie, I’m a hottie, and you’re sorta one, too.”

“Guys might look at you, or want you, all of the time, but not Angel,” Buffy denied that anything he said he wanted from Cordelia was real. “Everything he’s saying is because dark magic messed things up.”

Cordelia sighed, acknowledging that much, “Yeah, I know.”

Quickly denying it, Angel exclaimed, “No! You’re both wrong. Buffy, I do love you. Always have from the moment I laid eyes on you and saw something that reminded me of sunlight—beautiful and untouchable.”

Perking up at his words, she gave him a little smile until Cordelia’s soft snort reminded her, “Kinda still untouchable, not that you let that stop you before.”

Buffy didn’t need another reminder that Angel’s soul would not be safe if they were to be together again. Still, she had to defend Angel even if he was saying things that made her uncomfortable. “Angel never knew it was possible to lose his soul. We were together because we wanted to be, not because some spell made us do it.”

Standing close, Angel felt Cordelia flinch. He felt anger stew within him as Buffy lashed out, a deep-seated need to protect his mate making it hard to hold back his urge to get physical. Half expecting Cordy to bite back just as vehemently, he wondered if it would be with one of her icy comebacks, or if she would charge straight ahead with a fiery verbal attack. When neither happened, and he saw Cordelia cross her arms and tighten her lips, Angel knew she intended to say nothing to refute Buffy’s words because she believed them.

With a swift response, “Angelus was never under a spell,” he reminded them that magic had never affected his actions. “He took Cordelia that night because he wanted her, and not because the spell made it easy. Maybe it’s just the demon in me that has always lusted after her, but those feelings were present long before I lost my soul.”

“Like that night at the Bronze,” Cordelia said mulling it over, “when you showed me that you were a vampire. You bit me.”

Buffy muttered, “Kissed you, too.”

Clasping Cordelia’s wrist, Angel caressed the tiny white scars just below her thumb. “It may not have been a claim, but I did leave my mark on you that night. You have no idea how much I wanted you. Your disdain was enough to hold me back, but Cordy, if you had accepted me then, I think—”

“You think things would be different? Buffy sent you to hell even with a soul, even though you were her boyfriend, because it sucks to be her when the world has to be saved.” Cordelia snatched her wrist out of his loose hold. Scornfully adding, “Do you honestly think she would have given it a second thought if you were with me instead? Especially if you lost your soul and Angelus turned me into a vampire.”

Angel couldn’t deny that his soulless self had wanted that. The entire suite and its contents were evidence enough that he planned to keep Cordelia forever. He understood it all too well because it stemmed from all too basic needs and desires. No matter how tempted, Angel could not imagine that he would ever consider it. “Fine, Cordy, if that’s what you want. Let’s drop the What If scenarios and focus on the here and now.”

Cocking her head stubbornly, she agreed. “Fine.”

Angel decided he needed to know exactly what Cordelia wanted in all of this. “Why are you here?”

Without hesitation, she said, “Because you need me to be.” When that sounded like she was giving too much away, she hastily explained that it was, “The blood. You need it.”

Not just to heal, he now realized. This bond seemed to create cravings only her blood could sate. Angel had assumed that it was due to his condition, and Angelus’ claim on Cordelia, but now he knew it went far deeper. Now that he had a taste of her, Angel had no idea what to do about letting that go. The notion of it stirred up desperate thoughts of denial.

Yet, he pushed her anyway, daring to piss her off because he had to hear Cordelia say that she needed him just as intensely. “You don’t need to be here for that.”

She sucked in a deep breath, taking his words as a rejection. “Maybe I should be the one to go.”

Angel shifted around to block her escape before she could take more than one step in the direction of the door. He did not physically restrain her actions, but needed her to realize that walking out on him before hashing this out was not an option. “Not a chance, Cordelia, you’re not leaving.”

Defiance flared in her eyes as she glared up at him when he asked her again, “Why are you here?”

“Duh! We talked already about this—Buffy. You love her. You two want to be together, but you can’t because of me.”

“So you’re here to help with that.”

With a bite, she answered, “Sure.”

“I’m not likely to experience perfect bliss when I’m just out on patrol with Buffy, or holding her hand, or even when kissing her, although I do enjoy all of those things. Do you realize what you’re suggesting?”

“Only that I’m trying to keep you safe. I know you two. Sooner or later you’ll get frustrated and do something risky. Then Angelus will be back and we’ll all suffer for it.”

“Don’t you want him back?” asked Buffy. “Then you’d have him all to yourself.”

Angel answered for her. “Cordelia would be his first victim. He wouldn’t waste a moment on anything except making his plans for her a reality. When she rises as a vampire, Angelus would allow her take her pick between Xander, Willow, and Giles as a first kill.”

“Not me?” asked Buffy irritably feeling oddly insulted.

Cordelia cut in, “Duh! Angelus would want to be the one to kill you.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen,” Buffy refused to think about it as a possibility. They had a way to guarantee it. “Cordy promised to help.”

Shrugging as if it was no big deal, Cordelia said, “I kinda did.”

Neither of them had a clue what they were setting themselves up for, he figured. Well, one of them, anyway. “Buffy, you do realize Cordelia will have to be with us while we’re making love.”

Blushing, she shrugged. “Yes, but we invested in a blindfold and some of those noise-cancelling earphones at the mall today.”

A little sneer curled Cordelia’s lip. The asinine idea did not work for her any more than it did him. He was too stunned by the selfish nature of Buffy’s plan to comment on it immediately, but to Cordelia his silence seemed like a form of consent. Sticking to the general idea, she gave it a less debilitating twist. “How about a nice recliner and installing a curtain instead? The earphone idea works, but this way I can read or do some homework while you two, ah, do your thing, and I still won’t have to see it.”

Buffy nodded her approval. “With luck we might forget you were even there.”

“Out of sight, out of mind!” Cordelia quipped as if it would be so easy.

What kind of half-baked idea was this? Angel could not believe that either one of them would think it would work. He might give Buffy a little credit for trying to be creative, but Cordelia was another story. She seemed to have blithely accepted the role of an awkward third wheel for reasons Angel couldn’t quite fathom. Knowing that he was supposed to be grateful for her willingness to help them out only made him more irascible.

Even if her rejection of Angelus came over fears about being made vampire, or because she became aware of the influences of Willow’s original spell, Angel knew that Cordelia was not so indifferent to him. She couldn’t be, not after accepting his claim, and the extent of their intimate encounters. He had seen her fight tooth and nail over the most inane thing just to win an argument. Why the hell wasn’t she fighting for him?

This placid surrender of her rights not only confused him, it hurt. The sudden pain of it centered in his chest as he wondered how she could simply sit on the sidelines while he fucked someone else. Being with Buffy again would be wonderful, and he did want her, but he also knew it would never be as simple as that.

“Homework, Cordelia?” he scoffed at the notion. “You honestly believe you’ll be able to study knowing what we’re doing on the other side of that curtain?”

“All of those long chats you’ll be having about demon dismemberment, sword sharpening, or patrol strategies?” Full-on denial seemed like the way to go, she explained her game plan. “No problem.”

The aloof way she brushed it off made Angel all the more determined to figure out what was going on in her head. Normally, Cordelia was so open about her thoughts and feelings, but she had cut him off from all of it so suddenly he knew that she was deliberately trying to distance herself from him. “There are quite a few flaws in this plan starting with your little curtain.” With every intention of riling her up another notch, he asked insidiously, “When did we ever just stick to the bedroom?”

Buffy cut in to exclaim, “That was Angelus!” but he was too focused on getting a response from Cordelia to argue semantics.

Cordelia did not so much as twitch when he leaned into her space even though he knew that was enough to rattle her. “I won’t settle for that, either.”

“Got a better suggestion?”

Although he did nothing more than brush his fingertips under her chin to keep her gaze upon him, she bristled at the contact. Angel knew he was going to fight an uphill battle in order to bring about the only real solution to their dilemma. “That depends on you, Cordy. You’re making enough of a sacrifice by letting me have Buffy. I don’t exp—”

“Sacrifice?” Buffy cut in. “She volunteered to help us out so we can be together. Besides, it will be private here, and your bed is nice.”

“You think this is the only place I’ll want you?” Annoyed because there was a necessity for such a discussion, Angel asked it roughly. “Sooner or later, you’ll both have to deal with that.”

Already swallowing her pride, Cordelia saw no reason to renege on her decision now. “Fine, I’ll deal. You want an audience, Angel? I’m there. Should I keep a score card on who has the most orgasms, or just give Buffy some pointers?”

The fiery spark in those eyes was exactly what Angel wanted to see. If it happened to come with a nasty bite, he was happy to take it. “Watch us if that gets you off, Cordy, but I never took you for a closet voyeur. We both know how much you enjoy getting laid.”

When she instinctively reacted by reaching up to slap his cheek, Angel let it happen, the sting of her palm warming his skin momentarily. He expected it, remaining still throughout her little rant even if he wanted to prove his point by kissing her until she was drunk with desire. Their little tiff had already turned her on, and his body quickly responded to hers leaving him thick and throbbing for attention. Ignoring his needs was not as reflexive as it used to be making it difficult to focus on the point of the argument instead of just the part designed to get Cordelia to let drop her guard a little.

Jumping between them to shove Angel back a step, Buffy cautioned them both, “Hey! There’s no need to fight. Can’t we just stay here for now? We can figure out the rest later.”

“Sounds simple enough, but it will never work. There is one fatal flaw in your plan to hide Cordelia away in the corner,” Angel pointed out.

It seemed kind of perfect to Buffy. “What’s that?”

“According to the Watchers, my soul is only secure if I’m with Cordelia. How the hell is that supposed to happen from across the room?”

Quickly answering, “She’d be in the room,” Buffy started to look a little shaky as she realized exactly where this might lead.

Angel noticed that Cordelia looked more resolved than nervous. Maybe now he would get to a response. “One last time, Cordy. Why are you here?”

“Stop asking me that question. I’ve already answered it.”

“When I hear the truth I’ll stop asking.”

Cordelia’s gaze flicked toward Buffy for a moment before settling back on him. She drew in a long, deep breath, let it out just as slowly, and said honestly, “Because I want you, Angel. I want to be with you any way I can. Maybe it’s wrong, but that’s just the way I feel.”

Slammed by a mix of elation and relief, he found it difficult to talk. The confession tugged at every possessive instinct deep inside him. “Cordy, you only have to ask. Anything you want. Any part of me you need.”

“What? That’s—” Buffy’s jaw dropped as Angel offered way more than a conciliatory hug now and then. Right in the middle of talking about their own plans to be together, he was promising himself to someone else. It was not really surprising that Cordelia would want Angel. What girl wouldn’t? Buffy wanted some explanations, pronto.

