Sleep deprivation and hallucinations make Cordelia the target of Angel’s obsessions.

  • CONTENTS:   C/A with Beige!Angel in AtS
  • RATING:   NC17
  • LENGTH:   Novel / 74,000 words
  • STATUS:   Completed
  • WRITING TEAM:   C/Aphrodisiac (Califi and Lysa)
  • FICPIC CREDIT:   Califi
  • WARNINGS/SPOILERS:  Explicit Sexual Content / Non-Consensual


Chapter 1

“Do you ever miss it, my love?”

The throaty words purred close to his ear, rousing him. Forcing his eyes open, Angel hazily looked up into the pale face hovering inches above his own. “Mmm… miss what?”

“You know… the hunt…. the richness of warm, human blood… swallowing it down without that nasty guilt eating away at you, even as you eat?” Cool blue eyes stared into his as her too-red mouth curled into a smile. “Do you?”

Angel frowned in confusion. Something tugged at his fogged mind, but what was it? He swallowed several times; half lidded eyes lazily watching the descent of the head as cool lips nibbled and sucked their way across his face, sliding lower and parted to latch onto a still pulse point. “Aahh,” he shuddered with pleasure.

She always knew just where to touch him.

A satisfied grin spread across her face, and he hazily watched her descent, the erotic sensation of her naked body sliding along his, a fleeting frown marring his dark brow as the rub of cotton sheets interrupted their close connection. Running the tip of her tongue around a rapidly hardening nipple caused his back to arch at the soft, yet sensual caress. Angel lifted his arms and reached for the pale blonde hair, sliding and grasping at the strands. Then the frown returned.

Warmth penetrated the thin cotton barrier, the naked body resting fully along his softened, and he husked a pleasure moan. Hard, brittle angles melted away and the heat intensified. Blinking his blurry eyes, he again looked down at the head that hovered above his chest; his fingers twining in glossy, chocolate strands. Confusion warred with aching pleasure. His fingers tunneled through the soft hair and clutched it tightly, pulling up the head. Moans were heard as hot lips tugged on his nipple and released, her head lifting at his insistence.

Annoyed hazel eyes connected with his even as a sun-kissed arm reached up, honey-skinned fingers covering his in an attempt to get him to release his hold. “Let go, Angel.” He shook his head, twining his fingers deeper into her rich dark hair, exerting pressure until she hissed and pulled herself along his aroused body and their faces were again inches apart.

“Let go!” her voice changed tone, irritation now threaded with anxiety and a tinge of fear. “Angel, I mean it!” He blinked abruptly.

Full lips, tinted peach, pinched tight; a flush of rose mottling the soft, honey skin and eyes almost amber and shining with fear. “Wake up, damn it,” her voice again, more urgent this time.

“Cordelia?” her name on his lips whispered sinfully against her own, and she attempted to widen the space between their faces, but he wouldn’t allow it. “I miss it…this.” His mouth inched closer until cool flesh connected with heat. Those peach-tinted lips parted and pearly teeth sank viciously into his full bottom pout. His hand loosened a little even as he jerked his head back and into the pillow behind with a hiss of pain.

And then he woke up.

“What the hell is your damage?” That perfect mouth, still close enough to be tempting, trembled, the peach tint now tinged with red— his blood.

Angel released her hair fully and just stared mutely as his seer almost fell off his bed in her haste to get away. “Cor…” he stuttered out, and then shook his head. Straightening her clothes with shaking hands Cordy backed away from his bed and kept going until her back bumped against the French windows of his room.

“Vision-I had a vision. You’re needed downstairs.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she turned and disappeared into the living area. Angel still lay unmoving until the door to his suite almost slammed shut behind her retreating figure.

Then he sagged back into the mattress, shaking hands reaching up to rake through tousled hair, before tentative fingers explored the seeping cut on his bottom lip.


Racing down the stairs, Cordelia darted past Wesley, missing the odd look he sent her way as she went straight to her desk instead of informing him about Angel. He was awake now. What more was there to say?

Cordelia’s head whirled at the memory. One minute she was trying to shake Angel awake to tell him she’d had a vision. The next, he’d hauled her across his half-naked body, slid his big, groping hands through her hair and tried to kiss her.

What the hell was that?

Nervous energy tingled along her skin until her fingers practically twitched with it. She started sifting through the pile of filing on her desk, not really seeing it, just moving it from one spot to another. So they’d locked lips. Pfft. No big. It was just his cool male mouth touching hers, just his hands sliding over her skin and into her hair as he whispered something across her mouth.

Geez, Chase, calm down, she counseled herself as her heart pounded in her ears. Sure, Angel was a hottie. That little factoid had long ago been filed away under ‘S’ and nothing was going to change it. Neither was the fact that Angel came with a touch-me-not clause attached to his soul and Cordy had no intention of forgetting about it.

A mistake, that’s all it was: a minor infringement of her personal bubble. Maybe the fact that, for a second, Angel looked like he wanted to eat her up surpassed the misdemeanor category. That hair-sniffing incident the other day weirded her out enough that she’d changed her brand of shampoo.

Nope, she needed no help to remember that Angel belonged in the no-bone category of male hotties. He managed to remind her of that every time he turned around. First with the hair, then with the grumpy, boss-from-hell attitude and now with the touchy feely stuff. It was enough to make Cordelia wonder why she put up with the vampire.

He’s supposed to be your friend, she emphasized the relationship in her own thoughts. Now grabbing a stack of folders, she stood abruptly, letting the chair roll across the floor behind her. The hurried click of her heels sounded on the floor as she moved to the file cabinet and proceeded to shove the manila folders into open slots.

“I say, Cordelia,” she heard Wes clearing his throat from the other side of the front counter. Without looking up, she kept on with her task, blind to what she was really doing. “I’ve never seen you so wound up after a vision.”

Cordelia paused, figuring Wes would be wound up too if his boss suddenly pulled him into bed and kissed him. Hysterical laughter tittered in her head at that image. That settled it. Next time, it was his turn to wake the sleeping vampire.

Pain suddenly sliced across her skin. Cordelia looked down at her hand. A drop of red beaded across the pad of her thumb, the paper cut momentarily distracting her from her thoughts. Automatically, she lifted it to her mouth, tongue sweeping at the spot as she turned to seek a little sympathy for her injury.

The move only put Angel in her line of sight as he approached, his shadowed gaze on her mouth as she sucked on the droplets of blood welling to the surface. The coppery taste reminded her of the brief hint of blood she’d drawn when her teeth chomped down on his lip even harder than intended. Cordelia dropped her hand to her side, her eyes lingering on his swollen lower lip.

Good thing he didn’t bite back, Cordelia thought of that possibility. Lucky too, that he woke up as she intended because he might have gone on kissing her. Where would that have led except to a place they couldn’t even consider.

Though Cordelia wondered why it was that she should feel embarrassed about it when it was Angel who had done the grabbing and the kissing, just the attempt at meeting his gaze gave her a head rush. Which was not good considering her after-vision headache was already pounding away at her temples. Those deep brown eyes held hers for a heart stopping moment before hers slid away.

How that irked her. Purposely, she stared back again, but the intense look of anger there caused her to whirl around to finish the filing that she started.

When Cordelia turned her back on him, Angel felt the instant stir of irritation. He’d been planning to apologize, not that there was really anything for him to feel sorry about. He was the one with the sore lip and wasn’t she the lucky one considering that vampires have a tendency to bite back.

Angel raked his fingers across the nape of his neck to rub away the tension there. It didn’t really help. All he could think about was that dream. Sure he’d dreamt about Darla before, but this was so vivid. He could still hear the purr of her voice in his ear and the soft touch of her hands pleasuring him. Only her touch warmed his skin. The silken hair cascading in long waves down her back was no longer pale gold, but rich and dark and scented with strawberries. He’d wanted nothing more than to press their bodies closer and taste the warm secrets of her mouth again and again.

What the hell was that? This was Cordelia, dammit. It might be lucky for him that he just ended up with a lip wound and not something more permanent.

She’d come to tell him about the vision. Her scent surrounded him as she leaned in close. That had to be the reason his dream shifted away from Darla to her. There was no doubting that Cordelia was beautiful, undoubtedly sexy, but she was Cordy and not someone he should be dreaming about, especially when those dreams left his body aching with lust.

Besides, Cordy was too much of a pain in the ass for him to want her that way. She was a friend, his seer and occasionally a thorn in his side. Even if his eyes sometimes lingered on her lush curves or he fleetingly considered running his fingertips across an exposed patch of skin, there wasn’t really anything he could do about those impulses except to suppress them.

Tiredness weighted his limbs as Angel moved closer, his tongue sweeping across his swollen lip as he remembered the brief taste of Cordelia’s mouth against his own. It irritated him that she refused to look his way. Obviously, she was angry about it and he even thought he’d sensed a little fear.

Angel’s lip curled upward at the idea only to fall back into a firm line when the action stretched at his closing wound. There wasn’t anything to smile about. He was just so damned tired. It wasn’t time to get up. All he wanted to do was crawl back into bed, close his eyes, and drift to sleep.

“Angel?!” Wes inwardly winced at the harsh tone of his voice as he repeated the vampire’s name for the third time. Angel’s head snapped round, pinning him with mildly annoyed eyes.

What on earth was going on? Wes wondered, not at this point sure whether to be worried or merely curious as to both Angel’s and Cordelia’s behavior this morning.

Not just this morning, he corrected himself. Angel’s general attitude these last few weeks, especially where Cordelia was concerned, had been beyond the norm; even for the vampire who probably had cause for his brooding moments and tendency to close himself off to the humans he worked with.

But that wasn’t exactly true either. When he’d first joined them to fight the good fight, Wes had been more than aware of the ‘bond’ between the vampire and his seer. Glancing over at Cordelia, he was surprised to find her still hovering around her desk.

What exactly is Cordelia doing? She’s supposed to be over here informing Angel about the details of her vision. Wes called out, requesting her to come over. Rather reluctantly, Cordy dropped the files she was absently perusing and joined them, but wasn’t exactly free with the information. To be honest, she seemed preoccupied and more interested in keeping her distance from Angel.

Discreetly glancing the vampire’s way, Wes noticed that he didn’t seem like he was focusing on what Cordelia was actually saying… just on Cordelia herself who was now standing there with her arms crossed in a defensive manner and looking at anything except Angel.

Cordelia was being unusually brief and to the point with the details of the vision, her tone rather snappy, and Wes frowned with increasing concern; especially at the end of her description where she rather tersely told the vampire to get a move on, muttering that enough time had been lost already.

Angel instantly stiffened and glared at the now-dipped dark head before he turned on his heel and strode angrily towards the weapons cabinet.

What is it with these two lately? Wes wondered, becoming more confused as the short scene played out in front of him. And for a moment missed the vampire’s query as to whether he was accompanying him.

Wes paused long enough to attempt to process his thoughts into some order; something was definitely going on here between them. Something that made him a little uncomfortable to think about. Because, considering other recent happenings, he suspected an attraction was at the heart of this and that could actually be dangerous. It was obvious in his mind that something had happened when Cordelia went upstairs to get Angel a little while before and the evidence was right there on Angel’s face.

When finally they entered the sewers and strode side by side, Wes sneaked a discreet look towards the small, fresh wound on the vampire’s lower lip, then mentally shrugged, putting it down to one of those things he wasn’t going to ask about. The atmosphere around the hotel lately was uncomfortable enough without him adding to it.

He was going to put his previous years of training to good use. The practical side may have been beyond his abilities, but watching… in that area, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce had been a natural.

Chapter 2

“Stand back, people! Sugar highs are here and the chocolate icing with extra sprinkles is mine.” Gunn’s entrance into the hotel, followed by his words was met with a: “Pfft. Dream on, buddy,” and a blur of silky brown hair and bright colors.

“Whoa, girl, let me get in before you jump on me,” Gunn grinned and held the confectionary box just out of reach until Cordelia changed tactics and stomped on his foot. “Ouch! No fair!” he whined, a tug of war now commencing on the slowly crumpling box.

Wes looked up from the book he was reading and rolled his eyes at their mini battle. He rose to his feet and approached them rapidly. “Now, children, there are enough here for everyone,” he chastised. Adding, “Let me settle this. I get the first one.” Grabbing the box with a smirk on his face, he walked quickly towards the counter while the others stood watching him with their mouths hanging open in disbelief.

“Dibs on the toffee filling!” Cordy galvanized into action, giving Gunn a shove and almost skipping across the lobby, a determined expression on her face.

Wes snatched his chocolate donut and quickly backed away from the box before she got there, smiling at the gleeful grin spreading across her pretty face as she grabbed two, before rushing to her desk and poking her tongue out at the young man who was now scowling into the box.

“Damn, how come I’m the one who picks these up, but ends up with the sugar-coated jelly ones?” Gunn pouted before shrugging fatalistically and taking a bite of one; holding another in his spare hand and turning towards Cordy.

Propping a hip on the corner of her desk, Gunn started explaining his role in the events of the previous night. Using the spare donut as an imaginary weapon, he described some of his cool moves. Wes went back to his book and left them to it, while Cordy leaned back in her chair and listened avidly, a big grin on her face.

He finished with a flourish of the donut, peppering his clothes with the powdered sugar in the process. Cordy burst out laughing, “Mister macho guy and his killer donut. Not feeling the fear, here.” She giggled, skimming her fingers over the donut and smearing the powder across his face.

Gunn growled and instantly rose to his feet, causing Cordy to dart out of her seat and run squealing across the lobby. He followed close behind, grinning evilly as he brandished the donut, tsking and shaking his head when she hid behind Wes.

“Take it like a man, Chase,” Gunn snickered, squeezing the donut a little until jelly oozed out of the side of the pastry. Wes instantly slid lower in his seat and held his book out of harms way.

As Gunn shot around the chair, Cordy shrieked and ran blindly- brought up short by a brick wall. “Oomph!” The arms attached to the brick wall reached up and latched onto her upper arms, putting a little distance between them. Cordy looked up, still giggling and slightly winded, her dazed gaze meeting very cool brown.

“Gunn brought donuts,” she said, feeling like a naughty child caught by a stern parent. Though the way her body reacted to his touch was hardly familial.

Angel had heard the commotion from his office and had eventually risen to his feet and entered the lobby to see what the hell was going on. The sight that met his eyes had left him not exactly happy. In fact, the easy atmosphere between Gunn and Cordy left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Nope. He didn’t like it. Angel didn’t stop to wonder why the scene twisted his gut. When Cordy had barreled into his body, and then looked up at him with an open, happy face, still giggling, it just made him angry, especially when all signs of those emotions faded and were replaced by discomfort as soon as she realized who she’d bumped into.

With a slight gasp, she pulled away from his grasp and looked down, making a show of straightening her blouse and skirt before hurriedly trotting back over to her desk. Gunn, still grinning, took a bite out of the squished donut and joined her to prop himself back on the corner of her desk.

For a split second, rage blinded Angel, “Don’t you have work to do?” his voice tight and hard. Cordy grimaced then leaned towards Gunn.

“Geez, what crawled up his ass?” Although the words were low, Angel heard them clearly, his spine stiffening when Gunn chuckled in response.

She just didn’t know when to keep her pretty little mouth shut. Irrationally, Angel started to think about ways to make it happen and stopped abruptly when he realized what he was doing. He put it down to being so damn tired. Too tired to deal with her properly right now.

That thought passed over his head, not even registering the import of his words. “I’m going back to bed,” Angel turned towards the stairs, not even waiting for a reply, but one was given nonetheless.

“You already got out of bed on the wrong side one time today. Are you trying for round two?” Cordy asked, even as she glanced at the lobby clock and frowned. It was only 3pm. He’d only been up for a couple of hours and even then he’d shut himself in his office.

Angel didn’t bother to reply, but his hand tightened against the banister, fingers curling in reflexive response to her words, until he felt the creak of wood beneath his palm. Instantly he released it.

Halfway up, he heard Gunn speak. “Time to go, need to do that follow-up for English.” He straightened up and stretched until his spine popped.

Cordy nodded and smiled, watching him walk towards the main exit, and then he turned back abruptly. “Don’t forget. Eight o’clock, right?”

Nodding, Wes added, “And it’s Cordelia’s turn to buy the first round,” resulting in her reluctant harrumph of agreement.

Giving him the thumbs up for remembering, Gunn nodded with a smirk, “Catch you then. Later.”

Angel had paused as soon as Gunn’s words registered. So they were going out on a regular basis. He couldn’t even remember the last time Cordy had attempted to persuade him to go out socially. Not that he enjoyed going; it was the fact that she didn’t even ask him anymore that got to him. He chalked it up to yet another thing on a long list of things that annoyed the hell out of him where Cordelia was concerned and continued up the stairs with heavy feet.

Sleep… he longed for it, but it was elusive. Finding that deep, dark sanctuary where he was free of guilt and rage and desire. The place he could rest. Silk sheets clung to Angel’s skin as he tossed and turned. Consciousness drifted. Images free-floated in the midst of his mind and suddenly she was there again.

“There’s my boy,” honey tones dripped as Darla sinuously approached from the periphery of his vision.

Angel stood at the outer boundary of a sun-dappled garden, shadows along its edges blending with the deepest of starlit nights. She came to him from the darkness. He turned his head, the slow-motion effect blurring until his vision cleared and he knew she was there beside him. Beautiful and deadly, a golden goddess of the night dressed in a black satin sheath. His lover. His partner in death whose taste for viciousness was exceeded only by his own.

In his mind, he didn’t question the fact that she should be dust. Darla was there with her perfumed pale skin and expert touch. Her words tempted him, taunted, and reminded him of nights of ecstasy and death when those things were one and the same.

“Come to me, my Angel,” she said, curling her fingers along his jaw to keep his focus. “Let me show you the kind of pleasure you’ve been missing.”

He kissed her first, not giving up control. If she wanted it, she’d have to take it from him. Darla shoved him away, laughed and circled around. “You know what you want, darling.”

“I know,” he started to say as his sire vanished behind him, her hands smoothing over the planes of his back. Yes, he knew what he wanted.

Turning his head, Angel waited for her to reappear on his other side, but it was Cordelia who twirled around into his arms. Life and laughter filled her face with joy, a smile blooming across her lips. She palmed his cheek in her hand. “I’ve got something to show you.” Grinning, she proceeded to tug on his arm as she led him toward her garden.

Angel couldn’t follow. He pulled her back toward him, shocked that she would try to bring him there into the light. Tumbling her back into his arms, he encircled her waist, hands roving over the ivory satin sheath she wore. “I can’t. Stay here with me,” he pleaded with a sense of urgency.

She indulged him with a smile, those plush lips tempting him. Angel wanted them crushed beneath his. He had to kiss her and the need to do so now was suddenly more than he could bear. Slipping along the gentle curve of her spine, he pressed Cordelia close so that the natural warmth from her body heated his. One hand spread between her shoulder blades while the other wandered up to stroke his fingers against her cheek.

“So beautiful,” Angel muttered softly, allowing himself the pleasure of looking as long as he wanted: golden skin, lustrous dark hair, her warm and sparkling eyes, those luscious curves that seemed to be made for his hands. Her face tilted to his and Angel’s mouth came within a whisper of hers when Darla’s voice, still molten honey, sounded in his ear.

“Remember Romania? In front of the fire with the gypsy girl,” she made it sound almost romantic. It wasn’t, just hedonistic. Taking whatever and whomever they wanted as they always did in what manner that pleased them. Darla reminded him of that, too. “She was bound and gagged. You took her right there.”

Angel glanced down at Cordelia who quietly regarded him with those warm hazel eyes. He felt a frisson of fear leap inside him, but she sensed it. “That’s not you anymore,” she promised and moved again to pull him toward her sunny garden. “There is so much good in you if you’d only believe in it.”

A husky laugh followed from his left. Darla grabbed onto his other arm to hold him in place. “She doesn’t know you like I do, Angelus. What’s deep down inside you: the darkness. It festers there. It wants out.”

His inner demon; Angel knew what she meant. The instincts she’d created within him. The drive to kill, drink, create pain and wallow in pleasure: it was all far too easy to remember. Part of him missed that, craved it.

“You remember that gypsy girl,” Darla purred as he tensed in reaction, his body taut as she sidled up to him. “You sucked down her blood until she was dry.”

Sounding her complaints, “Can anyone say ‘eeewww’?” Cordy drew an amused smirk from Angel. She moved close again, her palms against his ribs. “You’re a hero now. Just come with me. I know what you want. Be a man. Come with me.”

Darla started nibbling at his ear, her lips sucking at the fleshy lobe even as Cordy urged him to ignore his sire and follow her. Instinctively, he leaned closer to the woman in his arms. Tempting, something about Cordelia was so tempting to him. So warm. So beautiful and full of life. Just touching her made his body stir as he let his fingers trail across the silky bare skin of her shoulders and down to the full curves of her breasts.

But the hand that dipped below the waistband of his boxers wasn’t hers. Angel’s head whipped in Darla’s direction; he was annoyed at first until her ministrations and lustful expression distracted him. “You and I are one,” she said. “Take me, just take me. You can have anything you want. I’ll even give you her.”

Anger returned as Darla stepped back, moving further into the darkness behind her. He followed, intending to tell her precisely what he wanted, but the night swallowed him as he moved away from the garden’s shadowy boundary. It only seemed right to shed his human mask here in the dark. If his irritation showed when he shoved Darla back onto the bed so conveniently placed there, she was too eager to pretend that it bothered her.

“Don’t threaten Cordelia,” he spoke to her for the first time, a snarl sounding as he pushed Darla backward.

Golden hair splayed out against the blood red sheets as she gripped his arms. Darla pulled him closer still. “Always the protector,” she murmured against his mouth. “Who takes care of you?”

Angel stared down at her, silent. Confidently, Darla smiled at him. “I do, my boy. Not that silly seer. I know what you want. Take it.” She used a fingernail to open up a streak of blood along her throat. “Take it.”

He resisted for countless seconds, just scenting it on the air, until the thick blood pooled in the hollow of her throat. His head descended slowly, tongue lapping up the lukewarm liquid, his mouth following the open trail to latch on and sink his teeth into her flesh.

That taste. He remembered it: dark and familiar. Angel yanked her closer, sitting them up with her legs straddling his lap as he drank down long, slow gulps. One hand fisted her hair, holding Darla in place.

“Everything you want,” she promised him on a husky moan, letting him take it.

Yes, the thought resonated in his head as the blood warmed in his mouth. What he wanted. The thought caused a sudden hot rush of blood to pulse along his lips, its taste pure ambrosia; sweet, succulent, full of life & endorphin-rich with pleasure and just a hint of fear. His fangs tingled at the buttery softness of the warm living flesh surrounding them and accompanied the dual ache down low in his loins.

He knew this wasn’t Darla anymore. Cordelia’s scent surrounded him. He was awash with it. From her blood to her arousal to the soft sheen of feminine sweat glistening across her skin. Her taste was in his mouth awakening buds dulled by years of animal blood. Her lusty keening sounded in his ears as her tight heat held him inside her, their bodies now merged and moving as one.

Yes, it was almost everything he wanted. Only he wanted more. Angel gripped her to him, drinking deeper. At the first startled sound of pain, he realized just what he was doing. This was Cordelia. Cordy. It was Cordy.

Horrification and panic hit like lightning. Not again. Not like this. He awakened with a shout, eyes sweeping across his bed expecting to find her sprawled out next to him, unconscious or worse. Only, she wasn’t there. She’d never been there. It was just a dream.

A very vivid dream.

Angel ran a hand over his face, rubbing at his tired eyes. He felt so drained and yet one part of him was obviously not feeling it. It wasn’t dreaming about Darla that did this to him. Realizing that Cordy was the target of his lustful, demonic-driven dreams confused and scared him even as his body ached with need.

Though his legs were tangled in the top sheet, the tenting effect beneath the thin barrier was all too clear. Angel threw the covers aside and glowered at the source of his frustrations. Staring at it did not make his erection disappear. Beneath his boxers, it twitched for attention, but he was determined to ignore the temptation to touch himself and ease the low ache gripping him.

He’d been dreaming about Cordy. This was no time to indulge in fantasies he had no place considering. All that long, glossy hair filling his hands. If he just lay here quietly long enough, the matter would go away on its own. Her golden skin. Just how long he had no idea. Those curves his hands longed to explore.

So maybe he’d considered it before. Briefly. Now and then. Never dreamt about it. He’d certainly never imagined her naked in his arms, with him buried inside her as she bared her throat for him. He couldn’t want that. Not from her. Not Cordy.

One cold shower, he thought. It might wake him up; bring back the sense he had so obviously lost when he crawled into bed. Only Angel didn’t feel like moving. He was too tired to stop himself from letting his hand rub along the aching stiffness of his erection. A deep purr rumbled in his chest; that felt good. So good. Too good.

Angel’s hand darted away as he lectured himself again, but he could still hear the echo of Cordy’s pleasured moans in his ears, still feel the warmth of her touch on his skin. She’d been so close, surrounding him, her body pressed along his. Her fingers splayed across his chest just over his unbeating heart as the other hand curled around the nape of his neck and then she had offered him the turn of her throat. He could see it all again, it was so clear in his mind.

The flat of his hand pressed down on the taut muscles of his abdomen, inching downward past his navel and beneath the elastic waistband of his boxers. Slowly, his fingers slid through the springy bush of curls to grip his turgid shaft, seeking release. Stifling the growl that threatened, he let out a long, slow breath. Blood stirred, creating a false pulse in the taut flesh beneath the palm of his hand, swollen and sensitive.

Arching into it, Angel closed his eyes and pulled off the boxers with his free hand. He dropped them on the bed, hardly noticing where they fell, his mind already turned to the pleasurable slide of his hand up and down the thick column. Fingers teased the crowning tip and its foreskin, wandering down to the heavy sac below as he pumped with a steady pace.