Cordelia took no notice of the hissing blonde standing next to her. She was completely focused on Angel, and trying to navigate the impact of his offer. Instead of looking thrilled by his words, she seemed vexed by them. “You can’t give me what’s already taken.”

“Right,” muttered Buffy doing her best to understand why Angel would make such an offer.

“Buffy will adjust to the way things have to be between us. Sharing my attention might be a challenge at first, but she can handle it,” he said determinedly drawing another confused sound from his girlfriend.

Rolling her eyes in Buffy’s direction, Cordelia let out a little, “Pfft!” as if the other girl should understand her point of view.

“You know stamina’s not an issue. There’s no need to worry about not getting what you need. I can take care of you both.”

Buffy echoed the soft scoff. Like she was going to let that happen in a million years. After being Angelus for so long, and living in that hellish dimension, maybe Angel needed a reminder about how it worked with a guy and his girlfriend. Other people were not invited to the party!

“Thanks for the favor. Not!” Cordelia shot down Angel’s offer. “How can someone so hot be such a dumbass, and why do I still care?”

When Angel still seemed at a loss having openly committed himself to both of them, it was up to Buffy to explain it to him. “She wants your heart, too.”

Hearing it from Buffy made Cordelia’s true desire more impactful. The revelation left him feeling a little desperate because she was right—his heart was already taken. He had promised it to Buffy. Maybe it should have occurred to him that manufactured feelings created by Willow’s love spell remained intact. Something genuine existed from the first, however he had thought it was little more than a flirtation that ended when she discovered he was a vampire. Had those feelings surfaced again during her time with Angelus despite the dangers that forced her to end it?

Their lives were layered together now making it impossible to predict how deep his feelings for Cordelia would grow. It had not occurred to him until now that would become an issue. Angelus had never been capable of love. What he had felt for Cordy was based in pure lust and possessiveness. Although Angel realized his soul added other emotions to the ties they shared, his love for Buffy was altogether different from these complex feelings for Cordelia.

Part of him felt the need to defend that love against everything else, but the sense of betrayal swirling in his gut told him he was going to lose that battle. Cordelia already sparked so many emotional reactions within him. How could he think about holding her in his arms, enjoying the delights of her beautiful body knowing how fantastic the sex could be, and sip at her warm blood without admitting to himself that it was already far too late?

For Buffy’s sake, he had to fight those feelings as long as possible. He felt devastated at having to say, “Pleasure is all I can promise. I can’t love you, Cordy. Not the way you want. It’s not fair to her.”

Anger made her snap out, “Then the whole deal’s off. Save the charity fuck for someone else.” Her crude turn of phrase made Angel’s somber gaze go steely. “If I was just looking for a good screw I could just ask Wesley. He’s into me.”

Buffy gasped, “Cor!” Shocked by everything that poured out knowing that Angel wasn’t going to like it. First off, had she just backed out of her promise to help? Otherwise, it was okay with her if Cordelia went without her alone time with Angel, even if Giles had indicated that it might be a bad thing for both of them. As for Wesley, he probably did have a bit of a crush on Cordelia, so that part was true even if she was only pushing Angel’s buttons.

Responding quite coldly, “Empty threats, Cordelia,” Angel deflected her fiery response. “Do you think Angelus would have allowed you other lovers? Even after you broke it off do you see any scenario where he would let someone else have you?”

A long pause followed as Cordelia and Buffy discovered the difference between her empty threat and one with true intent. “Are you saying the same applies to you?”

Angel cocked his head, his mouth tugging at the corner. “Forget about your friend Wesley.” He sounded so casual about it, but his expression edged on scary. “Once I have a word with him he’ll get the picture.”

Buffy felt a shudder snake down her spine. “What picture is that?”

“Cordelia is mine. Deal with it, both of you. Mine,” Angel growled it this time as he clasped her neck to run his thumb across the barely healing mark directly above the old scar. “I don’t care who this new Watcher is into as long as he stays away from you.”

The last time either of them had heard anything like that it had come directly from Angelus. A glance at Cordelia told her nothing. There was no fear in her eyes, Buffy noted with some surprise. That shield was back up again making it impossible to know what was going on in her head.

One minute Angel had declared himself to be in love with only her, but now this possessive vampire thing was getting in the way. Cordelia had refused his offer of all the sex she could handle— and thank goodness for that! But he couldn’t stand the idea that she might want another boyfriend.

Buffy had thought Angel was just being overly generous with himself because their bond required it, but she wasn’t so sure. Did he or did he not actually want Cordelia? She pointed out the selfishness of his tirade. “So you just expect Cordy to be alone forever just because. . .”

“Don’t be so naive, Buffy. She’ll be with me.” Angel’s hand was still in place, but his touch and his voice gentled as he spoke. “I need Cordy just as much as I want you.”

Cordelia mumbled something indistinguishable even to him, and then asked, “Is it just need, Angel, or do you want me, too?”

Proof of it flared hot as he stared down at her. “Of course I want you. Don’t ever doubt that.”

Buffy didn’t care whether it was Angelus’ memories or Willow’s spell that made him sound so certain. That was not the way things were supposed to be. “So you expect me to just let you be with Cordelia, too, like she’s your sidepiece?”

Though knowing it would only dig him a deeper hole, Angel reminded, his voice still a little rough, “Technically, you’re the sidepiece.”

A hot red bloom colored Buffy’s cheeks and neck. “You said you loved me.” Surely, that trumped everything else.

“I do, honestly. I want you, Buffy, but you have to be certain about all of this. There is only one safe way we can be together. Cordelia has to be there with us. Not just in the room, but in bed with me, with us.”

“Will I get a blindfold there, too?” Cordelia asked with a sarcastic bite.

He gave her an indulgent smile, and curled a finger around a strand of hair to slide along its silky length. “Only if you want to play it that way. Could be fun,” he teased.

“Maybe you’d get the blindfold,” she bantered back. “Even better fun—for us.”

Buffy whimpered as she realized Cordelia had changed her mind again, and was now openly flirting with Angel. “What? Eew, no! That’s wrong. Isn’t it? I’m so confused.”

“Oh, get over it, Buffy. We both want him. Maybe he does need me, but he loves you. If you want to be with him, you’ll have to let me have him, too.”

Angel listened in perfect stillness as Cordelia told Buffy the way it was going to be. Truthfully, she had all of the of the power here. If she did not agree to any aspect of his relationship with Buffy, she had a right to demand he end it. Knowing it was selfish, Angel chose to keep that to himself, because no matter how wrong it might be, he wanted them both. There was still hope as he saw Cordelia slowing persuading Buffy to give it a try.

“What do you have to lose?”

Buffy glanced at Angel for a moment that stretched out forever. “We don’t have to have Cordelia around all of the time, right?”

Telling her they would spend plenty of time on their own if she wanted, Angel said there was one stipulation. “If we’re likely to end up having sex, it would be better that Cordelia be with us.”

Not what Buffy wanted to hear. “Maybe we could keep her on speed dial.”

“Think you’ll like it that much, do you?”

“Pretty sure.” Admitting with a nod of assent, “Cordelia gave Angelus awesome reviews, so that probably means you’re even better.”

Cordelia warned her that his ego was already big enough, but also had to ask, “Are you?” He only smiled back at her making her wonder how he planned to outdo his soulless self.

“Considering we were together just the one time, I think Angel gets a five-star review.”

“Duh! Blissful much?”

“It was perfect.” Buffy caught the sarcastic little twist to the words. “At least it was until Angelus showed up and mocked me. That was not of the fun.”

Catching the downward turn of Angel’s mouth, Cordelia nudged him with an elbow even as she addressed Buffy. “It was perfect. That’s the important part. Imagine what it’ll be like when you know what you’re doing.”

“Why are you being so helpful?” Buffy narrowed her gaze slowly trying to take stock of Cordelia’s motives. She had bounced around from one decision to another when it came to supporting her and Angel.

She kept her answer simple. “I know what he likes.”

Buffy shook her head. “You know what Angelus liked. What makes you think Angel likes the same things?”

“Angel’s a guy, and a vampire, and he already admitted that he’s got the same basic needs and desires. If there’s something else, I’ll figure that out as I go.”

In a strangely disconcerting, yet true way, Cordelia had been Angel’s girlfriend a lot longer, and far more intimately, than she had. He might have been Angelus at the time, but it was still his body, and he had all of the memories that went with it. Still, she didn’t want to let Cordelia think she had anything on her. “Maybe I’ll figure it out first.”

“Pfft! Maybe.” Turning to Angel, she said, “You’re being awfully quiet all of a sudden.”

Angel answered quietly, “Seems like the smart thing to do. Let you two work out the details.”

Staying out of the line of fire might be a good idea, but it was not fair, either. He was the only one who knew how to make this work. “C’mon, I know this isn’t the first time you’ve done this—been with two lovers.”

Buffy was in the middle of saying, “Hey, I haven’t said yes yet,” when she realized what Cordelia had revealed. Surprised, she gaped at him, “You have?”

Closing her eyes and shaking her head, Cordelia wondered if Buffy had ever listened to any of the details she shared. “Pay attention, Buffy. I told you all about Spike and Dru ages ago.”

“You said they wanted a threesome with you.” Buffy was as wigged out now as then. This was even worse. Angelus and Drusilla—icky, but she knew that she was his progeny. Spike was a different story being rude and crude and totally irritating. Even if vampires did that sort of thing she could not imagine Angel being with that pair of psychos. “Angelus was actually with them that way? You never said.”

Surprised, Cordelia realized that maybe she had been the one who had forgotten the details of the conversation. It coincided with her decision to break up with Angelus. “My bad. They totally did, and that wasn’t the only time. You really should read those Watchers Diaries. They’ve got a lot of interesting scary, sexy vampire stuff.”

Buffy remembered that Cordelia borrowed the old books to discover all that she could about Angel’s past. That was even before Angelus came along, before Willow’s spell, which possibly proved that her disinterest in vampires did not really apply to Angel after all. Even though Cor had discovered more than she probably intended, the sexy vampire stuff had not scared her away.

Those books would contain all of the Watchers Council’s collected data on his darkest days as part of the Scourge of Europe, Angel realized. It made him cringe to think of the things Cordelia had read there. Details about sexual games with his vampire family would be the least of it, no doubt. Those Watchers were everywhere, and Angelus had killed quite a few in his time, mainly for spying. Cordelia had not been very surprised when he said that her place was alongside him and Buffy, and now he understood the reason.

Angel realized that Cordelia had expected this from the start. Was it an acceptable proposition because she was simply more open about sex, or the result of Willow’s magic making her needs match his? Were her decisions her own, or because he wanted her, too? The idea tormented him enough to fear that she might once again change her mind.

“Are you making a point, Cordelia, or just trying to frighten Buffy?”

Blowing off his concerns, Cordelia pointed out, “She’s the Chosen One, slayer of demons, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. Why would she be scared of sex, even if it does sound a little kinky?”

Buffy answered instead with a question of her own. “You’re not afraid of it—even a little?”

“Kind of terrified,” she opted for the truth, “but I won’t let that stop me. If Angel wants us to be together like some sexy little vampire family, I’m in.”

Her words caused a swell of emotion that Angel found difficult to hide. Cordelia made no effort to disguise her feelings for him, even if he was the asshole who told her he couldn’t love her back. He had wanted her to fight for him, and seeing her so determined to make this happen, he felt a strange sense of pride. She had no clue that Buffy should be the one begging her for a place in his bed.

Buffy still sounded as if she was on the fence about it. Needing to hear it again, she asked, “Is that what you want, Angel, both of us?”

The image forming in his head seemed as genuine as the reality before him, Buffy and Cordelia, both gloriously nude, completely sated, and in his arms. The vivid thought distracted him long enough for Cordelia to answer for him.

“Buffy, he already said it. He wants you, loves you.” Reminding her of the difference, as she saw it anyway, “I’m liquid lunch. The girl who’s practically blackmailing both of you. So why don’t you shut up while you’re ahead.”

“Cor—,” Angel started to protest, but Cordelia cut him off.

“That goes double for you Mr Have Your Cake And Eat It Too.”

He had to gulp down another harsh response because he was still trying to figure out how to phrase the first one.

Cordelia let him struggle with it because she thought he was irritated at her telling his beloved Buffy to shut up. Staying on point, she asked them, “We can do this without it getting weird, right?”

Crossing her arms, Buffy gave herself a little squeeze as if she needed a hug. “It’s already weird. This is really wigging me out.”

“Neither one of us gets to have what we want, so we should make the best of it.” Putting a little spin on an earlier version of the idea, “Kind of like double-dating, only with the same guy. We both get a little alone time. You whenever you want, and me, I suppose whenever Angel needs my blood.”

“Dating,” Angel parroted the word stunned at how insipid it sounded.

Cordelia asked, “You want to call it something else?”

Buffy muttered, “Crazy.”

“Come up with a better idea,” she challenged. “You can’t. This is it. If you want to be with Angel you’ll have to let me be there, too.”

“You’re blackmailing my boyfriend—and me—into bed with you! Don’t expect me to like it.” Buffy paced between them and the bed like a caged lion.

Cordelia called out to her back, “I don’t like it either. Why do you have to be so—”

“Cordelia, stop talking,” Angel stepped in front of her as he demanded her attention. She looked outraged, and suddenly a little scared. “This is ridiculous.”

Not the way she saw it. “If I’m just supposed to sit around and watch you be in love with Buffy, I’ve got news for you. I want more than just the scraps you’re planning to throw my way. Tell me what it will take, Angel.”

He was genuinely confused having thought this was almost settled, at least on Cordelia’s part. “What it will take for what?”

“To be with you.”

Buffy almost ached for Cordelia at the sound of those words again. The first time had not brought her closer to a response she wanted to hear. If Angel rejected her feelings again, maybe Cordelia would give it up, and go back the blindfold idea. Although, after everything Angel had told them, his plans for Cordelia weren’t exactly platonic.

“Not just on speed dial,” she clarified.

Irritated, Angel raked a hand through his hair. “Have you heard a word I have said to you tonight?”

Easy answer. Cordelia responded in a clipped tone, “You love Buffy.”

“That’s what’s stuck in your head, my feelings for Buffy?”

Well, duh! “Even if you’re still kind of hot for me, that’s what matters.”

“Yes, Cordelia, I’m definitely kind of hot for you, since you’re phrasing it that way. It’s not just a matter of Angelus’ claim. I wanted you long before that. This bond we share may have been caused by magic, but it’s still about us. My feelings for you go deeper than sexual attraction. I can’t name them. I’ve never felt anything this intense before. So if you think you have to beg for my touch, or settle for anything that you don’t want in order to gain my full attention, you’re wrong.”

“So, it works both ways, then. You’re mine?”

Now that she knew, he wondered what Cordelia would do about it. He answered the only way he could. “Yes, I’m yours, Cordelia, always.”

Buffy reeled back at his words. “How can you want her so much when you say you love me?”

“Blame Willow’s soulmate clause if it makes you feel better about it,” Angel answered. “I only know that I do.”

Cordelia felt a little dizzy. “What’s next?”

“Trust me to make this work. I know it’s not what either of you want.”

“No, it’s not,” Buffy was quick to say, “but I want to be with you. Since the only way that can happen is if Cordelia is with us, I guess that means I’m in, too.”

Cordelia’s hesitation lasted only a few seconds as she let Buffy’s words sink in. “Congratulations Angel, looks like you win—both of us.” While that was not really what she preferred, it felt like she had no choice except to let it happen. Angel might say he needed her, and that his desires for her stemmed somewhere beyond the confines of the spells and vampire rites binding them together, but no matter what he said she knew the only choice that would make him happy would be one involving Buffy.

“Maybe it’s not the smartest thing. Or even the right thing. But it may be the only thing,” Angel said resolutely.

Even as his words provided food for thought, Cordelia knew he was right. Willow’s little soul-altering spell made this Buffy and Angel’s only option. It seemed apparent that the vampire’s mind was already made up. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t juggled two women before according to those Watcher entries— not to mention adding Spike into the mix.

Buffy looked close to hyperventilating at the thought that she might lose Angel or end up in an even more bizarre relationship. “Can we—let’s just agree to do this and stop talking about it?”

“There’s something important that Cordelia needs to understand first,” Angel promised while giving Buffy’s hand a little squeeze continuing to hold it as he spoke to Cordelia. “Whether or not Buffy has a permanent place in my life is not solely my decision.” Hoping he was making the right choice by disclosing everything, he explained it earnestly, “Give your consent, or deny it. You have that inherent right.”

“That’s not fair!” Buffy definitely did not like that idea at all. “We were together first. This is Angelus’ fault, isn’t it? He did this.”

Stunned, Cordelia wondered, “When exactly were you planning to tell me?”

His answer came swiftly. “I wasn’t. I didn’t want to risk that you would turn Buffy away, but I don’t want to lie to you, Cordelia.”

“So, you’re saying I could just tell Buffy to take a hike, and you would actually let her go?”

Even though he struggled to answer, Angel managed a simple, “Yes.”

Turning pale, Buffy feared the worst, certain that Cordelia would do the selfish thing by making Angel cut off all contact with her. “Don’t make him do that. We made a pact. You promised to help so I could be with Angel.”

“That was before Angel decided the truth might actually count. I have already dealt out more than enough second chances.” Both Buffy and Angel looked miserable, she noted thinking they deserved it just a bit.

Sooner or later one of the Watchers would have said something, or she would have read it on her own. Cordelia’s sense of curiosity was not a thing to ignore or underestimate. If he was going to be honest, Angel knew he had to say, “When I told you that Angelus would never let you have another lover, that I wouldn’t, I failed to mention that you get the same privileges.”

Cordelia arched an eyebrow. It was everything she wanted to hear, but she also knew he was silently asking her to choose something else.

“Being a vampire’s mate is about belonging to one another. I am yours just as much as you are mine. Our bond will become closer over time, with the intimacy of sex and blood creating a deeper connection.”

“Or you could just not do those things,” Buffy chimed in. “Maybe it will just go away if you ignore it. Call it un-bonding.”

“Never,” Angel’s swift denial made her flinch. “Buffy, if you want me as a lover, you’ll need to accept that Cordelia is mine.”

Cordelia couldn’t deny the thrill she got from hearing those words, at least to herself. Surprisingly, there seemed to be lots of rites, rituals, and mandates for vampires, who otherwise did anything they wanted. She knew a little about vampire clan hierarchy with master vampires, their chosen progeny, others who had been turned, and their minions. Random lovers, favored ‘pets’, and official mates were layered into the family structure in ways that were less clear.

While all of that might have applied to Angelus at one time, it did not for Angel, which left her wondering why he was being such a stickler for the rules. He was not bound to his sire, Darla, nor to the Master of Clan Aurelius. Both were dust. Drusilla and Spike, and who knows who else were scattered.

The anguish glistening in Buffy’s eyes was hard to miss. It would be so easy to make her crack with just a word or two by keeping Angel all to herself. That was what she really wanted, but what might be good for Cordelia Chase was probably not so good for the rest of humanity. If she sent the Chosen One into a tailspin again by denying her true love things would just get ugly.

Worse, Angel would get probably get broody about it, too. A depressed vampire did not sound like much fun in or out of the bedroom. Cordelia realized that any decision she made was going to cause problems. She could stand her ground, and despite the misery it would spawn for all of them, try to hold on to whatever part of Angel belonged only to her. That urge was so powerful, tempting her. Only, she did not want Angel to look at her with contempt. Even if he needed her blood, or craved a physical connection, he would never open his heart to her, not even a little.

Although Angel’s words made it seem like she held all the cards, there was only one thing she could do. “This is not about what I want from you or take from you, Cordelia. It’s what you choose to give to me.”

“Easy choice, my only choice,” she said with resolve drawing anxious looks from both of them. “I’ll give you what will make you happiest, even if that means I have to share you with Buffy.”

Angel reached out to cup her face caressing the curve of her cheek as he tried to find the words to thank her. Before he could manage more than her name, Buffy nearly knocked her off her feet with a tight hug, thankfully, letting her go just as quickly. “You won’t regret this. We’ll make it work,” she said just as Angel gave up on talking at all giving Cordelia soft little kiss instead. “I promise I’ll try not to be jealous—much. Are you sure the blindfold is a bad idea? Maybe I need one.”

The whiny tone told Cordelia jealousy might be an issue for both of them, but she was determined not to sound like that about it. “Good grief! You’re rambling worse than Willow.”

“It’s okay to be nervous,” Angel assured her as he pulled Buffy into his arms. He held her against him, his big hands moving soothingly along her spine. When she raised her head to look up at him, he said, “I’m not going to rush you.”

Cordelia watched the slow strokes remembering the way Angelus used to touch her in his more tender moments. She missed that. The way it felt as his cool fingers trailed teasingly across her curves and ensuring that every millimeter of warm skin was given equal attention. Would it be different with Angel? Impatient more than nervous, she thought this felt a little too much like waiting in line at an amusement park where it took forever just to get on the ride.