No matter that he tried to think of nothing but the sensation, Angel kept flashing back to the dream, to images of Cordelia. Standing there in his arms. Smiling at him. Straddling his lap. Her name was a whisper on his lips as he stroked himself. A needy sound full of want, confusion, even desperation.

“Think of Darla,” he growled in anger, knowing that he had no right to think of his friend this way. He’d been dreaming about her, too. His sire was the subject of enough lusty memories to fuel countless fantasies, but he couldn’t even picture her face.

The more he fought it, the more elusive his climax seemed to be, but Angel was not ready to just accept the fact that he wanted Cordelia. She might be beautiful, she might be his friend, but how much friendlier was she with them these days. She could also be an irritating pain in the ass determined to have her way with things. Always talking too much. Never listening.

Oh, the things he could do to get her to stay quiet. That mouth, so lush, tempting with its soft curves. No trouble envisioning her. So vivid. So real. Cordelia kissed her way along his jaw and down the column of his throat, her hands smoothing over his chest. He flipped her over, tumbling them across the mattress until he lay above her. Those long golden legs wrapping around him as he made a feast of her mouth with deep, wet kisses.

Gruff denial sounded as his hand gripped tighter, his teeth clenching together as he reacted to the increasing friction. Angel knew that his dream alone might have desecrated his own definition of their friendship, but this: consciously thinking of Cordelia while bringing himself off to her imaginary moans and eager actions… he couldn’t deny how good it felt.

Even that had been good, so good. The taste of her blood in his mouth, her pulse beneath his lips, her life pouring against his tongue. He would never really… but it felt so… he needed… she’d be so… with her tight heat taking him in.

His body flexed, curling up as his hand pumped furiously, eyes rolling back as his climax hit with such intensity that he lost all control of his features. Bone shifted, fangs elongated and the added physical release only made the aftershocks of pleasure even more intense. Angel collapsed back against the pillows, breathless because it took too much energy to keep up the pretense of it.

Physically and mentally drained, Angel was far from satisfied. Sated, perhaps, for the moment, but now his curiosity was piqued. Why Cordelia? His seer seemed far too occupied with their newest ally. Angel had only himself to blame as he had been the one to bring Gunn into the fold.

Recognizing that it was jealousy gnawing at him, Angel shook it off even as he shook off his vampiric features and returned to his controlled human appearance. This was all ridiculous. There was nothing to be jealous about. He’d make sure of that. Right now, he just needed to sleep. Yes, to sleep. It eluded him, that deep, dark, dreamless place where he could rest.

Darla stood with her back to Lindsey, who watched her almost hungrily as the sunlight framed her body, turning her fair hair into a halo of spun gold. “He’s falling apart,” her naturally sultry voice was laced with satisfaction.

Walking around his desk, Lindsey stopped only when scant inches separated her slender back with his chest. “That’s wonderful.” And he meant it. “Unhinging a man with his particular… strengths and weaknesses takes a lot of work.”

As she glanced over her shoulder, looking up at him with a slight smirk on her lovely face, Darla preened, “I created a lot of those strengths and weaknesses. I think I have a pretty good handle on them.”

“We’re counting on that.” Irked, the young lawyer took a step back. The passion she obviously felt for the vampire reflected in her eyes. “You’ve given us more information on Angel than we had when he first got here. Nobody knows him better than you do. Especially the side we’re interested in,” he added, pulling his mind back to the purpose of their project.

Darla turned to face him and closed the gap. “So, what is the plan exactly? I tease him to death?” running her fingers along his lapel and watching with mild interest at the slight flush that quickly tinted his cheekbones.

“We don’t want him dead. We want him dark,” he reminded her softly, “and there is no better way to a man’s dark side than to awaken his… nastier urges, is there?”

Pouting with annoyance, Darla dropped her hand and turned back to the window.
“We have a little problem, though, my dear Lindsey,” her voice slithered along his skin and he reveled in it. As a human, she drew out emotions and physical wants with ease. He shuddered to think of the power she’d hold over him if ever she returned to the demon she once had been.

“From where I’m looking, everything is going as planned,” he finally replied confidently, and then paused, “but tell me anyway.”

“His seer.” Her hand reached out towards the glass, fingers spreading until her palm lay flat against the sun-warmed barrier. “She’s lately had guest spots in his dreams,” her mouth twisted with jealousy. With her face averted, Lindsey missed it, but couldn’t fail to notice the emotion reflected in her soft voice and it burned. “In fact, I lost him last night. He preferred to tango with his new chew toy.”

“I don’t see that as a problem. More as a potential opportunity,” Lindsey grinned with pure delight as various scenarios filled his imagination. Lifting his good hand to squeeze her fragile shoulder soothingly, “Just imagine… the Power’s champion loses it and drains his link dry.” The very thought twisted his smile into pure malice.

Continuing, he chuckled close to her ear with barely stifled glee, “If we’re lucky, he’ll go as far as turning her. The Senior Partners will be ecstatic.” Lindsey imagined the rewards, but his own ambitions blinded him to Darla’s cold reaction as she stared out of the window with unseeing eyes, her pale face outwardly expressionless.

Chapter 3
“Morning, Wes! Is the Grumpmeister up yet?” He glanced up at Cordelia from the pad he was writing on and frowned.

“Please, comments like that are really unnecessary.” The gentle chastisement reflecting in his face made her pause in her tracks across the lobby, and she had the grace to look apologetic.

“Sorry,” she sighed, continuing to walk over to him. “I brought you tea!” She held out the styrene cup with a repentant smile when he looked back up and took the proffered olive branch and smiled his thanks. Then it faded.

“I just think we should tread a little carefully for the time being,” he explained softly, glancing behind him at the vampire’s office, the door firmly closed. “Angel obviously has issues he is attempting to deal with, and continued inappropriate comments from you are just making it more uncomfortable for everyone.”

Cordy grimaced before pffting. “Angel’s always had issues. What’s so different this time?” She waved a hand in the air dismissively, and then caught Wes’ eye. “Okay, I’ll try not to do the ‘inappropriate’ thing,” she air quoted before puffing out a resigned breath and turning towards her desk.

As she did so, the office door opened and Angel emerged. “Have you seen the Evans file?”

His seer, who was busy rifling though her desk drawers, missed the irritation on Angel’s face, but she’d picked up his tone. Stiffening in annoyance, a small rebellious part of her refused to reply.

“Aha!” She held up the claret nail polish triumphantly and started opening the lid. Angel walked over to her desk impatiently.

“Cordelia! The Evans file?” Hazel eyes turned towards his and for a moment Angel was lost in the fire bringing out the flecks of gold in them. That wasn’t the kind of fire he wanted to see and for a split second, his mind wandered to memory of the hotly passionate gaze that held his in his dreams. A mental shake followed.

“Oh, you were talking to me?” she asked sarcastically, ignoring Wes’ soft sigh of exasperation and rising to her feet.

Shoving his clenched hands deep in his pants pockets, Angel watched her walk over to the filing cabinets. Right at this moment he honestly didn’t know whether he wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled or simply show her a new use for the flat surface of her desk. Either way, he had to contain the urge to put his hands on her.

He wondered where the hell these feelings came from when the reality before him proved his point, She’s irritating, self-centered, pushy, certainly not the soft, warm, willing, passionate woman of his dreams. Taking a step back, he resisted the urge of both and glanced longingly towards the stairs. He was just so damn tired, and didn’t need this right now.

But at the same time, he knew what would most likely happen if he went up and climbed into his bed. The Cordelia he really wanted would soon join him, or so he hoped. That shook him to the core. Angel could no longer deny that he wanted her. Not to himself. Not with the evidence that had left him aching and hard between his thighs, nor the explosive climax he’d had afterward just thinking of her heat, her mouth…. her blood. She was certainly passionate by nature, though not toward him; except for her tendency to snark.

It was the willing part where the line was drawn. He saw nothing of the raw passion he felt in her eyes. Not in the cold light of day. She seemed completely unaware of him as a man. To her, he was just a eunuch vampire. She’d said as much to his face and the urge to prove her wrong was just too damn much right now. Although bone-tired, Angel needed to quench the surge of adrenalin and he knew exactly how he could accomplish that safely.

“Wes, check that the details to the case are in order. I’ll be in the basement if I’m needed.” He turned his back on them both and walked quickly across the lobby, disappearing from sight, the basement door closing behind him seconds later.

As soon as the click sounded, Cordy changed direction and handed the file to Wes who instantly looked up and opened his mouth to speak. “Don’t say a word,” she ordered quickly. “Give me at least two long coffee moments first, ‘kay?” She didn’t wait for his reluctant nod and went over to her desk, plonking herself down a little too forcefully and reaching for her coffee, yanking off the lid, and taking a big gulp of the steaming liquid.

The heavy punching bag swung effortlessly at a regular pace as Angel hit it with restrained force. The last thing he wanted was a curious eye if the bag tore from the beam above and hit the wall behind.

Especially if it happened to be the curious eyes of a certain seer.

He moved around the bag as if dodging a foe, connecting time and again with measured blows. Muscles stretching, flexing, extending. The hard rap of his bare knuckles against the smooth leather surface. One, two. Side-step. Three, four. A practiced dance of skill, one his body knew so well that it took over.

The physical exertion felt good, but he couldn’t shake off the fog of tiredness that made his head ache constantly. Add that to the lingering memories of his dream. Remembering the way Cordelia felt straddling his thighs, her tight heat engulfing him as he savored her rich sweet blood… couldn’t get the image out of his head and his punches became erratic, making the bag judder drunkenly.

Several minutes later, his mind was yanked back to the present abruptly when the heavy weight of the bag swung back, hitting him solidly in the torso. He’d been so lost in his thoughts that he’d left himself open and caught the back swing. Good thing it had been the bag and not the sharp end of a sword.

Christ! What the hell was happening? Now he couldn’t even focus or concentrate on a simple task. With a disgusted grimace, Angel turned away from the bag and composed himself. Rubbing the back of his neck, he stared down at his boot-shod feet unseeingly. Several minutes of deep breathing accompanied a mental list of all the things that annoyed the crap outta him where the object of his lust was concerned. Then finally, he made his way up the wooden stairs.

“There’s no need to keep looking at me like a disappointed daddy,” Cordy leaned back in her chair and folded her arms tightly across her chest, but the expression on Wesley’s face didn’t waver.

“Okaayy, I’m sorry. Geez!” she huffed out looking both annoyed and penitent. “But would it have killed Angel to at least make an effort? He remembered your name okay.” Wes merely lifted a brow mutely.

“You can be so…” rising to her feet jerkily, Cordy began to pace back and forth angrily. “That manpire is getting on my last nerve. And how the hell do you do that?” she finally asked.

“Do what?” Wes folded his arms and leaned back in his chair as she waved her arms about erratically.

“Give me a total lecture without saying a word,” she said, glaring at him before pivoting on her heel and continuing with her restless pacing.

“Cordelia, please sit down, you’re making me dizzy,” unfolding his arms, he leaned his elbows on the desk, slouching forward, relieved when she heeded his words and pulled out a chair to sit opposite him.

“I’m really trying, you know?” Cordy scowled at his answering smile. “I mean, I’m trying to be the grown-up here; and believe me, I’m so not ready for that kinda mental strain,” she sighed dramatically. I’m just so fed up of seeing his grouchy face every time I come in,” she admitted, and the now serious expression on her lovely face wiped the faint smirk off his.

“With his nasty little comments and angry glares that just happen to come my way all the time,” she pointed out and raised a brow when Wes opened his mouth to dispute it; then closed it again with a snap when he realized it was actually true.

“And what’s with all this sleeping? It isn’t normal. Not that Angel is the poster boy for normal, I know, but you get what I’m saying, right?” She ran an impatient hand over her hair, brushing away wayward strands that had escaped her high ponytail. “All he does is sleep, fight the visions and take out his bad mood on me, which I already said, I know,” she got in quickly, “but it’s worth repeating.”

Wes resigned himself to merely listening as the words of resentment poured out, interspersed with threads of genuine worry. Better out than bottled up inside, he decided.

Pausing to draw breath, Cordelia took a moment to think about other things that hadn’t been ‘normal’; like Angel’s increasing habit of invading her personal bubble. The hair-sniffing had been bad enough. Feeling his cheek pressed against the top of her head, him openly inhaling her scent and the hands that had cupped her shoulders firmly, keeping her pinned to the chair. Only releasing his grip when she freaked out loud enough for Wes to hear.

That was one incident Wes was fully aware of, but there were many he wasn’t. Like the various times Angel had caged her in at the filing cabinets with his chest pressed against her back as he supposedly retrieved files. Looming at her desk, again crowding her in her seat. The frequent touching in itself was so unlike him. Angel had never been a touchy-feely kinda guy and Cordy had always been the one to invade his space in the past. But her touches had always been innocent and impulsive, like a hug of relief and so on, whereas his were most definitely not.