“Can we keep it simple tonight?” Buffy asked softly. “Nothing too. . .”

Kisses softly feathered across Buffy’s lips easing into increasingly intense ones as Cordelia’s gaze lingered over every caress, her body taut with tension. This would be the easiest thing she would have to deal with, their tender, loving little smooches, and passionate lip-locks. How could something that clawed at her insides also look so hot? Maybe it was just that it was Angel doing the kissing. Anything he did was a turn-on.

Suddenly, he turned his gaze toward her as if he noticed the way she struggled to control her arousal. There was nothing simple or sweet in those dark eyes staring back at her. For a moment, it was all Cordelia could do to breathe. She licked at the seam of her lips trying to find something to say, or the will to move. “Just kisses—like last night?”

That was a horrible option. Why had she said that? Sure, that’s all she preferred Buffy to get, and even then only begrudgingly so. It sucked, but it was sort of her own fault. First for volunteering to be some kind of soul stabilizer, but also by agreeing to all of this. She wanted Angel too much to say no to anything that was going to make him happy, so that meant she was just going to have to deal.

Cordelia wanted more than the limitations of her ridiculous suggestion allowed. So far, she hadn’t even gotten that, and yet felt desperate for more. Her nipples tightened into pebble hard poking against the silk of her bra making her want his hands there, or better yet the skillful flick of his tongue. There were other places she wanted similar attention, along with his talented fingers, but it was that ultimate connection she craved the most having every hard inch of him filling her up.

Simple enough, she justified it even while knowing the way he always made her feel could never be classified that way. Angel took her words as a suggestion, even though he raised his brow silently questioning it. Telling Buffy, “Have, take, or share as many kisses as you like tonight, but when that clock strikes the top of the hour if you still are not ready I’ll let you go home to think about all of this.”

They all glanced at the ornate clock decorating the mantle. There were only twelve minutes left before it hit eight o’clock, way too early leave. Cordelia felt like she just got there having volunteered to pick up their blood and Chinese takeout.

“Okay, Cinderella, it may not be midnight, but you’ve got a decision to make.” Buffy clung to Angel while she stared her down, feeling just as possessive, not that Cordelia could blame her for it. Couldn’t she tell they were already past the point where thinking about any of this was an option? Thinking wouldn’t solve anything. “Stay here or run away.”

The corner of Angel’s mouth tilted up, but he had no time to say what he was thinking, assuming he meant to say anything at all. Buffy took his face in both hands, pulling him to her as he reached up, claiming a kiss that heated up almost instantly. Maybe she realized the clock was ticking down, and did not want to waste any time, but Cordelia knew it was some sort of power play, recognizing the little side-eyed glimpse thrown her way.

Considering the way Angel claimed control over the kiss, he cared only that Buffy wanted more than just chaste kisses as she opened up to let his tongue tease hers. His hands moved across her gentle curves with purpose now making her moan into his mouth. “I suppose that makes me one of the stepsisters,” Cordelia continued the analogy, not liking it one bit. No freakin’ way! She refused to think of herself that way much less let anyone else do it.

Hands on her hips, she decided that whatever was happening here, it was not just a spectator sport, although letting Buffy take a back seat for a while was fine with her. Angel’s kisses had fired up something in the blonde because she suddenly pushed him toward the nearest wall and sprang on him. The painting hanging nearby rattled on its hooks, but it wasn’t any shakier than she felt moving up beside them.

Their wild embrace left them battling for dominance, Angel winning out as he grabbed her none too gently to thrust her against the wall. They kept on kissing, with Buffy panting for air between desperate clashes. She felt a little breathless herself, and just as worked up, wanting his hands on her. Leaning back against the wall, as close as she could get, Cordelia managed to sound casual about asking, “Do I just jump on this kissing bandwagon or am I supposed to wait in my room until you want me?”

Angel pulled his mouth from Buffy’s needy lips, muscles tensing as his hands pressed into the wall making her wonder if he was angry about the interruption. His girlfriend certainly didn’t appreciate it. “Cor!” she gasped her name as if she had completely forgotten she was there at all. Selective amnesia? Mind-numbing kisses will do that for you.

Finally lifting his gaze, Angel looked like he was about to crawl out of his skin, or vamp out. Normally warm brown eyes bordered on topaz as he focused on her. Nostrils flared. What did he see when he looked at her that way? His senses revealed everything she might try to hide from him.

Almost cautiously, he closed his hand around the nape of her neck to pull her forward, and she went willingly into his arms. “Christ, Cordy!” When his lips touched her neck they were already warm, and she tried not to think about why. He pressed his mouth to his mark, and to her jaw before pausing above her lips. “You tempt me so much. If I kiss you like I did last night I won’t want to stop.”

Any control he had left was already wearing thin. “Maybe I want more than last night,” she confessed softly making him cave into his desire.

Trembling, she clasped onto his shoulders as he bypassed any sweet primers pressing her lips open beneath his in a sensual onslaught that left her eager for more. A raw whisper above her lips, he asked, “What do you want?”

“You,” she answered honestly. “Now.”

Sweeping her up into his arms, Angel carried Cordelia to the bed where he set her down gently despite the urgency building up between them. It took concentrated effort not to lunge at her like a lust crazed caveman. His need was just that sudden and powerful, and too difficult to ignore despite planning to take things slowly.

Cordelia reached for his belt, fumbling with it in her eagerness, only to get distracted by the obvious tenting along the right leg of his pants. A flick of her tongue peeking between her full lips was all it took to bring back memories of her mouth and hands turning his world inside out. Natural curiosity and enthusiasm had combined with Angelus’ insistent tips to make her quite talented at pleasuring him.

Letting Cordelia tease him that way would have to wait until later. No matter how tempting, he did not have the patience right now. “Hands on the bed, Cordelia.”

Angel let out a groan as she moved to comply managing to defy him at the same time by lightly brushing her fingernails down the hard length of his covered erection. “Killjoy,” she muttered pressing her hands into the bedspread. The move drew his gaze down to the soft lavender silk blouse hugging her curves, and the pearl buttons he planned to pluck open one by one. Her miniskirt rode high on her thighs, closed tight as she leaned back with her ankles crossed, denying him an illicit peek at those panties.

Finishing what she started, he unhooked his belt and slowly slid it off through the loops deliberately drawing it out and watching sparks of arousal light up her eyes. That wasn’t enough. Thick as honey, she sounded out her plea, both sweet and hot. “More.” Angel had every intention of giving her as much as she could handle, but for now he let his hand slide down toward his waist to pluck open the button on his trousers leaving the zipper closed.

Openly flirting now, Cordelia told him he could forgo the striptease wanting to handle the rest herself. “I do like opening presents.”

“Me, too.”

He reached for her foot, raising it up to his chest in order to unbuckle the tiny strap of her shoe. Peach-colored panties, maybe apricot, he decided, keeping his eyes on her while shifting her bare foot down to the bed so that her raised knee opened her up to his view, almost flesh toned. Ripe, juicy, and delicious, making him want to taste her there. Not now, he restrained the urge even though it made his mouth water in anticipation, but soon.

“This one, too,” Cordelia prompted holding up her other foot.

After dropping the shoe to the floor, Angel kissed the soft pulse behind her ankle, and caressed the smooth skin of her calf before letting her go. An impatient sigh parted her lips, her eyes dark with lust, equally eager for sex. It wouldn’t take much to make it happen. Just a couple of seconds to rip away those silky panties, shove his pants down, and a few more to thrust full length deep inside her tight heat. He wanted to imprint himself on her body so that Cordelia had no further doubts that she belonged to him.

Angelus’ memories of Cordelia were intensely clear. Every millimeter of silken skin he had touched. Addictive tastes he so enjoyed. Her mouth, a constant source of annoying opinions and harsh truths, provided just as much pleasure as pain. He recalled the beautiful lines and curves of her body, but needed more than memories wanting to discover reality for himself.

Thoughts of fucking her again—or for the first time—made Angel clasp her thighs pulling her closer toward the edge of the bed. She reached for him, too, offering up a fiery kiss while sliding her hands under his soft sweater. He moaned at her warm touch. Suddenly, something was happening, an annoyance, distracting them both. A repetitive chime sounded from the mantle clock, and a familiar, but shaky voice calling out their names. “What are you doing? We were gonna keep it simple tonight. Kisses, you said. It’s hard enough to watch you kiss her, but this—”

Buffy was standing at the end of the bed clutching the footboard as if her life depended on it. He had forgotten she was there as soon as he turned his attention to Cordelia, which staggered him considering that only minutes ago she had been in his arms. Guilt rushed in enough to make him ask, “Are you feeling neglected?” Angel held out his hand, palm up, his fingers curling in invitation, encouraging her to come to him. “Join us, Buffy. Do whatever you’re comfortable with. Watch us, let me touch you, share our kisses, make love, anything you want.”

She moved to stand in front of him, her head tilted down so that he had to crook a finger under her chin to get her to look into his eyes. “I thought. . . I thought tonight was going to be about us, you and me.”

Angel kissed her softly, apologetically, reminding her, “This can never be just about us, Buffy. We can have our private moments, make time for just the two of us. Anything more means Cordelia will be here. You can choose to be with us, but there will still be nights when you won’t be welcome in our bed.”

Yet another truth that might frighten her off, Angel realized, wishing he had said something to persuade Buffy to stay. Instead, he watched the hurt filling her eyes harden as she challenged him for the details. “Why not?”

A glance toward Cordelia, who lay on her side propping her head in her hand, told Angel that she was equally startled by his words. Everything that happened between her and Angelus should have clued her in to all of his needs, so it wasn’t the suggestion that he might want things he was reluctant to allow Buffy to witness. If she had a question for him, Cordelia kept it to herself.

“That’s just something you’ll have to accept.” Angel tried to soften his words, but the tension straining his voice made it clear to Buffy that he meant it. “I want you tonight, but I can’t settle for kisses from Cordy. I need to be with her.” The intensity of his desire made him wonder how long it would continue. Having her again now might sate his hunger for her beautiful body simply because he craved it again after being apart from her for so long, but he sensed that would not be the case. How could it? More likely, it would extend far beyond this one night to every night that followed.

Frustrated with having to wait, Cordelia let out a little gruff sound. “Do you want to stay or not? Make up your mind.”

Buffy opted to go home. She looked teary-eyed as she gave them both an accusatory stare. “You don’t want me here.”

“Angel does,” Cordelia swiftly reminded her what was important. “You know he does.”

“But you don’t.”

“So what if I don’t? You don’t want me here, either. We’re even.”

Angel tried to soothe Buffy’s frayed nerves, but she jerked away from his touch. “I love you, Angel, but I can’t be here right now.”

He wanted to grab hold of her arms as Buffy started to turn away. To make her stay to see that this could work if she let it. Forcing himself to remain still, Angel watched her dart out of the bedroom as fast as she could. That empty doorway held his attention for a long time until his gaze dropped to the floor drawing his mouth down along with it.

How could he do this to her? Angel blamed himself for not paying Buffy enough attention. He wanted to show her love again, to take back the things Angelus had said to her that night. Prove he cared only for her. That was just it, he admitted inwardly as the guilt of it twisted his gut. He cared for Cordelia, too. Maybe it wasn’t the kind of love he shared with Buffy, but he could not deny the powerful emotions she stirred up.

Watching his reaction, Cordelia saw the shame darkening his face as it dipped low. He rubbed at his forehead, carelessly threaded his fingers through his hair, and then stood staring at the doorway again with his hands on his hips, anger and self-blame taking root. Despite his lack of comment, she could tell he was deeply affected by Buffy’s departure.

Just as she suspected—Brood City. No way was she going to let Angel feel rotten about this. She scooted to the edge of the bed and pushed off hopping to her feet. Padding across the carpet, Cordelia stopped at his side. “She’ll be back. Maybe not tonight, or even this week, but this is typical. Buffy runs away, pouts about it, and then eventually crawls back to deal with all the crap she left behind.”

Somberly, he said, “Don’t be so hard on her, Cordy. This is my fault.”

“No, it’s not, Angel, and you shouldn’t blame yourself for stuff that’s out of your control.” Cordelia poked him hard lighting a slow burn in those dark eyes. “Buffy’s got a lot on her plate right now, and some of it might even be legit. None of that is your fault.”

A cleft formed between his eyebrows. “Do you really believe that?”

“Damn skippy! Besides, if she blames anyone, it’ll be me. I’m the one who encouraged you to break the rules.” Reaching out, Cordelia placed both hands on his chest as she took full responsibility for causing Buffy to leave. “I wanted more than she was ready to share.” Nothing had changed to quell those clamoring needs.

“Don’t apologize for wanting me,” Angel shook his head slowly. “Buffy doesn’t get to judge you for that.” He touched her face, her lips, and trailed his fingertips across a collarbone. “You’re mine, Cordelia. I’m yours. That’s just the way it is. Sex is natural, a necessity. One day you’ll come to understand that anything you want from me is yours for the asking.”

Cordelia heard the words without truly believing the sincerity behind them. They had already covered what Angel was and was not capable of giving her. “I want more from you than just hot sex—which I don’t seem to be getting at the moment anyway now that Miss Mood Killer has stomped off.”

Even though she understood Buffy’s issues, it was difficult not to get caught up with the idea of being taken by Angel again, or for the first time, whatever the case. She wanted to be in his arms, surrounded by his strength, touched, fully possessed, but he was distracted by his girlfriend’s sudden departure, and Cordelia was not about to beg for attention. If he expected her to ask for it every time she wanted an itch scratched, it was a good thing Angel didn’t need to worry about holding his breath for eternity.

“Guess I should just go home, too.” A little sigh escaped as she moved her arms from around his neck letting them fall limply to the sides as she stepped away to look for her shoes.

Barely a second passed before Angel reached out to pull her back. The speed of the move knocked the wind out of her lungs as she slammed into his chest. It wasn’t guilt or thoughtful reflection or a sense of duty storming in his darkened eyes. Resolutely, he told her, “You are home,” rasping the words just before his mouth branded hers with a kiss.

Do these intimacies disturb or arouse? Yet you cannot look away. You must not. For what is to come was wrought upon a forge of passion, a font of emotion that drives them toward destiny, a whirlwind not of our making, but yours.

Dizziness made her cling to his broad shoulders. Discovering what he meant by those vehement words quickly became less of a priority than responding to the way he parted her lips taking possession with one hungry kiss after the other. Desire shot across every nerve turning her into a wild thing trembling in sudden desperation for more. It felt like an eternity since she had been in his arms even though it was just last night.

His touch never lingered, stroking, cupping, teasing through the layers of clothing separating them. It was maddening wanting to feel his skin against hers, the slide of those fingers, the press of his palms, the grip of his hands, everywhere. The slightest brush of his fingertips beneath her skirt tracing deliberately across the seam of her panties made her moan wantonly and arch closer, but he did no more than slide across her covered mound.

Cordelia quivered at the delicious jolt it incited, lusty flames licking hot inside her. The tilt of her throat brought his mouth there, and the blunt nip of his teeth. He rubbed his mouth against the spot behind her right ear before lifting up just enough to look into her eyes, his needful gaze mixing with a slew of emotions she was afraid to interpret. Desire won out over her fears that he might be thinking of a certain blonde in that moment, and still distracted by regrets.

A deeply possessive kiss of her own followed, hot and hungry, her pink tongue darting deep as he let her in. Her hands dropped down low to his waistband navigating the zipper carefully despite her eagerness to slip her hand inside discovering smooth skin underneath, and a trail of hair leading down to her prize. Rock-hard, he felt massive in her hand, and she enjoyed the way his cool flesh warmed to her touch. A rumble sounded in his throat as her fingers tightened around his girth drawing him into the open.

Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, she nipped at it, giving it a little tug as her anticipation mounted. Oh, yes, she remembered every awesome, slightly terrifying erect inch of him. Touching him only made her hotter. Cordelia ached for this, for him, wanting everything. Not just the many ways he could pleasure her, but torturing him just a little, too, by teasing him with a hint of the ecstasy to come.

The slow slide of her fingers along his turgid flesh made Angel capture her hand. He wasn’t there to stop her. Tightening his grip over hers, he rode along for a few long strokes making his head tilt and his eyes roll back. After a gruff expletive, Angel collected his wits enough to issue a warning, “You’re playing with fire.”

“Seems like you’re playing with it, too,” she teased.

The corners of his mouth quirked up just before he stole another kiss. Slowly, he led her back step by step until the her legs met the bed, gently easing her down onto the mattress. Licking at his lips, he stared down at her, eyes darkened with lust, barely holding on to his vaunted control. “You’re so damned beautiful,” he muttered almost to himself.

Cordelia’s hair spread out across the coverlet, brown eyes bright, lips swollen from his kisses, her lavender blouse askew as half the buttons were haphazardly undone clinging to her breasts and teasing him with glimpses of cleavage and lace. The short skirt bunched up at her hips as her knees bent high drawing her thighs up as her fingers scrabbled beneath to tug off her panties.

Galvanized into action, Angel whipped off his grey sweater, pushed his pants down, kicked off his shoes, stepped out of the tangled mess at his feet, and snagged his socks off in a matter of seconds. He was fully naked before Cordelia’s panties were halfway down her gorgeous legs. She laughed heartily, “Eager much?” as his hands covered hers to take over her sexy little task.

Nodding, he managed to rasp, “Yeah,” while drifting the peach-colored silk the rest of the way before tossing them onto the pile of clothes on the floor.

“Don’t make me wait.” There was a tense little nip to the words. Angel could tell she was already on edge even though he had barely touched her.

Later, Angel promised her silently, he would try to be tender, and make love to her gently, taking his time and letting himself rediscover every gorgeous millimeter of golden skin. He recognized the fragrant scent of her arousal. The sheen of it glistened on the feminine folds visible as he ran his palms down her open thighs. Dipping his tongue inside for a quick taste would never satisfy that particular craving, so he held back the urge even though it made his mouth water.

It felt as if he had been waiting a hundred years for this. Taking hold of her slim hips, Angel slid Cordelia down to the edge of the mattress. He wanted everything, all of her, now. Standing, he shifted his grasp to her thighs pressing them back as he slowly impaled her on his shaft inch by inch. She arched, writhing as he thrust deeper, filling her up so he was completely sheathed, already making her moan his name. The tight heat gripping him felt so familiar, just right.

Even though Angelus had often interrupted Cordelia’s daily routine just to indulge himself, he preferred the nights spent in her bed. He would meet her at the Bronze, the Sun Cinema, or on Joyce Summer’s front porch, where they would go to the empty Chase estate. His invitation had never been in question. There, he would draw out their foreplay torturing her and himself with escalating pleasures until one or both of them cracked.

Angel was already there, and sensing that Cordelia was close, too, he dragged his gaze from hers to the juncture of their bodies watching as his hard length speared deep. The erotic image gnawed at his control. Possessiveness swelled up at the thought that she belonged to him in every way, especially this way. Torqued up, driven by a raw, physical need he could not deny, he made her take it all, again and again. The tight clench of her cunt felt so good, as her hips, thighs, and ass slammed back at him. Cordelia’s needy whimpers escalated into sharp little cries interlaced with his own rough attempts to praise her enthusiasm.

It was too much, and not enough all at the same time. Angel felt his sex swell, his balls drawing up with every thrust, as she arched into him seeking even more contact. Cordelia’s first orgasm crested fast, spasming in shockwaves around his already throbbing cock, providing sensations almost more than he could take. Nearly losing it, Angel let out a growl, pulling out of her heat, stemming off his urge to come. More, he wanted more of this, not ready for this first time to end.

Seeing her like this, with her hungry eyes urging him for closeness, he held back. Being in her arms seemed more than he could handle right now. Before she could say anything, he flipped her onto her stomach. Cordelia let out a surprised gasp at the sudden move, but there was no protest, just an eager moan of anticipation. Instead of letting her crawl into a familiar position on her hands and knees, Angel pulled her hips off the bed practically suspending her lower body in the air as he made room between her thighs.

Cordelia grasped the bedcovers for purchase as he thrust forward, his whole body arching into it until he filled her completely. He watched as she struggled to gain leverage, aching to move in counterpoint to each determined thrust. By design, this position gave him control both over her and the possessive thoughts crowding his head. The only intimate thing about it was their direct physical connection, but it staved off the impulse to climax too quickly, or sate cravings better off ignored for now.

Soothing words were beyond him as he gave it to her in an unrelenting rhythm. He needed this—sex, raw pleasure, nothing too complicated. Except it was tangled up with a measure of guilt. He wasn’t supposed to want Cordelia this way, not when he loved someone else. Thinking of Buffy made him growl in denial. He had tried to explain, to tell her that Cordelia was more than just an outlet for his lust. He needed her, not just her passionate nature, but everything she had denied Angelus by renouncing his claim, as if mere words could ever change it.