Then yesterday morning made all of that seem insignificant. Heat rushed into her cheeks and loins at the memory. That definitely was of the no-no kind. The worst thing was, each time he got close, her body responded, and then she’d had the task of reminding herself of all the reasons why a touchy-feely vamp-with-a-tenuous-soul was a bad, very bad thing.

“Cordelia? Are you still with us?” Wes finally asked as the silence dragged on a little too long. Watching her face as she’d sat there lost in her own thoughts had been interesting, as well as mystifying. The myriad of emotions that ran through her expressive eyes, and finally the rose flush that now stained her golden cheeks had him wondering where her thoughts had taken her.

“Gah! Sorry,” she grimaced and pulled her thoughts together. Note to self: no deep and inner scaries unless all alone.

“Basically, I’m fed up, which I think you got somewhere along the line of my Fed Up speech?” Wes nodded in agreement and she rose to her feet. “Well, I promise, I will to try to keep my temper and think before I speak; which I hope you realize is like asking an elephant to tiptoe,” she promised and watched the relief take over the earlier expression of concern.

“Thank you, Cordelia. That is all I ask—,” Wes began, only to be interrupted by her.

“But,” she warned, “I don’t know how much more I’m gonna take before I end up clonking him upside his grouchy head,” she walked across the lobby and made straight for the coffeepot, leaving him staring after her with a groan of exasperation.

The sturdy metal of the door handle began to bend out of shape just as Angel released it. Having overheard every word of Cordelia’s little rant, he stared at the paneled door for a long time, trying to decide whether or not to open it and enter the lobby, or go back downstairs to train some more.

He opted for the latter, turning abruptly, the defined lines of his face and body taut with strained control. Cordy’s voice echoed through his head as he descended and anger slowly boiled to the surface; the emotion eclipsing reason as he went over her words again and again, completely overlooking the concern lacing her acerbic tone.

As he again pummeled his fists into the punching bag, he thought about Cordelia being fed up with him. Talk about being tired and frustrated: he had the patent on that right now. Just once, he’d like to show her exactly how ‘not normal’ he could be. It was lucky for the little hellcat that he had a soul to restrain him!

That gave Angel pause. Dark and unacceptable thoughts whispered through his mind care of his demon all of the time, but lately those thoughts had gotten louder and hard to ignore, especially when he found himself considering just how easy it would be to follow through with them. He shuddered and renewed his assault on the bag almost desperately.

Perched on the padded arm of a chair, Angel stretched his legs out, crossing them at the ankles and then followed suit by folding his arms across his chest. Still and silent, he kept watch as Wes and Cordy finished up their tasks for the night, each of them gathering their belongings. With nothing else going on around the office and no doubt having plans that did not include him, they’d made the decision to leave a little early.

Not that he’d been involved in that decision. There was still work to be done if they looked for it. Angel tracked Cordelia as she tossed away her empty coffee cup and moved back toward the desk, not even bothering to look his way. He swallowed down his irritation and spoke up, “Cordy, I need the Evans file.”

Immediately upon hearing his voice, she sent him a smile that left him longing for a taste of her lips. Cordelia opened one of the metal drawers, commenting, “Here it is: filed under E.”

Right… E for Evans, just as it should be. That made perfect sense to him. Angel acknowledged his own sense of satisfaction that everything was in its proper place.

Bringing the requested file, Cordelia’s businesslike demeanor fell away as her hips swayed with just that extra little curve in her walk, hazel eyes looking hungry as they swept over his face, her lips parted temptingly. Leaning in close so that her mouth nearly brushed his ear, she dropped the file onto the chair. “Can I get you anything else?” she offered as she took a moment to massage the nape of his neck. “A cup of coffee, a mug of warm blood… me?”

Angel turned to claim her mouth with a kiss, wanting to crush those soft lips beneath his. The sudden move tipped him off balance and sensing that he was falling, he jerked out of his dream, hearing his own shout of surprise. Turning his gaze, he found Wes and Cordy staring at him from the doorway just as they were about to head out. Concern painted Wes’ expression, but Cordelia merely rolled her eyes and snorted at his clumsiness.

That careless reaction left a hard knot in his throat, but Angel tamped down the urge to follow and finish up what he’d started. With a short wave of his hand as he silently bid them goodnight, he headed up the stairs to his room deciding that a hot shower might ease the tense muscles in his neck and shoulders as well as invigorate him.

Twenty minutes later, Angel emerged from the bathroom, barefoot, with a beige cotton towel wrapped snuggly around his hips. He felt good. Like he could take on the world and still have the energy left over to celebrate afterward. No aches, no tension. Ready for anything.

“What took you so long?” Cordelia asked as she leaned back against the closed door. “I’ve been waiting forever.”

Walking toward her, Angel admitted, “I thought you’d gone,” though it shouldn’t have surprised him. She was always there for him.

“Now why would I do that? I thought Wes would never go home,” Cordy said as if she had planned this whole thing. Perhaps she had, considering the fact that she had slipped into something more comfortable while he was in the shower.

God, she was beautiful, the perfect mix of sweet, sassy & sexy, and she was his for the taking. Angel felt his body stir with desire as he let his gaze slowly travel over Cordelia from head to toe. Her hair was swept up into soft curls leaving her graceful throat bare except for a stray tendril that teased her skin. Dressed in red satin that flared to a stop high atop her toned golden thighs, its lace-trimmed slit caused him to swallow reflexively at the hint of skin beneath. The lacy negligee covering her shoulders played peek-a-boo as it swept down to the floor.

“See something you like?” A smiled teased at her lips as she curled a finger and beckoned him forward. “I know I do.”

As her eyes dropped away from his to roam his body, Angel let her look her fill, feeling sexy just because of the way she flushed hotly. He planted his hands flat against the door on either side of her, leaning in to drink in that delicious scent that drifted along her skin. His mouth brushed along the delicate column of her throat, pressing softly against her pulse point. A low sound of want vibrated against his lips in response and she clutched at his still-damp shoulders.

Lifting his head, Angel stared down at Cordelia, her eyes closed, lashes sweeping against the curve of her cheeks, sultry mouth parted to whisper his name. When she opened her eyes, he found his feelings reflected there in the jeweled depths, matching his own. Her words echoed his thoughts, “You’re mine,” as the silkily spoken claim accompanied the slide of her hands down his torso to the edge of the cotton towel.

Cordelia’s eager impatience kept his movements deliberately slow. With one hand still pressed against the door, he brought the other up to the clip holding her hair in place. A click sounded releasing her hair in a rivulet of glossy waves down her back and tumbling over her shoulders. Gathering two handfuls, he purred low at the sensation of it falling through his spread fingers, so soft and silky.

The delicate lace of her ruby red negligee felt rough in comparison. Angel grasped the material, pushing it off her shoulders. It draped along her back, caught by her arms as she toyed with the edge of his towel, her fingertips teasing. “Drop it.”

“The towel?” Catching her lip between her teeth, Cordy unsuccessfully fought off a smile. She knew what he was talking about. Angel’s hands curled tighter around her shoulders as she dropped those playful fingers to the evident outline below.

A sharp hiss at the sensation sucked air into his lungs. He let it out as a low grunt of approval. Friction from the cotton fibers combined with the rubbing pressure of her hand. Angel wiped her gleeful smirk away with one intense closed-mouth kiss that left her lips swollen, parted and panting for more. Then he backed one step away, the action possessing a dual purpose: Cordelia’s hands dropped to her sides causing the unwanted barrier of her lace negligee to pool around her feet, and it allowed her a little room to admire the view as he jerked the towel away from his hips.

Teasing each other and talking weren’t top priorities after that. Cordelia stepped forward into his arms. He yanked her even closer, hot need driving him to claim her mouth yet again, to have more of her. Those soft, pliable lips opened eagerly under his and their frantic kisses deepened. Angel’s hands moved down her back, slipping over silk to cup the firm roundness of her bottom. Holding her against him for a moment, he felt his body tightening in response as hers pulsed with life so close to his.

Their eyes locked for a moment, smoldering and intense. Angel wanted to sink into her, to possess her in every way imaginable. He pulled her up higher until her legs locked around his waist and trailed kissed across the underside of her jaw and the soft scented place behind her ear.

They tumbled onto the bed in a tangle of limbs. Arching beneath the sensual slide of his hands, Cordelia reacted to his every touch. A mewl of pleasure sounded as he began to kiss his way across her collarbone. His fingers hooked beneath the spaghetti-thin straps of her red satin slip only to slide out again as he changed his mind about stripping her quite so soon.

Everywhere she touched left trails of fire along his skin. Angel’s body hummed with building pleasure as he stroked and kissed his way from her throat to the warm depths of her cleavage, his hands curving around her breasts. Opening his mouth, he closed it over one of her nipples poking up against the silk, drawing a little gasp from her throat. Teasing it with his blunt teeth, he flicked his tongue across it. Her hand dropped away from his shoulder to cup her other breast, her hand over his, silently pleading for the same attention there.

Arched above her, his hips and knees planted between her thighs, Angel lurched into Cordelia’s hand as she reached between them, and the simple brush of her fingertips galvanized him into action again. He wanted her badly and he wasn’t going to wait much longer. Sitting back on his knees, he released her breasts and slid his hands along her tiny waist, over the curve of her hips, down and back up the silky course of her firm thighs.

Cordelia moaned wantonly as Angel pushed the short skirt of her slip around her waist and the sound made him want to hear more. Anticipating it would happen when he finally got to taste her, Angel moved to the edge of her panties, now damp with creamy arousal. As he rubbed his thumb across the dark red silk, she arched against his hand and reached out for him again.

“No more teasing,” Cordelia pulled at him with her arms and legs until he fell forward, bracing himself above her, grinning at her enthusiasm.

Drawn to her mouth again, Angel kissed her thoroughly while somehow finding the little red bows holding her panties in place. Instead of ripping them away as he might have done, he slowly slipped the bows out of their knots, like opening a precious package especially wrapped just for him. And she was… all for him.

Their eyes met as he sank into her tight heat and Angel was certain he’d never felt better, gloved inside her. Cordelia’s loving gaze gave way to an expression of ecstasy as he brought them closer and closer. She was everything he wanted, he knew, as he rocked deep, her hands and words urging him on.

Then the sudden intrusion of a voice that had no business there sounded beside them, Darla. “You want more than that, Angelus. Take her. Take her for real.”

Angel whipped his head toward the source of the voice, but there was only empty space. Confusion hit, along with a mixture of arousal, frustration and deep-boned tiredness. The realization that he was hugging a pillow and that Cordelia was not in his bed only made him angry. First at himself for being so damned ridiculous about wanting such an obstinate, sharp-tongued, irritating woman and then at her for seeing him only as some sexless creature.

Three days of fighting off dreams and yearning for sleep brought Angel more torment. Everything slightly out of the norm acted as an irritant; even the way Cordy and Wes seemingly tiptoed around him lately pissed him off.

Watching his seer noticeably reach deep whenever he snapped at her, and bite back comments that she’d normally have made without thought should have amused him, but her efforts to keep the peace only wound him up tighter. Especially when he’d later overhear her bitching to Wes and also the small disputes that were frequently erupting between them.

Even now, Angel could hear Cordy and Wes bickering before even leaving his rooms. Sometimes, having preternatural hearing was definitely a disadvantage; especially when you had a seer whose voice he was positive could break glass.

Every muscle and bone in his body ached, only the pain behind his eyes greater. He was exhausted even though he’d slept for a solid 12 hours and was not in the mood for the racket that had jerked him awake. For several seconds, he stood on the landing above, rubbing the back of his neck and silently watching them argue until Cordy’s voice rose to a pitch that felt as if it would burst his eardrums at any minute.

“Hey! What the hell is going on here?” His aggravated and unusually loud interruption instantly put a stop to it, both guilty parties turning to stare up at him.

After a moment of stunned silence, Cordy began speaking; thankfully a few decibels lower. “We were just discussing whether or not we should offer to pay Gunn,” she explained, briefly glancing at, and then away from Wes to look back at him.

Staring back steadily, Angel unblinkingly held her heated gaze until her eyes dropped uncomfortably. “No you weren’t,” he disagreed with a shake of his head.

Wes studied his highly polished loafers for a moment before lifting his abashed eyes and following Angel’s trek down the stairs, absently noting the tired slump of broad shoulders, and a face paler than it normally was. “Well, our discussions tend to go about three minutes, then it’s strictly name-calling and hair pulling,” he finally remarked, sending a scathing look Cordy’s way.

With a scowl, she pulled her arms tight across her chest. Angel failed to ignore the way her actions pushed her full breasts up and almost out the top of her blouse, his eyes tracing the curves. Nor did he miss, “Ebenezer here doesn’t want to share the wealth,” as she retorted snottily.

Instantly Wes’ back went perfectly straight in offence. “I didn’t say that. I merely said Gunn might be insulted by the offer. He’s a proud sort of fellow.” Wes explained his reasons, which he thought were in a calm and rational manner. Cordy obviously disagreed.

She shrugged, folding her arms even tighter against her chest and turned to face the vampire, who was now standing several feet away. So intent on her argument, Cordy didn’t notice that the tense pose of her folded arms had exposed the beginnings of the blue lace half-cup bra under the love-cut halter top she wore, or the involuntary stare of Angel as he unconsciously moved closer.

“He’s been doing for us. He should pull in a check.” Her face was set with familiar determination. The kind that usually meant Cordy would not back down until she was heard and appeased.

Feeling a twinge of annoyance both at her passionate defense of Gunn, plus her assumption that she’d get her own way, Angel’s thoughts pinned on the defense for a moment. Was something going on that he didn’t know about? He’d seen the easy relationship they seemed to already have. Had he missed something more… intimate?

Hot rage and possessiveness flared, causing Angel to scowl back at her and then pivot away rapidly before he invaded her space and inhaled her scent for evidence he hoped wouldn’t be there. “I’ll think about asking him, alright?” he muttered, moving further away and around the counter until it separated them.

Shifting paperwork around on the front desk countertop, he hoped she’d get the hint and drop it for now. Being dragged from his dreams and away from a Cordy so apart from the acerbic creature facing him soured his mood completely.

Cordy stood there looking at him askance. What was his problem? And what was that ‘look’ about? For a moment, she thought he was going to snarl at her. Not of the good. She recalled Wes’ words less than a week ago and managed to shrug off the hurt feelings, instead resorting to her usual way of dealing by pretending he wasn’t being an ass.

But things had to be said where Gunn was concerned, and with her usual bluntness, the words in her head poured out. “No thinking. Pay. That’s an order,” Cordy demanded, and then winced and snapped her mouth shut, deliberately averting her gaze from Wes, who hovered in her periphery vision.

Angel, who’d turned to open the filing cabinet stiffened instantly. “How about we pretend that you work for me? My decision goes around here. It’s about time you started paying attention and listening.” He flicked an angry glance over his shoulder, his voice turning nasty.

Cordy fidgeted on the spot, anger warring with discomfort. Looking out of the corner of her eye, she saw that Wes had now turned away slightly; his averted face a picture of absorbed interest as he gazed ahead towards the far wall facing him, pretending not to have heard a thing. Lately, he’d been doing that a lot, she’d noted, obviously attempting to ignore Angel’s snappish behavior but the very rare sight of Wes shoving his hands into his pants pockets spoke volumes.

Taking a shaky breath, Cordy stared daggers into the vampire’s back before replying, “Lately, I wonder why I do; you are really unpleasant when y—”

“Then why don’t we pretend that you don’t,” Angel harshly cut in before she could finish, and her hazel eyes widened in shock. He’d never spoken to her like that in all the time she’d known him and, God, it hurt. As the shock wore off, the content of his words sunk in, and her eyes narrowed into slits of anger.

“You know what? That sounds like a great idea,” she finally replied brightly, a fake plastic smile stretching her mouth. Adding, “Gee, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, seeing as my boss is a total asswipe.”

Angel swiveled round abruptly, shock warring with anger. His mouth opened to say… what, he wasn’t that sure, but Cordy had already moved over to her desk and was now stuffing various items that were scattered across the worn surface into her purse with jerky movements.

Then he took an unneeded breath and turned back to the filing cabinet. She’d get over it, he decided. Best thing to do right now was let her have her temper tantrum and make her dramatic exit. She’d be back. He was sure of it.

Slinging the strap over her head, Cordy straightened her purse and finally lifted stormy eyes. The bastard wasn’t even looking. Her resolve that had almost crumbled as she closed her bag re-asserted itself and with a derisory flick of her eyes at the black-clad back facing her way, she turned towards Wes, who now stood almost wringing his hands, his eyes shooting from one to another anxiously, then took a hesitant step towards to his noticeably upset friend.

“Cordelia…” clearing his suddenly clogged throat, Wes tried again. “Why don’t we have a nice cup of tea and talk about this rationally?” Watching her face set into cold composure, he sighed helplessly, glancing back Angel silently willing him to turn around, but by the tense set of his shoulders, that wasn’t going to be anytime soon.

“Wes, can you be a sweetie and clear the rest of my desk for me?” Cordy walked towards the main entrance, her head turned to throw a strained smile towards him, almost tripping up the three steps on the way. “If you could bring my stuff over to my apartment, I won’t have to darken his door again.”

As her hand reached out towards the heavy door, she staggered, hands lifting towards her temples, and before Wes could blink, her head jerked backwards, her body following and she hit the floor with a loud thud. By the time Wes had come out of his shock at the suddenness of the vision and ran forward, Angel was there kneeling next to her and pulling her thrashing body into his.

A curse sounded in his head as she hit the marble floor. He’d missed it. The subtle change in her breathing. That unique slowing of her heartbeat. Too wrapped up in himself. Normally, he was keenly aware of her state of being and sensed when to react.

The convulsing slowly settled into deep trembling, and Angel cradled her close to his chest, which ached for her as Cordelia’s loud cries were replaced by soft whimpers. Smoothing over the back of her head, he threaded fingers through the tangled strands of her hair. The hand that had firmly pinned her hips against his now relaxed and kneaded the taut muscles still quivering under his gentle touch. Then she stiffened and pulled out of his arms.

As the images and pain had lanced through her mind, Cordy had been oblivious to everything around her, feeling nothing of the impact of the floor against her head and back. As the details imprinted, the pain slowly filtered away until she was left with a sickly ache that seemed to surround her skull and radiate down to her neck and shoulders. Oblivious to everything around her as the vision hit, Cordelia gradually became aware of her surroundings: hard muscle, gentle hands, soothing her. A familiar touch registered instantly, and recognition had her tensing and rearing away from him.

Lurching away, she shuffled on her butt, putting more distance between them until her back came up against an unexpected obstruction and she looked up in surprise, yelping aloud as pain lanced through her head at the sudden movement.

Wes, who’d stood watching helplessly, had relaxed as Cordy slowly emerged from the vision. He’d remained frozen to the spot until her back hit his shins. Moving to the side he apologized quietly then squatted down to rest a concerned hand on her shoulder. “What did you see?” he asked gently, ignoring Angel’s immediate low growl of discontent at his immediate his questioning, for the time-being while she haltingly described the vision.

Briefly, Cordy lifted her eyes as she spoke, and her gaze collided with Angel’s who was still on his haunches directly in her line of vision. Although unreadable, there was something there that caused her body to clench in response. Her voice caught mid-sentence even as her startled gaze averted from his.

As soon as she finished speaking, Angel scooped her up effortlessly, ignoring her breathless insistence that she was perfectly able to get up on her own. Silently he strode over to one of the couches and gently deposited her, lingering for a few seconds before failing to capture her gaze. Slowly, he stepped away.

Wes appeared at his side with a glass of water and two white pills, handing them to her. “How long have we got?” he asked once Cordy had popped the pills into her mouth and gulped down half the glass of water. Wiping the back of her hand across her mouth, she took a deep breath before looking directly at him.

“About an hour, but its halfway across town, so you should go now.” She rubbed a shaky hand over her face. “Time for you to do a little work, huh?” Her glance flickered briefly towards Angel’s, whose mouth tightened into a thin line as he caught her gaze and held it. Her whole body jolted at the pure anger reflected in the dark depths.

She shivered, dragging her eyes away and looked down at her lap, only half hearing Wes suggesting they make a move. Before he’d even finished, Angel had already turned away and headed towards the weapons cabinet. No, she definitely wasn’t anything like the compliant lover from his dreams, he thought angrily; but her acid jibes stirred up a few ideas about ways to keep that delectable mouth busy. As he reached for his sword, a surge of adrenalin pumped through him; it was actually good to have something to do besides sleep. But her comment still stung.

Reaching back in he grabbed a crossbow, picking up his leather jacket on the way back and handing the weapon to Wes, who thanked him and checked it out before focusing back on Cordy, who still kept her eyes trained firmly on the twisting fingers in her lap. After assuring her they shouldn’t be long both turned and left.

It wasn’t until the heavy door swung shut behind them that Cordy realized Angel hadn’t said one single word since the vision struck. Leaning back against the high arm of the couch tiredly, she winced as her head connected with one of the throw cushions. She reached back and tentatively checked her skull, frowning when her fingers found a small lump. “Ouch.” The frown deepened as the obvious cause hit.

That had to be a first. The one and only time she’d hit the floor at the start of a vision with Angel present. Thoughts of accompanying bruises made her grimace. Great. Well, at least her face had escaped injury, which she had to be thankful for. Taking another sip of water, she closed her eyes and let out a heavy breath, her mind going over the past hour

Angel was tired, which seemed lately, the order of the day, and a total ass. But this time he’d crossed the line. Actually threatening her like that. Even the memory of it still hurt. Then he had the nerve to act all offended when the last place she wanted to be was in his arms. What the hell was wrong with him lately? She’d been telling the truth when admitting to Wes that she was fed up. The visions took enough of a toll on her without the having added stress of being in a workplace that was anything but comfortable.

Something was going on in his head and Cordy really didn’t want to be around to find out where it was heading. That last look…she shivered again at the very thought. There was a distinct lack of control and recklessness in his gaze, and to say she was glad Wes had been there was an understatement. On top of all the incidents over the past few weeks, that last expression set off something she’d never thought she’d ever feel around Angel: fear.

It had only lasted a split second. Normally, Angel was the epitome of self-control. The worst of it? That lack of control called out to something primal within her, a feeling that seemed to have come out of nowhere, though she suspected that it had been around for years. Cordy raked her hands tentatively through her hair, wincing as the pad of a finger pressed against the sore spot on her scalp. She had a feeling that lump would be one of many if determined to put distance between herself and Angel.

With her growing attraction and his increasingly intimate crowding of her space, it signaled something dangerous. Then there was the irritation that seemed to be centered on her too. She needed him out of her space and to be away from him. If more visions came and Angel wasn’t around to catch her, better lumps on her head than somehow running the risk of Angelus somewhere down the line.

Her mind made up, Cordy rose to her feet and walked determinedly towards the exit, refusing to look back even once.

Chapter 4

Wes, totally oblivious, opened the top drawer and blinked owlishly at the clutter. Instead of stationary, he was not all that surprised to find a plethora of women’s cosmetics in Cordelia’s desk. Taking the proverbial bull by the horns he finally reached in and grabbed a handful. As he moved to unload the items into one of the nearby boxes, one slipped out of his grasp and clattered onto the desk surface. He winced at the noise, quickly dropping the rest into the box and reaching down to grab the escapee; a bright pink tube with the words “Raspberry Ripple” printed on the bottom.

Wes frowned and pulled it apart, finding an unused lipstick. “Raspberry Ripple?” he murmured, bringing it closer to his face. “Doesn’t look like any raspberry ripple I’ve ever seen.” He peered closer at the deep pink color just as Angel appeared at his shoulder.

“Whatcha doing, Wes?”

“Eeargh!” Wes spun round, his hand jerking high as he did so, smearing pink across his cheek. Angel merely stared at him as he clutched his chest with a shaky hand.

“Dear God in heaven, Angel!” he finally spluttered unconsciously waving the lipstick around wildly. “Do you have to sneak up like that on-on poor defenseless people?”

Angel stepped back a pace as the offending item came a little too close to his face. Belatedly realizing, Wes cleared his throat, turning quickly to retrieve the lid and pop it into the box before facing the enquiring vampire. “Does Cordy know about your…” Angel pointed at the open drawer, “interest in that stuff?” If he hadn’t already had a suspicion as to what Wes was actually doing, Angel would’ve found the whole situation amusing, especially when the man flushed as pink as the lipstick smeared on his face.

“Oh…Oh! No!” Wes hastened to correct that assumption, then hesitated, and wracked his brains for a delicate way to put it. He couldn’t for the life of him, and instead hummed and arred before finally blurting out, “Cordelia asked me to collect the rest of her things.” His discomfort grew as Angel stood motionless, silently staring at him, but then let out a small sigh of relief when he broke eye contact and instead looked down at his boots for a long moment.

“Angel?” Wes cleared his throat and continued awkwardly. “I’m afraid Cordelia meant what she said yesterday. She actually resigned from Angel Investigations.” He shifted uncomfortably as the dark head remained dipped.

Though the words slowly sunk in, Angel said nothing at first as he focused in on the memory of last night and her stubborn attempt at leaving. That wasn’t for real; it was all show just to piss him off. Well, now it was working. Dammit, he didn’t imagine that her little huff would last this long. He’d expected to find her back at her desk this afternoon.

There had to be some mistake. Keeping a tight reign on his temper, Angel finally lifted his head, and Wes was a bit surprised to hear a thread of amusement in his quietly spoken question and nodded slowly, his face set in apologetic lines. “She actually said that she quit, that she wasn’t coming back?”