Ecstatic cries filtered through his lustful haze, the throaty sound of his name on her parted lips, and her stilted attempts to string words together to tell him how insanely good it felt to have him inside her. He loved the incoherent way she begged for more. So beautiful, his Cordelia, with the waves of her silky hair bouncing wildly around her shoulders with each thrust of his hips. Her lavender blouse twisted up along with the short little skirt ringing her waist exposing her bare ass. Those taut curves jiggled just enough to tempt him with reminders that his mate was up for anything he got off on.

It had been so long since Cordelia had first given herself to him—to Angelus—at least for him. Time had passed differently in that other dimension, but his memories and desires were all coming back to him. Things were different now. He was different, too, but she was still his. Even if his heart was tangled up somewhere else, he could give her this, ensure her pleasure.

Angel felt victorious as Cordelia came twice in quick succession, a fast little burst that set him off, and ended with another. He came so hard, shooting into her with a roar, and short, deep strokes until his ability to stand upright suddenly vanished. Collapsing forward, he managed to avoid squashing her, but since she was already half off the bed they ended up in a heap on the floor.

On his back with Cordelia draped over him, they were still connected, and despite the sudden fall, he wasn’t finished. Instinct drove him on. Securing her in place with one arm, his fingers skirted her breast filling his palm with it. His other hand cupped her mound, his fingers stroking her sensitized clit causing her to spasm around him. Arching into his touch, she moved with him as he thrust the last of his release inside her.

Breathing hard, trying to speak, Cordelia managed a few words before sporadic laughter took over. Not something Angel was used to when he was still physically connected with a lover. He was usually in complete control, but not today for some reason. Considering this was the first time he had sex—that he could remember—in who knows how long, it was still mind-blowing.

“Oh, gawd, that was so awesome!” Cordelia tilted her face toward him, eyes bright, her cheeks flushed. He was relieved that she thought so, too, considering. “Seems we’re trying out new positions today. What’s this one called?”

A wry smile twitched at Angel’s lips in response. “Clumsy vampire,” he quipped back while reluctantly letting his softened cock slip out of her. Even that felt fantastic, both reacting to the sensation with a moan of pleasure. Cordelia wriggled around turning herself over on top of him. “Careful,” he warned. “Don’t crush anything you might want later.”

“Guess I can be extra careful with everything I touch if you want me to be gentle.” Her words stirred up more memories of things that roused the demon within. Games Angelus would play with his curious mate. “Unless you don’t. Either way, I’ll just kiss it better.”

She teased him with the idea of letting her trail kisses across his bare skin, and hinted at that blowjob he had been thinking about for a while now. “You can have your way with me later,” Angel promised before swooping up to claim her mouth, and slowing it down this time.

Their kisses were like a fine wine with savory underlying flavors and delicious notes drawing them back for more. He had almost forgotten her taste, and the way her lips pressed softly, eagerly into his, the temptation of her warmth and the wet tease of her tongue. Only one thing distracted Angel from Cordelia’s intoxicating kisses—the clothes creating a barrier between his skin and hers. They had to go.

Somehow he managed to stop touching her long enough to navigate the fairly straight-forward zipper on her skirt. The satisfying sound it made on its way down was enough to stir him into a hardened state. Her thighs parted to accommodate him and she reached between them to grasp his cock angling it perfectly. Angel watched her through half-lidded eyes as Cordelia worked herself down inch by inch.

It felt incredible as she started to move. Angel let her control the pace knowing she would enjoy it more. She braced her hands on his chest, tilted her head back and screwed her eyes closed tight. The skirt kept blocking his view, and he had enough of it. Sliding his hands up her thighs, he circled her hips, reaching back to grasp the soft material, and giving it one hard yank to rend it down the seam.

Immediately distracted, Cordelia paused, her eyes popping open at the sound. A little gasp of horror followed, “That was Versace!”

Angel wanted to remind her there was an entire closet full of designer clothes in the next room, but it was difficult to get a word in edgewise as she harped on him about it. He really didn’t want to talk, and Cordy didn’t really want him to do anything except agree, so he just held on wondering if she even realized that she was both lecturing and fucking him at the same time. Moving again, bouncing along the length of his shaft, hitting all the right spots, she sank down upon its thick base. Harder than before, ramming home her point about the sanctity of her clothes. It felt incredible. Too good to stay still. His hands roamed the spaces of smooth skin from her thighs spreading out to gently squeeze her ass as she rode him wildly.

Her sudden orgasm cut the lecture short, leaving her gasping, words caught in her throat as Angel stroked into her from below. Still rock hard, he was far from finished. The night was just beginning and he needed everything Cordelia could give. Time had been lost to him, he had no idea how much, but he planned to recoup every moment. Not only in this physical way, but for now it was what he needed, and he intended to enjoy every last second the night had to offer.

Angel embraced her when she collapsed forward, his arms circling her, holding her close. “So, I take it you like this blouse, too,” he murmured his little joke against her temple as he pressed a kiss there. His fingers traced a pattern along her spine down to the small of her back.

A surprised little squeal sounded as he flipped them over and started to pluck the buttons open one by one. When he moved, her long legs tightened around his hips, holding him where he was still lodged deep inside her. Angling up on her elbows, she distracted him with a kiss, one he willingly got lost in.

Cordelia finally pulled back a little drawing in a gasp when their kiss stole the breath from her. “This is just a rug burn waiting to happen. There’s a perfectly good bed up there.”

A wry smile twitched at his lips in response. “You want to try it the old fashioned way?”

“It’s a classic for a reason. I like having you on top of me. To feel you everywhere. Being able to see you, to touch you when we’re like this.” The confession was sexy and sweet all at the same time, but there was no shyness visible when Cordelia held his gaze.

This was familiar because Angelus had made it so by fucking her whenever and wherever he chose to take her. Magic had made her compliant. Was it second nature now? Her desire to please him, to give herself to him, a remnant of a spell gone wrong? Maybe it was all new. This inner pull toward each other, a need for connection at the most basic level. He knew there were so many reasons that guilt should win out over lust, but he could not deny the depths of this attraction.

“Hold on tight.”

Supernatural strength and balance came in handy now and then. Angel picked her up, raising them both up off the floor. “Oh!” Gravity pulled Cordelia down another notch as they shifted upright. “Umm! This could be fun, too.”

“Let’s try to stay on the bed this time.”

Angel made love to her slowly moving within her at a pace designed to keep them both on the edge of ecstasy, drawing out their pleasure. He wanted to reveal her body slowly, one button at a time, pressing kisses across her skin, stroking every millimeter he discovered. A jolt of pure satisfaction pierced him when her lavender silk blouse floated down to the floor. He made quick work of discarding her lacy bra even though it made a lovely display as it cupped her breasts.

Balancing himself, he filled a palm with one tempting globe, noting the way it shaped to his touch. He caressed her with his thumb whispering across fragile flesh teasingly close to the tight peak of her nipple. “Like what you see?” Cordelia asked confident of his response only to startle as he lifted his gaze back to hers.

Rumbling out of him, his voice sounded thick, “Any man would.”

Swamped by a sudden wave of possessiveness questions came to him he had no right to ask. Had he not been hellbound in Acathla’s domain, Cordelia’s loyalty would be expected. Being presumed dead might have changed all that. Damning the consequences, he asked anyway. “Who else has touched you this way?”

Fire flared in her eyes and Angel knew he was about to be burned. He braced for it, pausing the slow thrust of his hips, knowing he shouldn’t have spoken, but desperate to know the truth. Voice thickening with each syllable, he urged her, “Just tell me.”

Anger colored her response, and he could feel it. “Do you honestly think I would want anyone else so soon after being with Angelus?” Only three months had passed, so they had told him, the course of a single summer in Sunnydale.

Excusing his poor judgment, he explained, “Time was different there.” His words just covered up the extent of his relief that she had been with no one else. It should not have meant anything, but it did. So much more than he could ever say.

Cordelia’s question came with a worried tone, “How much different? Tell me.”

“Now?”

This hardly seemed the time for serious conversations. Cordelia quickly reminded him that he had interrupted things first. “The memories are already fading. Honestly, it seems like decades, but I don’t know how much of it was real.”

Something flashed through his head, dark and horrible, a shadow of a memory, but one that made his shoulders tense. He jerked in response clenching his eyes shut and turning his face away from hers, but she felt his muscles tightening up beneath her hands and knew they had uncovered something he did not want to remember.

Cordelia gently palmed his face while pressing her soft lips to his other cheek. “Just focus on me and forget about that place. I’m real. This is real.”

Her words echoed in his head just as she moved rhythmically beneath him, arms and legs embracing him as he resumed his slow, sensual pace. Every sense promised her words were true as he drew out every moment, savoring the sensation of her warmth, the silky skin beneath his lips; listening to the rhythm of her heart quickening as he nuzzled her breasts, teasing their tight little peaks with the flick of his tongue, or drawing one into his mouth. Nothing was more real than this, every feeling intense, their physical connection deep, pleasure building each time they moved.

“I-I changed my mind,” Buffy’s shaky voice sounded from the doorway. Having taken the long way home to Revello Drive she stopped short of heading inside as she realized leaving Angel alone with Cordelia was a mistake.

Despite her worries, her return was not exactly hasty. With every step she asked herself if she was going to be able to handle seeing Angel kiss Cordelia the way he had last night. Obviously, they had every intention of having sex, and that was not okay with Buffy. Way not okay, but it wasn’t like she had a choice, which caused surprise and confusion.

It felt like her life was spinning out of control again. Insanity was the norm now, she supposed, as she looked toward the bed where things were definitely not finished. A startling amount of nakedness and other obvious things were happening right in front of her that made her hold her breath as tears welled up. Her heart was pounding in her chest at the sight of them.

What had she expected? Buffy asked herself the question, and got an answer she did not like. Angel obviously hadn’t come to his senses yet. He was still confused. Remembering Angelus’ desires. Even if his spiel earlier had said quite plainly that he wanted Cordelia, too, Buffy hoped he would realize after quickly sating this irresistible need he claimed to have for his mate, that once would be enough.

Considering the length of time it had taken her to return it seemed the theory might have a few holes. Worse, this seemed so intimate. Angel seemed to be worshipping Cordelia’s beautiful body with every caress. He touched her tenderly, almost reverently, as they moved together.

Angel had been so focused on his lover that he did not notice Buffy as she slipped through the open bedroom door. It wasn’t until she spoke that he tensed up, turned his head in her direction, his expression one of a darkening storm cloud. “Buffy,” he spoke her name it as if she was the last person he expected, and with more frustration than relief at her return.

Cordelia flashed an annoyed look and then scrunched her eyes closed as if the sight of her was too much of a distraction. “No, no, noooo! I was almost—nope, not anymore.”

It looked like there was plenty of frustration to go around. “You’re as taut as bow string. Relax. It’s only Buffy.” Angel said it as if her sudden reappearance should not be cause enough to interrupt the sex. Raising his torso, he made no move to separate himself from Cordelia.

He looked so hot, and male with his powerful shoulders and firm chest, drawing her eyes down the line of his body. From this angle, she could not see anything except the tangle of their limbs, but she knew he was still inside her. It was wrong, so wrong! Buffy wanted to close her eyes or look away, but couldn’t.

Angel had made things perfectly clear. If she wanted him, it was going to mean Cordelia would be there too. The shock must have painted her face because he flat out told her, “You’re not ready for this.”

Was it possible to be ready? Buffy doubted it. Sometimes you just had to dive in and do it. That usually applied to fighting demons, of course, but still had the makings of a good pep talk. Do it. “I want to be here with you.”

For an instant, she saw love in that heart-thumping familiar gaze. That was all she ever needed to remind herself why this would be worth any sacrifice. Somehow, this would all work out for them, all three of them, as crazy as that still sounded. Holding onto that little scrap of hope to gird herself against those last second nerves, Buffy started to undress.

“Happy now?” she heard Cordelia ask with just a hint of a challenge. It drew Angel’s attention like a magnet.

When he answered, it wasn’t with words, but he seemed to convey so much. Buffy kept pausing to stare because it was kind of mesmerizing to watch Angel’s mouth trail kisses across Cordelia’s golden skin, and the gentle, yet possessive way he touched her making her arch into each caress. She wanted that. To be the one beneath him, feeling his mouth, and his hands, and his . . . his—yeah, that, too, with her limbs clasping tight as he moved within her.

It was Cordelia moaning his name as he put an end to the teasing pace of his thrusts, and rasping intimate demands that made Buffy’s already flushed cheeks burn. They were really into it now—doing it—as the last of her outer clothes hit the bedroom floor. Shaky fingers tripped across the strap of her lacy white bra traveling down to her matching panties, but that was as far as her determination could go. Leaving them on, she kneed the edge of the bed and climbed on.

Feeling awkward, envious, and like some voyeuristic intruder watching Angel make love to Cordelia, she had no idea what to do. If this was a fight with some supernatural foe, no problem, she would have it down to a science. Giles made her practice her fighting skills over and over until they were second nature. This definitely called for an instructor, she thought, wishing it was that simple.

Angel had been so patient with her that night when they made love for the first and only time. Sweet, gentle, careful of her inexperience. Not what she was seeing now as he took Cordelia, enjoying her body with every sinful thrust. He was at her throat, kissing the mark he opened last night, dragging his tongue across it, teasing her with a blunt nip. Buffy felt a rush of concern, an automatic response that seemed out of place, so she forced it down knowing he meant no harm, even if she was surprised not to see a flash of fangs.

It wasn’t really the turn-off Buffy expected, and not because she wanted to feel Angel’s fangs sink into her own skin—because that was just never going to happen—ever. Watching them had just stirred her up to the point she felt anxious for something, only she wasn’t certain how to go about getting it. Angel was so masculine and powerful and in control, and she wanted him. “So, um, do we take turns, or is there some kind of sandwich scenario?”

Cordelia flashed another vexed look over the interruption, but Buffy didn’t really care as Angel raised back up to his knees and took notice of her. His hips were still moving, slower now. From this angle she could see everything as his hard length speared into her long and deep. A sharp little breath rattled in her throat as Buffy watched for a few more seconds, expecting to be angry, or a little disgusted by the sight, but the rush of heat between her thighs told her she was just lying to herself.

Watching this was exciting. It was hot. She kind of liked seeing Angel be so aggressive, and wondered what it would feel like to be on the receiving end if he really let go. She wanted so much.

His hand felt cool against her cheek as he drew her forward for a kiss. More of a tease than a taste, it lasted only a moment. “We don’t need to choreograph our lovemaking,” Angel said indulging her with a rare grin. Maybe she looked lost or just naive because he added, “But if that makes you feel more secure about it. . .”

Suddenly, Angel tightened his hold, and used his strength and speed to flip her over. “Hey!” Buffy found herself face to face with Cordelia. She seemed to be straddling her slim hips, and there was nakedness all around. “Um, hi. This is awkward. What’s happening?”

“You’re asking me?” Cordelia squeaked only to arch into her as Angel thrust forward again. “Oh, that feels. . .mmm, yeah.” He was moving in earnest, making it feel phenomenal, the pleasure of it building up again. No more interruptions, she hoped, just holding on for the ride.

Buffy’s annoyance was clear, “You’re touching me.”

Brown eyes snapped open as Cordelia realized the soft skin beneath her hands belonged to Buffy Summers. It wasn’t like it was intentional. “Where else do you expect me to put my hands? You’re on top of me.”

“I don’t kn—oooh! Oh, oh, wha—?”

Cordelia grasped onto Buffy’s shoulders, pulling her close to peer down the length of her back toward Angel. He had a hand curled over Buffy’s hip holding her steady as he worked the fingers of his free hand inside her panties. Moving rhythmically, he made Buffy writhe against her as she thrust her hips back toward his pumping fingers just as Cordelia shifted beneath them with every deep stroke pulling her legs open even wider as she held on.

“Ooh!” Buffy keened with pleasure at the places those fingers reached.

A throaty laugh followed from Cordelia who knew exactly how that felt. “Talented fingers, right? Told you.”

“Mm hmm, s’good.”

Understatement of the year, Cordelia thought, a little smirk toying with her lips. Angel definitely knew what he was doing, and not just with his fingers. She was used to Angelus’ bravado, so seeing the wicked glint in Angel’s eyes as he fucked them just turned her on even more. Sexy, gorgeous, so confident about getting them off, he was everything she wanted, even with Buffy literally there between them.

The thing she found most annoying was, “Your bra is scratchy! Cheap, much? Can I—?” Her question stalled out as Cordelia realized she was about to ask permission to strip off another girl’s bra. Not exactly what she thought she would be doing today.

Buffy’s hazel eyes widened at the idea of being skin to skin with Cordy, but strangely it didn’t bother her. She liked what Angel was doing to her, and was excited for more. Feeling Cordelia writhing beneath her as she, um, did it with Angel, was also far better than she imagined possible. She was soft, and firm, and curvy, and warm, while Angel was big, and hard, and cool, and just a little dangerous with his sexy, unexpected moves.

“I’ll do it,” Buffy told her. Shifting onto her knees practically sat her on Angel’s hand. “Oh!” Those fingers were distracting creating all kinds of good feelings building up. Sliding into her, stimulating, touching, doing things her fingers had never done.

Reaching back she unhooked her bra, feeling a little rush of triumph to manage the task when there were so many other things to do. Moving to the rhythm Angel set. Practically riding his hand. Angel released her hip to strip her bra away. Buffy watched it fall to the bed, her mouth opening into a circle of surprise when Angel’s hand swept up to play with her exposed breasts. Ooh, they were so sensitive. One little touch and her whole body rippled with pleasure.

Angel tilted her head back for a quick kiss before gently pushing Buffy back down toward his mate. “Cordy likes kisses, too,” he commented as she felt her breasts push up against Cordelia’s and their bare skin rub together as they both moved with Angel’s thrusts.

“Yours!” Cordelia emphasized meeting his gaze, and planning to say something about it when Buffy’s lips covered her own. A soft, warm, butterfly kiss grazed her lips, which were pursed perfectly after her exclamation.

The little smirk on the blonde’s face seemed to convey triumph, as if the other girl had made a touchdown for Team Buffy. Score! Challenge met. That was so irritating, especially because that little kiss was kind of hot. Considering excuses, she found them easily enough. The nakedness might have had something to do with it. Maybe because Angel was watching it happen, or just that she was so very, very close to the edge.

Cordelia knew that Angel was playing some kind of masterful sex game with her and had been ever since they managed to find the bed again, using both his experience and his supernatural stamina to wind her up toward a peak he kept just out of reach. She did not want to beg for it, not with Buffy between them, but it was a struggle to hold back those words as his pace deliberately slowed again.

His stare alone was enough to make her melt. God, he looked sinful, so much like she remembered when she was with Angelus. He might have a soul, but this part of him hadn’t changed. Angel liked sex, and he wasn’t above a little torture to make it even better for both of them. The struggle for control wasn’t easy, even for him, she realized sensing that he was getting close to losing it.

Holding onto his gaze, Cordelia stroked her hands down Buffy’s back, giving her ass a squeeze as Angel’s fingers worked her cunt. “Ooh! That was—umm, niiiice with the touching. Do that a—a—Angel, oh, Angel, yes, yesssss!”

Cordelia felt the pointed tips of Buffy’s round breasts pressing into hers like hard little cherry pits. Her own breasts felt swollen, nipples taut, and achy with the need for attention. She moved her hands between them, cupping them briefly, toying with the tender peaks. Buffy’s little gasp as the back of her hands accidentally brushed against her made her curious to see what would happen if she deliberately touched her.

This time Angel moaned, too, obviously turned on by the sight of her hands on Buffy’s perky breasts. They were nice. Hers were better, she thought confidently, as she coasted her fingers around the curves to feel the weight of them pressing into her palms. The gentle tease of her thumbs against her nipples made another little sound rattle in her throat, and brought a new spark to her hazel eyes.

“Do you like that?”

Buffy answered with another kiss practically leaping at her mouth as if a physical response was the only thing she could handle. This one was neither light nor quick. Though unexpected, Cordelia decided it wasn’t exactly horrible. Angel was right—she liked kisses, and since his were unavailable at the moment, why not do something that would possibly drive him just a little closer to the edge.

They were in the middle of a surprisingly hot kiss when Buffy suddenly lost it. Earlier, her mini orgasm had been a pleasurable reintroduction to sex, but she looked almost wild as she rose to her hands and knees to flex her hips harder against the trident force of his fingers spearing inside her. Watching her come was kind of awesome, and fascinating, and made Cordelia just a little more desperate to get there, too.

Collapsing limply against her, Buffy gave her a starry little smile as if she had just discovered the secrets of the universe. “I’ve had enough of this sandwich,” Cordelia huffed pushing at her shoulders.

As Buffy rolled to the right collapsing on the bed next to her, still with a stupid grin on her face, she muttered, “I’m so glad I came back.”

“Knew you would,” Cordelia sighed.

Buffy reached up to touch her cheek drawing her gaze again when she wanted to focus on Angel. “Thank you, Cordy, for letting me be here.” Another kiss followed, soft and sincere and full of genuine feelings like gratitude mixed with a hint of lust.