Angel pursed his lips and rocked back on his heels as he considered his options. Glancing at the boxes, he felt his anger grow by leaps and bounds, but kept his tone level, “Leave the rest. I think I should be the one to go over.”

Noting the gaping fish expression that appeared on Wes’ face, he added, “After all, this is my fault.” He lifted a staying hand to stave off the sputtering protests that he knew Wes would attempt to make. “I wasn’t exactly pleasant to her yesterday. I’ll take that box,” he inclined his head to the half full one.

Wes took a step forward when Angel picked up the cardboard box and turned to walk away. “But what about the rest?” he asked hesitantly.

“Hopefully, after I’ve sorted this out, Cordy will be back, right?” Angel paused on his way to the office. At Wes’ relieved nod of agreement, he continued on. As he grabbed the handle to close the door, he caught Wes’ anxious gaze.

“Oh, and Wes, I don’t think it’s a good idea to… tell her about the change of plan,” he suggested. “I’m sure she doesn’t wanna talk to me right now and I really want the chance to tell her how much we need her here.”

“That would definitely be an unwise move, yes,” Wes replied, in complete agreement, hope flaring that Angel could soothe her ruffled feathers and then they could put all this unpleasantness behind them and continue on what was the most important: the mission. After all, that was the reason they were all together in the first place.

Angel’s answering smile lasted as long as it took to close his door, then it disappeared abruptly.

“Geez, Dennis, just let him in,” Cordelia called out from the kitchen where she was busy pouring herself a tall glass of iced tea. “Wes is bringing over the stuff from my desk.”

Phantom Dennis made no move to open the door. That wasn’t Wesley out there, he knew, but Angel. Considering some of the things Cordelia had been saying to him about the vampire since last night, it seemed like a good time to watch and wait. He’d been observing them for weeks; months even, and had a feeling that something was about to happen.

With a roll of her eyes, Cordelia grabbed the door handle. “Getting lazy? If you don’t use all that ghostly energy, you’ll turn into a fat blob.”

“Who’s fat?” The question startled Cordelia who’d been looking behind her rather than at the door she’d just opened.

From the way her eyes slowly drifted down Angel’s tall frame, the ghost figured it should be obvious Cordy didn’t think it was him. But her gaze snapped back up to his as she demanded to know, “Where’s Wes?”

“I left him locked up in the basement, bound and gagged,” Angel responded so smoothly that Cordy gaped at him. For half a second, she believed every word. That only served to cause his level of aggravation to inch higher.

“That is so not funny,” Cordelia certainly wasn’t laughing. “I don’t want you here right now. Wes was supposed to come.”

Grasping either side of the doorframe as he waited for her to invite him in, Angel finally pushed away and took a step forward. Explaining, “This is between us. We need to talk.”

Cordelia watched him with a narrowed gaze as he swept past her into the living room. All things considered, she really wasn’t surprised to see him, even before the sunset. Figuring that he must have taken the sewer short cut from the hotel, she knew he had to be angry to be so impatient about getting there.

She stalked past him at a fast pace, shutting the door just this side of a slamming it, the sound jarring. “There’s nothing between us to talk about; you being my bad attitude ex-boss, me being the ex-slave-to-your-every-whim.”

All but fuming at her cavalier response, Angel told her, “That’s wrong on so many counts.”


There was only one place where Cordy answered to his every whim and somehow he doubted sharing those details would make her reconsider her decision to quit. “Whether you choose to remember it or not, I’m your friend.”

“Says the grumpy tyrant.”

Angel frowned, trying to come up with a reason that did not include the fact that he dreamt about her night after night and felt like he’d actually stayed up for the marathon sessions in bed rather than slept for hours on end. “I ha—”

“I know, I know,” Cordelia threw up her hands in exasperation. “You haven’t let anyone keep you from hiding out in your rooms. Brood, brood, brood. If it’s not the broody mode, it’s the bossy one.”

Only the slow grinding of his teeth kept Angel from growling his response as she started to mimic some of his latest requests. The completely exaggerated way in which she did it left him stewing in anger. He watched for a few moments as she paced across the room. “Stop that, dammit! I thought you had some respect for what we do, even if you could care less about me, personally.”

Snapping her mouth shut, Cordelia whirled back around to find him much closer than before, glaring down at her in a way that left her breathing fast, her heart pounding. “This isn’t about the mission.”

“You can’t quit,” Angel inched forward as he made his point. “You’re Vision Girl! You can’t just decide to quit the visions. You’re my seer. There’s a connection between us you can’t run away from.”

Breath shaking, standing her ground, Cordelia simply said, “It’s not the visions I’m quitting, Angel. It’s… you.”

Dead silence followed as Cordelia awaited his reaction. He didn’t yell, or pout or do any of the things she expected him to do. He just stood there, soaking in the silence, his expression a blank slate. She wished he’d just say something and get this over with.

“Say something,” the prompt only seemed to thicken the tension. Hugging herself as she crossed her arms over her chest, the little squeeze did nothing to ease her sudden discomfort. “Fine. You do a great impression of a clam. The Powers may call the shots on the visions, but there’s no rule book that says I can’t phone Wes on the hotline if I have one.”

After another eternity of waiting, Angel finally spoke up. His whole bearing shifted from stony and emotionless back to vibrant intensity within a matter of seconds. She could feel it, a palpable energy that wrapped around her making her body shiver in anticipation. A small part of her was afraid that he would notice.

Maybe he’d get the hint and leave if she ignored him. It was an impossible task. Angel stood within inches now, his broad shoulders blocking out everything else. “You don’t quit me, Cordelia,” the use of her full name and the semblance of a threat in his tone raised the hair at the nape of her neck.

Angel’s possessive tone rankled her already frayed nerves. “Not your decision. I can do anything I want. This is my life. Maybe I am the source of the visions that let you earn your chance at redemption, but that doesn’t make me yours to bully around the office.”

“I don’t bully you.”

“Hah! You’ve been an ass, lately,” she said hotly, her eyes sparkling brightly with rage. It was more than just his gruff behavior, especially when Gunn was around. “All you do these days is sleep, complain and act… weirder than usual.”

That description was hardly flattering, but to Angel’s mind there was only one reason for it: Cordelia herself. If he slept, he dreamt of her. If he was tired, it was because he couldn’t sleep thinking of her. The complaints were all because of his own damned jealousy and the fact that he was too tired to control it. As for acting weird, he had no idea what she meant.

After staring down at his feet, Angel raised his soulful brown eyes to stare into hers. Then giving into temptation, stroked his knuckles against the curve of her cheek. Cordelia leaned into it for an instant, until she jerked away from his touch.
“If it was just the attitude, I’d just put it down to the norm. Moody and broody is just your style, for the most part. That’s not the only reason I’m leaving.”

Angel didn’t care about reasons. “I just want you back where you belong, where I know I can watch over you.”

“I can look after myself. This decision is for the best. You may not see that now, but I know it,” Cordelia urged him to understand what she was saying. “You’ve been acting so creepy lately. You’ve been all over me. Hello, breathing room is necessary for us humans.”

He didn’t stop to think about it. Angel just leaned in closer, hands slowly sliding up her bare arms and making the space between them narrow to mere inches. Tiny tremors tingled along her skin as the gruff edge to his demand came oh, so softly, “Drop the pretense.”

Hotly denying it, “I’m not pretending anything,” she futilely attempted to move out of his iron hold. Now still, the hard contours of his chest pressed against her breasts and they peaked in reaction. “I just want you out of my personal bubble, my apartment and my life.”

Calm, almost too calm, Angel focused on her involuntary responses rather than her words. “I don’t believe you. There’s something between us that goes beyond visions, beyond friendship. It excites you, doesn’t it?”

“Scares me!” she rebutted as he hit that particular target with perfect accuracy.

“You think I don’t know that you want me? That I can’t tell when your pulse is racing, like now, or any of a hundred other little signs.” Ones he’d never noticed before, amazingly enough. His fingers weaved into her hair, “You smell so good,” but his face was buried at her throat when he said it.

Cordelia pushed against his chest. Any signs of hers were unintentional. A frisson of excitement and fear shot along her spine. Pleading for him to see reason, “Just back off,” she curled her fingernails into her palms letting the sting remind her of the reason it was necessary. “You know this can’t go anywhere.”

Straightening up, Angel let her hair fall back into place, but kept his hand on her shoulder. A glint appeared in his nearly black gaze that left her trembling as she realized she’d said something that actually pleased him. He looked like a racecar driver just given the green light to go ahead.

“So you admit that there’s something,” Angel raised a brow, looking almost smug as he said it even as Cordelia huffed in exasperation. “All this time I thought you saw me only as a vampire.”

Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to remind your obsessive ex-boss that he owned a pair of fangs, but it seemed to be the only option available. “You are a vampire, dumbass.”

“Is that the only thing you see when you look at me?”

Thump-thump-thump, her heart was beating to its own wild tune, sounding in her ears followed by a rush of white noise. Cordelia stared, recognizing the want in his eyes and feeling her own aching response to his touch. He was handsome; she’d never denied that, but it was the way he looked at her lately, the way his mouth parted as he stared at hers. The way she wanted to run her hands down every inch of him and revel in it.

But she couldn’t forget the main thing she saw. It was hidden now, behind those handsome features. It was the part of him he wanted her to forget though it was impossible. Cordelia knew her next words would be painful, but in the here and now they were her only weapon. “I see a demon who wants to be a man, but you aren’t, Angel, not yet. I’m not going to be the one to get in the way of that. Being together day after day… I just don’t feel safe anymore. It’s getting dangerous.”

Stung, Angel simply wanted her to want him in the same wild, passionate way he wanted her and had her in his dreams. That wasn’t so much to ask, was it? There was so much potential for passion inside her. He saw evidence of that everyday. He wanted that energy focused on him. If she could only learn to listen, to hold her tongue and, for once, simply do as he wanted without lecturing him, asking a hundred questions or debating him about a better way to do it.

“There’s nothing dangerous here,” his soft assurances whispered across her lips. “It’s just you and me, Cordy.”

Call it a flashback to her high school crush, but for an instant she believed it to be true. The fact that she wanted it to be true drowned out her better sense in favor of fulfilling a burst of curiosity. Just this once, she told herself. Leaning in, she felt the softness of his mouth against hers as their lips touched tentatively and then collided together. Sudden need, desire, desperation all tumbled into a series of hot clutches. A flurry of deep kisses, shuddered gasps, caresses and moans left any tender exploration behind from the first.

Hot, blinding need held them in its grip when Dennis finally decided to put a halt to the activities. Splashing them both with the contents of the glass of iced tea, they lurched apart. Shocked by the icy bath, the realization of how far their kiss had gone had a similar effect on Cordelia who trembled at the intensity she’d experienced. Geez, he knew just how to kiss her, as if he’d done it a hundred times before, leaving her mouth aching and her body tingling from his skillful touch.

Cordelia lifted a shaking hand to her bottom lip, still swollen from his kisses, her eyes widening as she realized what might have happened. Hit by desire stronger than she’d ever felt, it would be so easy to lose herself in his arms, to give in to that. But Dennis definitely made a good call despite the tea stains. Though being non-corporeal was probably for the best right now considering the look of fury on Angel’s face.

That reaction was enough to remind Cordelia why she’d left in the first place. This couldn’t happen again. She knew exactly where kisses like that would lead, and when it came to Angel that was simply a place they couldn’t go. “I want you to go now,” her voice didn’t betray her inner trembling. It was full of renewed resolve.

Dripping wet, Angel tried to control his own reaction, but he was too wound up to easily mask his irritation with the interruption. Having Cordy in his arms for real left his dreams in shadow. He wanted more of that, so much more, but the cold sensation of the crushed ice that had fallen into his collar combined with an initial look of horror on Cordelia’s face. The ice was an irritant, but the way she stared, as if expecting him to go straight for her throat, made him think twice about any attempt at convincing her to let him kiss her again.

A curse rattled off in his head as Angel realized he needed to leave before he made it worse on them both. This was far from over. Cordelia needed time to get used to the idea that she wanted him, while he had to come up with a way to convince her that there was nothing to fear about being together. “I’m going, but I’ll be back.”

He could try, Cordelia thought, resolved to make sure this didn’t happen again.

As Angel moved toward the door, he told her, “I brought a few of your things. They’re in the hall outside your door.”

Cordelia hadn’t expected that. “What about the rest? I should call Wes.”

“The rest stays where it is,” Angel told her firmly, still not backing down on that subject. “If you want it, you know where to find me.”

When the door closed behind him, Cordelia leaned against it, her palms flat on its painted surface, her flushed cheek resting on the back of one hand.

Wes looked up as soon as he heard the basement door open and rose to his feet, the tentative feelings of hope squashed at the dark expression on the vampire’s face as he strode through the lobby without stopping.

“C-Cordelia?” He had to ask, although he felt a surge of unexpected unease at the possible reply. Just Angel’s demeanor alone told him things obviously hadn’t gone well.