“Whatever,” she quipped, not wanting to sound as if it was the hardest thing she had ever done.

Her lips were still tingly from Buffy’s kiss when Angel lowered himself so that his big body caged hers. Surrounding her with his strength, he was gentle at first, turning her toward his kiss, brushing his lips lightly against her cheek. “I need you now,” he rasped in her ear.

Clasping him close, Cordelia shivered in anticipation and even that was almost enough to do it for her. He kissed the spot just below her ear on the opposite side of her throat from his mark, and asked her, “How do you want it?”

She wasn’t used to having a choice in the matter. Angelus had always done exactly whatever struck his fancy. True, she had enjoyed all of it, even if things got a little bit rough or kinky. Willow’s spell guaranteed her compliance making her want what he wanted. Right now Cordelia didn’t care if that quirk of magic still applied. Angel felt so solid against her, his shoulders broad, body lean despite the dense muscles beneath his smooth skin, and what she wanted was all of him.

Playing along, “Ladies choice? You must be feeling kinda grateful, too.” Giving her something to think about, Angel’s hips pushed hard into hers making her feel every thick inch of him as he buried his cock to the hilt. The long, slow retreat made her whimper, inner muscles tightening around him instinctually trying to prevent his withdrawal. Barely able to form the words, she pleaded, “No more teasing, ‘kay? Take me like you used to.”

Game time was over, Buffy mused as she stirred from her languorous state to watch them. That jealous, angry little vibe strummed its tune as Angel leaned in to kiss Cordelia, reverently at first as if worshipping the sweet taste of her mouth, and hotly, demandingly as they rocked together. He gave it to her again, and again, faster than before, harder when she demanded it pushing her hips up to meet his rhythm.

Her hands found places that made him moan, and grunt, and call her a teasing bitch, but Cordelia just grinned triumphantly. She told him how she liked it, what she wanted, tempted him into giving it to her. Buffy’s ears burned at some of the descriptive things she said, jaw dropping in response, as Angel made it happen.

Cordelia suddenly cried out, a wild, ecstatic expression on her beautiful face, her curves pressed flush against Angel’s skin, her whole body in a trembling state as she came, and it was the most erotic thing Buffy had ever seen. She licked at her lips, let out a shaky sigh, feeling achy between her thighs, and realized she wanted something that involved both of them.

Needing to be part of it, she rolled closer moving her fingertips across the open space between them until they connected with skin. Angel’s thigh felt so powerful with his body in motion as he edged closer to his own climax. Buffy trailed her nails across his skin just as Cordelia had done, stimulating rather than rending, a tease of sorts. It wasn’t until her wandering fingers moved down to his mate that Buffy caught his attention.

Her curious fingers slid down to stroke Cordelia’s right breast bouncing into view between them as they banged together. Partly because it was only fair to return the favor, but also because she was curious whether or not that taut little nipple was as sensitive as hers. Her guess was a definite yes considering how Cordelia reacted when Angel touched her there, and took her into his mouth, or flicked at it with his finger or his tongue.

Yup! Cordy arched into her tentative caress making her wonder what else she could touch that would evoke those good feelings. One thing came to mind causing her fingers to falter as they travelled along the taut plane of her belly. Watching just wasn’t enough. She had to be in the middle of it. Share in it somehow as Angel reached his climax. Not really certain what she was doing, just going by what she imagined might feel good, Buffy slipped her hand between them sliding it down to the place they connected.

This was different from feeling her way around her own body. Cordelia seemed to like the way her fingers flashed little lightning strokes all around her sensitive clitoris. The way she moaned against Angel’s neck as she planted kisses there suggested she was doing something right. It was so hot down there, and slick with cream, and Buffy could feel Angel’s hard staff as he whipped his hips back and forth.

With a quick grab, she wrapped her fingers around him tightening up enough to make Angel take notice. The extra resistance forced him to push through her grip, and shallowed the depths of his thrusts. Both of them reacted as the sensations changed unexpectedly. Cordelia’s litany of ‘oohs’ suddenly accompanied wanton little pleas. More sexy talk that caused Buffy to flush hot while imagining herself saying that to Angel.

She wanted to be with him this way, holding him tight, being taken by him, shouting out in ecstasy each time he made her come, and giving him what he wanted, too. Almost anything.

A sharp tingle at the base of her spine made Buffy sit up, her instincts kicking in a moment before Angel’s human face morphed into vampire features. He glanced her way long enough to flash those ochre eyes at her, and a little growl she interpreted as a warning to back off. Gulping at the intensity she saw there, Buffy released him and shifted back a few inches.

“Don’t look at me like that,” she said feeling suddenly defensive about his stare.

Typically, Angel said nothing about what triggered his change, whether he liked her touch, hated it, thought she was interfering. He returned his attention to Cordelia, pulling her even closer, dipping his head low into the crook of her neck as he growled out her name. The pace grew frenetic, both of them desperately grasping for something just beyond their reach.

A gentle scrape of her nails at the name of his neck begged for Angel’s attention. Cordelia panted out her plea, “Let me see you.”

As soon as he raised his head, she lovingly ran her fingertips across the ridges of his face. She kissed him with an intensity that matched everything else, passionately, and deeply. Even nipping at his bottom lip only to soothe it with another sweeter kiss. Obviously, Cordelia was not afraid of him in this form, or worried about the sting of his fangs.

“Do you need me? Take it if you do.”

It only took a second for Buffy to work out what Cordelia offered him. This didn’t exactly seem like the ‘liquid lunch’ that might be needed to get Angel back to full strength. Not that he seemed very weak at the moment considering the length of time he had kept going, assuming most men normally finished sooner. Concern outweighed her curiosity, so she set that particular thought aside.

“Maybe. . .,” Buffy hesitated about butting in, but it felt like she had to, as if it was precisely her business to say something. “Maybe that’s not such a good idea, so soon after last night.”

Too wrapped up in their own pleasure, her cautionary words were little more than background noise. As if Cordelia’s offer was all that it took to send him over the edge, Angel stiffened, shouted something that might have been an irreverent prayer as he came hard, continuing to fuck her with short, deep strokes.

“Need you so much,” he murmured hotly as he caressed his way up to her throat. Circling his mark twice with his thumb, he waited only long enough for Cordelia to willingly expose her throat for him.

Buffy grabbed two fists full of the loose bedcovers needing to hold onto something. She could tell the moment Angel’s fangs pierce Cordelia’s skin. There was a short, painful yelp, an instant of instinctual panic in her wild brown eyes quickly overtaken by pure pleasure while Angel’s mouth gently drew sips of her precious blood. Beneath him, she was almost breathless as she focused on whatever feelings were coursing through her, quivering, and curling her toes.

She was coming—again! How that was possible with a vampire biting you completely confused Buffy, but it seemed gentle. The way he used his body and hands to caress her certainly added to the goodness she obviously felt. Still, deep down, she knew it was wrong. Angel was a vampire, and sure, she still loved him, and wanted him way more than she probably should, especially after the demo. As hot as the rest of it looked, she wondered if she could persuade them not to do that again while she was around.

“Are you okay?” The question could have come from her, but it was Angel who asked suddenly sounding concerned. “That was intense.”

The smirk spreading across Cordelia’s mouth was enough of an answer even before she murmured more to him than her, “Mmm, awesome.” Kissing him as his rigid features softened back into human form, she palmed his face, and then stared deeply into his eyes. “I missed you so much, Angel.”

Peevishly, Buffy wanted to remind her that it was Angelus she missed, but it seemed pointless when Angel responded with similar sentiments. Every word was sincere, every little kiss that sipped reverently at her softly swollen lips carried a depth of feeling. As he caressed her cheek with his thumb, Angel stared down at Cordelia as if making love to her was a revelation, the culmination of everything he ever wanted.

Or that could just be her overactive imagination, Buffy hoped. Feeling like she was intruding on their private moment, she shifted a little bit closer. “What now? Do we all cuddle now that it’s over, or get dressed and go home?”

Angel and Cordelia shared a little look of amusement over her naivety. It sucked to be clueless and inexperienced about these things, Buffy thought, realizing that she must have gotten something wrong. Used to being in control, she hated feeling so awkward and uncertain of what to do. Another lecture from Giles popped into her head. “Practice, Buffy, practice.”

She nearly leapt out of her skin when Angel reached over to touch her. Feeling jumpy, on edge, and needy, Buffy let out the tiniest moan when his hand skimmed her thigh. “Did you get everything you wanted?” he asked teasingly, knowing the answer, but making her say it.

Buffy stole a glance at Cordelia, who simply raised an eyebrow at her, as if she too could read her mind. Was it that obvious? Stumbling a bit over the words, “I-I thought we would, y’know, be together,” she told Angel. Just like that, she silently added, in the intimate way the two of them were technically together, and seemingly in no hurry to separate themselves from one another.

“We will,” he promised softly, “if you’re ready for this.”

Oh, she was so very, very ready. “Tonight?”

Cordelia snorted, “Eager much? Angel will take care of you. Give him a minute. Even vampires with super-stamina need to relax.”

Resolved by now that it would happen, Cordy sounded far more casual about it than she would be if Angel was her mate. Supposing that she should feel grateful about being here at all, Buffy chose calm over the temptation of snapping back. Especially when the one thing she could not do was tell Cordelia to stay out of this and mind her own business.

Buffy covered Angel’s hand with her own, and leaned down for a kiss that felt so familiar, stirring up memories. The night they made love, she persuaded him to ignore that last little doubt. “Just kiss me.” This time her words were meant not only for Angel, but Cordelia, too, and while that still seemed wrong, it felt kind of wonderful.

Lower being, this convergence generates alarm amongst the Powers that Be. Meddling with souls is not permissible for creatures such as you. Order’s path may now be broken. This triad of the Chosen One, Warrior and Seer-to-Be was not intended to come to pass. A cohesive bond now exists between them, drawing them closer, driving others away. It is not to be borne. Thus, the forces of Order now call upon a childe of Chaos to serve as its hand of fate.

Screeching to a halt, the classic 1958 Dodge Desoto FireFlite left the broken ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign in its wake. As the driver side door opened, a nearly empty liquor bottle toppled out smashing into pieces on the pavement. Spike slid off of his seat hitting the street flat on his back on top of the broken glass about as drunk as possible for any vampire to be. Lifting his head unsteadily, he attempted to raise himself up onto his elbows, half managing it. Taking a look around, he chuckled, “Home, sweet home.”


SOULBOUND – BOOK ONE – THE FIRST CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS

Book One Chapter 7                    Book One Home                    Book One Chapter 9


 

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