“She hasn’t changed her mind… yet,” Angel coolly replied, not breaking his stride until he reached the stairs and then took them two at a time. Pausing at the top, he looked down at Wes’ obvious distress.

“Oh dear! That’s…. what about the visions? We can’t—” Wes began to state the obvious but Angel cut in.

“Aren’t a problem. Cordy said she’d phone them in.” Sucking in a breath, he raked a hand through his hair, grimacing as the sticky strands clung to his fingers. No doubt Wes would make a point of going to see her now, and he wondered just how much she’d tell him.

Knowing Cordy as he did, Angel relaxed a little. He had no real worries on that score. As irritating and voluble as she was, he knew one thing for sure. Cordelia Chase didn’t open up about her personal life with anyone. His brief stay in Sunnydale had shown him that.

“Go home Wes,” he advised tiredly, forcing the tension from his tone. “It’s late, there’s nothing to do and I’m going to bed.”

Watched mutely as the vampire turned away and disappeared from sight, Wes slowly turned back to his desk, absently collecting his things before walking across the lobby and pulling open the main door. Reaching out to turn off the lights, he took once last look up to at the galleried landing above.

“It seems I’ll be paying Cordelia a visit after all,” he murmured before flicking the switch and pulling the door closed behind him.

“He’s an ass.” Cordy rattled cups noisily as she readied them for the pot of tea she was making, keeping her back to her friend.

“That’s a personal opinion, Cordelia, not an answer to my question.” Wes leaned back in his chair and watched as she made herself busy.

From the moment he’d arrived Wes had a bad feeling. First her muted voice as she apparently had words with her phantom, and then her calling out to ask who’d knocked her door.

As soon as he’d replied, it had swung open and he was faced with a scowling expression and annoyed hands-on-hips posture, demanding to know why he hadn’t warned her of his change of plans and Angel’s pending arrival. Her pfft at his explanation said a lot more than words, what she thought about it. When he’d dropped his head and turned to walk away, she’d then told him off for being ‘so damned touchy’ and to get his skinny ass inside.

Now they were ensconced in her kitchen, fifteen minutes had passed and still he was none the wiser about the events of Angel’s earlier visit. Her evasiveness only caused more anxiety, and left him with the distinct feeling that something unpleasant had most definitely occurred.

Cordy delayed joining him at the table for as long as she could, but at least now had what she thought was an acceptable scenario to tell him, but first a little distraction was in order.

“I was looking through my stuff after Angel left. The piddly bit he let me have, that is,” she scowled, placing the spare teapot Wes had brought round and left shortly after the explosion, plus cream, sugar, and the two cups, then sat down opposite him gesturing for Wes to pour it out. As he did so, she continued.

“Well, I thought my ‘asswipe-ex-boss’,” ignoring the frown thrown at her, “had been messing with my stuff. One of my new lipsticks was totally wrecked.” Cordy stifled a grin when Wes immediately dipped his head as he added sugar and cream to the cups.

“But, I was wrong there. I know exactly what happened to it.” Wes’ head jerked up, the flush of guilt slowly rising at the knowing eyes that met his. Leaning forward she ran a few fingers along his cheek and pulled away to show him the smear of pink across the pads.

Wes’ mouth opened to explain when she instantly raised the hand in a staying gesture. “I don’t wanna know, okay?” she replied, adding, “but don’t ever play wifey with my makeup again. Buy your own. Ah-ah,” again she quelled his words.

The flush depended at the twinkle Wes caught in her eye and he sighed resignedly before changing the subject. “So what happened earlier to make Angel return in a pall of doom and gloom?” She liked blunt, so he took a leaf out of her book.

Cordy shifted in her seat and then described her version of events. “He told me I couldn’t quit cos I was Vision Girl, and went on about my obligations to ‘the mission’” she air quoted with a scowl. “And, yes, I know it’s all about ‘the mission’, but I didn’t quit that, Wes,” she assured him earnestly.

Nodding in understanding, Wes let out a sigh of relief. Having not been certain of that fact himself, it was good to hear it from her lips. And yet it was clear to him that Cordelia had no intention of coming back, especially after Angel confirmed that in his own delightful way. Perplexed, he listened on.

“His almighty didn’t like what I had to say,” Cordy huffed, “and got… personal about it.”

Ouch! Their little tiffs had all gotten quite nasty of late. Personal barbs and sharp tongues made standing in the crossfire an uncomfortable place to be. This was not quite the reasoning and apologetic tone Wes had hoped for when Angel told him he was going to see Cordelia. Personally, he thought Angel should have let him mediate, but on thinking of his mediating abilities right now, he wasn’t really sure he himself would have been any more successful.

“Angel mentioned that you’d be ringing in the visions for an indefinite time until he persuades you to return,” Wes told her, then wished he hadn’t when her expression immediately turned stormy.

“Oh, he did, did he?” Cordy fumed inwardly. So, Angel had convinced himself she’d fold and go running back, holding his hand with a clueless smile plastered across her face?

What the hell was he on? The idea that had formulated in her mind as he left, but had until now, hesitated to implement now seemed like the best thing to go for after all. Plus now she had an opening to ask without feeling uncomfortable doing it.

“I don’t want him coming back here, Wes.” She paused at the instant curiosity she saw in his eyes. Dammit, she hadn’t meant that to come out so desperately. “This is my decision and he’s too pushy and determined to have his own way to let me have mine. His attitude is just getting worse and I don’t want it focused on me.”

Although frowning at Cordy’s accusation, Wes silently agreed Angel’s behavior yesterday had been somewhat unpleasant. In fact, he’d been horrified by the venom expressed. And it if were true his behavior earlier had been much worse, then he could honestly understand Cordelia’s reluctance to have him bringing it to her home.

She leaned forward, her voice earnest and her eyes deadly serious. “I want you to do the anti-invite spell for me.”

“Don’t you think that is going a little too far?” Wes baulked at such a measure; mainly because he knew that his involvement in it would definitely bite him on the arse at a later date. He gulped at the thought of Angel, the vampire in question, finding his next visit less than welcoming.

“No, Wes, I’d feel safer if you did it. Dennis threw something at Angel earlier ‘cos he felt I was being threatened. Didn’t you, Dennis?” she called out to the room in general, and Wes’ cup rattled in response.

The concern for his own health instantly melted away and was quickly replaced with Cordelia’s. There was no attempt made on her part to mask the unease she obviously felt regarding a vampire who, up until lately had, in his eyes, a place close to his undead heart for her.

“Very well,” he agreed promptly, finishing his tea and rising to his feet. “I’ll need to collect the herbs required first, but that shouldn’t take too long.” He shrugged on his jacket and walked out of the kitchen.

Cordy took a deep, shaky breath as it finally sank in just what measures she was willing to take to keep Angel as far away as was possible. With the imprint of his hands and mouth still tingling her skin and remembering his impassioned words, the belief that it was what he wanted without thinking of the consequences, he’d left her no choice.

Warm night air ruffled the spiky strands of his hair as Angel drove the Plymouth around town, cruising the streets in search of trouble and finding none save the constant stream of traffic. He couldn’t get Cordelia off his mind. The short nap he’d taken upon getting home only made things worse as it picked up exactly where their kiss left off, nor did another turn in the training room help ease the tension that kept him so on edge.

This was typical Cordy behavior that ate away every scrap of patience he had. It was all too clear that she wasn’t going change her mind about leaving. Certainly not overnight. She was just stubborn enough to hold a grudge, for some reason he still couldn’t figure out, and would probably put herself in some kind of danger in the process. There might be a vision, one of the violent ones where her body flailed out of control, and the only one there would be Dennis.

Angel’s hands gripped the steering wheel at the thought of the phantom menace watching her at all hours of the day or night. He was there when she slept, when she undressed and bathed; a silent witness to her most intimate moments. When Dennis dumped the iced tea on them— mainly him— it was proof of the ghost’s obvious jealousy.

Though the sight of him kissing Cordy was just something Dennis would just have to get used to. That was something he planned to repeat soon, and often. When Cordelia came to her senses and understood that things could be perfect between them, she’d give into the desire that swelled between them. He’d given her just a taste of it before the untimely interruption.

A loud honk jerked Angel out of his thoughts as he realized he was holding up the long line of traffic. Stepping on the gas, he pulled ahead and maneuvered the car along the busy street. Though he had no real destination, he simply felt the need to be out and moving. Just his luck, the next light turned red and he braked to a stop, muttering a curse.

Waiting for the light to change, Angel’s attention wandered again. This time there was a cold sensation that kept him alert rather than focused on recent memories. A familiar laugh sounded on the breeze causing Angel to whip his head to the left. There in the passenger seat of the new silver Mercedes idling next to him was a blonde woman with an unmistakable profile.

“Darla!” The name was on his lips before he knew he’d spoken it, shock at seeing her ringing in his voice.

After a pause, she turned his way, but stared blankly. There was no recognition in her eyes. Angel shifted the car into park and reached for the door handle. He had no idea how it was possible for Darla to be here, but he was going to find out. As he moved to open the door, she looked almost frightened, turning to speak to the dark-haired man behind the wheel.

Angel was halfway out of the car when the Mercedes took off, speeding through the red light and the cross-traffic. Tires screeched and horns honked followed by the immediate crash of metal on metal. Steam billowed into the air from the two cars that swerved to avoid the silver Mercedes only to crash into each other.

Though he leapt back behind the wheel and quickly shifted gears, Angel found himself stuck behind the pile-up as the traffic backed up right to left too close to allow him to maneuver through it. He watched through the windshield as Darla’s car disappeared into the night.

Chapter 5

Merl entered Caritas, double-checking his pockets before grinning and continuing inside. Tonight he was gonna try out every beer in the place. The last deal of the night had been good, which was a pleasant surprise.

The grin widened with anticipation as he neared the bar, abruptly disappearing upon seeing the familiar leather-covered hulk sitting between the only two empty stools. Why was it that every time he had a run of luck, Angel turned up to sour the deal. It wasn’t like the vampire came to Caritas to enjoy the show. If he was here, it meant he was either going to sing for the Host or he wanted information. Either way, Merl figured it wasn’t a good night to take chances.

Those dark eyes slid away from the stage and connected with his as if Angel suddenly saw him as an opportunity. “Like that’s a surprise,” Merl muttered, the anticipation sucking out of him even as he scuttled back towards the entrance. It looked like he’d have to do with Cheeno’s place instead. The other bar always smelled like it was used as a john, but beer was beer.

“Going already? You just got here.”

Groaning under his breath, Merl looked up at the vampire as soon as the hard grip on his arm spun him around. “Got things to do” his reedy voice came out more whiny than usual, bringing up his other arm to wipe his nose. “Can’t stand around talking, especially with you.”

The tug on his arm was a waste of time, and he was practically dragged across the floor, throwing apologetic smiles to everyone he bumped into. With the amount of greenbacks he had on him, the last thing Merl wanted was any trouble.

Arriving back at his stool, Angel yanked the small green demon until his slight weight jarred him onto another empty stool. Merl tugged at his arm as soon as he was perched, uncomfortably looking around to see if anyone worth seeing could see him. He then looked down and grimaced. “Watch the jacket, man,” the whine grew.

Angel just looked at him with derision before releasing his arm. His plan to grab hold of Lorne once the flamboyant demon climbed off the stage was shoved to the back of his mind as he sized his snitch up. The little green demon definitely looked a little more shifty than usual and he just knew in his bones he’d made the right call.

“Why do I get the feeling that you’re trying to avoid me?” Angel sat back a little on the barstool and rested an elbow on the bar. Merl fidgeted on his seat, his eyes darting anywhere but at the vampire.

“I dunno where you got that idea.” He again wiped his nose with his sleeve, sniffing loudly and Angel grimaced in disgust. “Just came in for a drink and didn’t like the company here, that’s all.”

Angel let it go with a slight nod, reaching for his drink and taking a long draught. It was Merl’s turn to pull a face. He hated scumbag vampires. Didn’t trust ‘em one little bit, especially the one sitting opposite him. For one thing, the bloodsucker never paid him and Merl was one of the best at his game; wouldn’t have known it though, the way this scumbag treated him.

“Any news going around right now?” The question jolted Merl out of his thoughts, and as the words absorbed he froze. Geez!

“No, nothin’ interestin’ to you,” he replied evasively, catching the eye of the barman and ordering a drink. “Why you askin’?” He still avoided the almost black piercing eyes aimed his way.

“No reason.” Angel shrugged, tamping down the urge to shake it out of the little weasel. Observing dryly, “But you’re looking more shifty-eyed than usual.”

With a quip, Merl said, “Eye problems run in the family.”

“What family?” Angel put down his drink and leaned forward until he was in the smaller demon’s face. “You’re trying to hide something. And I don’t like that,” his voice low with a hint of a snarl made Merl’s drink shake in his hand.

“You don’t like anything” Merl muttered under his breath then yelped in fear when the vampire wrapped his hand around his scrawny throat. The beer splashed drunkenly out of his drink as his grip tightened, tipping it askance.

“Let’s not get personal.” There was definitely a snarl and Merl attempted to gulp.

“You’re supposed to be honest with me. Tell me everything and that way you get to live.” A flash of fang and then the hand released him.

Merl dragged in some air choking a little as he looked up mistily at the vampire, relieved to find him fully human again. What the hell was the point of a sanctuary spell that allowed creeps like this to badger the bar patrons.

Angel watched him struggle for air and commented conversationally, “There are times I miss breathing, Merl. You think you’d miss it much?” Merl gulped aloud and brought the remainder of his drink to his trembling mouth, emptying the glass before almost dropping it onto the bar.

He was terrified, but then again, Merl was always close to wetting his pants around this vampire. Yet business was business. “It’s gonna cost ya.”

Angel finished his drink before replying. “You think your scrawny little life is worth much? Cos that’s all you’re getting.” He leaned in again, using his bulk to intimidate. “Fork over what you know, otherwise the only cost will be in the form of a lung of two.”

“I ain’t heard anything, man, I swear,” Merl stuttered, pissed when he felt a line of sweat run down his back. He really hated this vampire and feared him like you wouldn’t believe. When a large hand wrapped around his wrist and squeezed, Merl gave in, squealing, “Okay, okay. What do ya wanna know?” He blew out a relieved breath when he was released, attempting to check his wrist for breaks.

“Don’t play dumb. You already know.” Angel’s voice sounded weary, but Merl wasn’t fooled for a second. “Don’t make me give breaks you can find.” After staring back with frightened dilated eyes, Merl dropped his gaze, raising his good arm to scratch his bald head, using it as a cover to look covertly around.

“You ain’t heard this from me, right?” he finally whispered, leaning forward. This time it was Angel that backed off. Lack of dental hygiene was common among most demons, and he doubted Merl’s mouth had ever seen a toothbrush.

Completely unaware, Merl leaned even further forward. “An undead chick rolled into town the other night,” he whispered, taking another look around. “Word on the street says it’s someone you know and she ain’t come here to LA for just the cuisine. Name’s Cilla or summat like that.”

Angel tensed in shock. “Drusilla,” he finally muttered between unmoving lips. Merl instantly nodded.

“Yeah, that’s it. This chick is dangerous from what I heard. Makes you look like a puppy. No offence,” Merl added hurriedly, but he didn’t need to worry.

Angel’s head was swimming with shock. First, his sighting of Darla and to now find out the other female vampire was in town.

“Word is she’s come to collect summat that shoulda staying in the ground. That’s all I know.” Merl finished in a hushed tone, and then finally noticing the vampire’s distraction he slid off his stool and quickly melted into the crowds.

Lost in thought, Angel never saw him leave. All he knew was that something bad was brewing. The woman he’d seen in that Mercedes was no hallucination, no mistaken identity. He knew the curves of her face and no look-alike could fool him. He’d just been clueless as to how it was possible when he had watched her crumble into dust at his own hand.

She’d been in his dreams at first before he got caught up with fantasies about Cordy. Speaking to him, urging him to come to her. They’d never played the mind games that came so easily to other vampires. They’d never had too.

The sketchy information provided him by Merl made him suspect that Drusilla had come because of Darla. The hows and whys of Darla’s resurrection were beyond him at the moment, but he knew that Dru wouldn’t come to LA without a reason and it seemed that now she had one.

Clinking glass sounded as another drink was set beside him noisily. He glanced up; cursing when he noticed Merl had disappeared. Then sensing another body close to his, Angel’s hand snapped out with a lightning move.

“Whoa, watch the silk,” Lorne looked down pointedly at his forearm. “It’s supposed to be crushed, not ravaged.”

Angel ignored the complaint and pulled him closer before letting go. “Be lucky it’s just the silk.” He nodded his head curtly and the demon sat down on the empty barstool with a sigh.

This is what happened when you eavesdropped on the comings and goings, Lorne figured, not that he’d really had to. The vampire was so buzzed that he didn’t need a song to read him. He didn’t like what he saw. Not a bit.

“You’re not exactly dressed to blend in,” Angel added sourly.

“Can I just say a couple of long zees would do a hell of a lot for those grocery bags under your eyes, Angelcakes?”

Choosing to ignore him, Angel instead got down to business. “Tell me I’m wrong Lorne.” The confusion and shock in the vampire’s voice caused the demon to shudder with severe misgivings, but this was one distress call he couldn’t get involved in.

“Sorry sweetcheeks. My membership to the Psychic Friends Network got lost in the mail.” Lorne took a healthy swallow of his SeaBreeze, then paused, his ruby lips lifting into a parody of a smile.

Angel reached out and again grabbed his arm. “It isn’t a request.”

Lorne swallowed in trepidation but still shook his head; intensely thankful for the no violence spell he had in force. “I can’t help you out here. Think of this little blast from the past as a learning curve. Ciao.” With a flick of his wrist, he twisted out of the vampire’s loosened grasp and rose to his feet, his troubled red eyes resting on him for a split second before wandering off into the crowd.

“I can’t believe he ignored my vision!” Cordy put a little too much pressure on one of the gashes that ran across Wes’ chest, throwing up an apologetic grimace at his hiss of pain.

“Not for want of trying, Cordelia,” Wes replied, stifling the groans as the pad of soaked cotton wool pressed a little deeper than he could bear. “I visited the hotel several times during the day, but Angel wasn’t around. In the end I left a message taped to his door.” A yelp tore from his paling mouth as her ministrations became a little too much. “Please, can you not dig in so much?”

Cordy sat back with a sigh, fiddling with the stained cotton ball before throwing it into the nearby trashcan with the rest. “Sorry Wes. Guess I’m too used to An…” her words came to a halt as she spied a much deeper gash that ran a little too close to his heart for comfort. Moisture filled her eyes as the full import hit her hard.

“Here, let me do that,” Gunn rose from his seat at the couch and walked over, while Wes averted his eyes. It was very rare to see her like this, and he doubted very much comfort would be well received.

“How about you make us a nice brew?” suggested Wes on a lighter tone, swallowing hard when she dipped her head, nodding erratically and rising to her feet. Both men watched her until she disappeared into the kitchen. “How’s your arm?” he asked in a hushed voice.

Gunn flexed his fingers and grunted. “Better since you popped my shoulder back in. Where’d ya learn to do that?” he asked almost conversationally. Wes hissed as antiseptic drizzled into second wound before replying.

“I suppose you could call me a Jack of all Trades … still working on mastering at least one skill fully,” he muttered between clenched teeth. Gunn finished up and turned to discard the soiled cotton before getting to his feet.

“Ain’t doin’ too bad as far as I can tell.” He gyrated his arm and threw a tired grin over his shoulder on his way to the couch, flopping down into the soft cushions with a heavy sigh. The men settled into a strained silence, determined to avoid discussing just how close they’d come that night to being killed.

Cordy leaned her hip against the worktop and attempted to pull her ragged nerves together.

They’d waited till the last possible moment until realizing Angel wasn’t going to make a show, and after they’d gone, Cordy had spent the best part of an hour rocking in her seat and the rest of the time ringing the hotel every five minutes. How she’d stopped herself calling her ‘champion’ every name under the sun was beyond her. Each time the answering machine had kicked in; she’d stuck to the details… except for the last call where she’d promised to skewer him with everything wooden if he didn’t get his undead butt there in time.

As it was, only Wes and Gunn returned, and her rage that Angel wasn’t with them burned deep. But her anger had rapidly dissolved at the sight of their weary faces and torn, bloody clothing. But now, reassured that they were going to be okay after all had it escalating yet again; not helped by the shock of seeing that gash on Wes’ chest. Hell, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was so far from superhero as you could get, and when she thought of what could have happened even with Gunn by his side; Cordy shuddered and wrapped her arms tightly around her waist.

Goddamn it! This was Angel’s redemption, not theirs. She was Vision Girl, and Wes Research Guy, Gunn… Gunn was more driven than any of them, but he was only human, too. Yeah, she’d quit, but she still took her visions seriously. All the pain she went through to pass on the PTB’s message and that big, fat lump of crap shrugged one off like it wasn’t important anymore.

His pattern of sleep-grouch-sleep had now obviously changed. Where the hell was he? The thought was quickly stifled. She was beyond giving a crap now. The friends she did have were more important. One vision had splintered her mind since the day she’d quit. Hopefully, the PTB would get the message that they’d lost their fighter of good and at least give them time to recover before the next vision came along.

Raking trembling fingers through her hair, Cordy squeezed her eyes shut and attempted to stop the flow of hot tears that stung her eyes, and then took a deep, cleansing breath. With one quick swipe across her face, she reached for the tray of cups and entered the lounge.

Once again, Angel had come close to making a discovery. For the past couple of days he had done nothing but search for Darla and Drusilla. He’d expected to be able to follow an easy trail. Together, those two would only leave a bloodbath in their wake, but he’d been mistaken about that. So far. There was no sign of his wayward childe, but by a strange coincidence, he caught a glimpse of the blonde from the Mercedes.

It was Darla, all right. All his senses confirmed it. She’d made him into what he was and they had played their deadly games together for more than a hundred years. There was no doubting her identity even if she pretended not to know him. One thing left him confused and that was the discovery that Darla was not a vampire, but human.

Before he could confront her, Darla had disappeared into the sunlight where he couldn’t follow, running from him as if he was out of his mind. She was playing a game, baiting a trap with herself and expecting him to fall into it. That didn’t concern him so much as the reminder of Darla’s appearance in his dreams where she had taunted him and roused dark desires that put Cordelia in danger.

He hadn’t slept since discovering that Darla was somehow alive. The thought that she might look at Cordy as a rival, a threat to her, made it necessary to track her down. Amongst his enemies, there was only one group he knew with the desire to find new and better ways of pissing him off, including the capability of arranging Darla’s resurrection. It was about time that he walked straight into their offices and demanded answers.

Before he did that, there was something else he needed to see to: Cordy herself. These past two sleepless nights had passed without her. Angel longed to see her smiling face and feel the soft touch of her hands. When he glanced at the empty seat beside him, he frowned, blinked and looked again.

Cordelia snuggled up against him as he sat behind the wheel of the Plymouth. His arm went around her shoulder, pulling her closer as her hand smoothed a crease in his pants along his thigh. “Forget about them for now,” she turned her cheek to rub it along his shoulder. “Take me on a drive by the ocean. We’ll find a secluded beach, swim naked in the moonlight, make love on the sand.”

That sounded so much more appealing than what lay ahead. Angel pushed aside the tiredness that weighted his limbs, trying to focus on the traffic. More than once, he had been startled awake at a traffic light, horns blaring behind him. The pleasant diversion of having Cordy snuggled up beside him as they rode along the coastline came to an abrupt end. The mid-town traffic and the empty seat beside him was a poor substitute for his fantasy.

Though he’d survive a car wreck, Angel had no desire to put a dent in his classic convertible, but it was getting harder to stay awake. All he could think about was falling asleep in Cordelia’s arms, her reflexive breathing soothing him, letting him drift into restful slumber. Maybe she wasn’t here with him, but Cordy would be at home where she belonged… in his bed. Waiting for him to return. Tonight, she’d be dressed in those soft cotton panties and one of those tank tops that clung to every curve.

Arriving at the hotel, Angel immediately discovered it to be empty and whatever fantasy still clouded his mind, Cordelia was certainly not waiting for him upstairs.

There was only a note written in Wesley’s handwriting taped to his door. The thin paper tore as he ripped it down. Opening it up, he found it to be dated yesterday and timed at 7:28pm, detailed that way in order to give him a precise time and directions to respond to Cordy’s vision. Rereading the note, Angel cursed aloud as its meaning sunk in. The reality of what had happened between them and the fact that she stubbornly stuck to her plan to quit was all too clear as it came crashing back to him.

Cordelia had called Wes with the details of her vision. That was yesterday. They’d left him a note because he wasn’t around to respond. Growling out his anger, “Yesterday, dammit!” Angel turned on his heel and took the steps at a fast pace.

He knew exactly what would have happened since he wasn’t around to respond to the message. Wes would try to take care of it himself, no doubt calling on Gunn to help out. It was the thought that Cordelia was likely to let herself get caught up in it as well that scared the hell out of him. Within minutes, he was back in the Plymouth, racing across town toward Cordy’s apartment.

Halfway there, he remembered his cell phone and reached into his jacket pocket intent upon calling her first just to make sure she hadn’t done anything stupid or gotten herself hurt when he wasn’t around to stop it from happening. The phone wouldn’t even turn on, the battery dead. Angel hurled it to the seat beside him, suddenly remembering Cordy’s lecture on recharging his phone.

Screeching to a halt, Angel parked the car and leapt out onto the pavement. He was at Cordelia’s door in record time, pounding on it and demanding that Dennis open up when it became clear that Cordy herself had no plans to let him in. The hushed sound of her voice as she spoke to her phantom roommate was all too clear despite the barrier of the wooden door.

“Just ignore him, Dennis,” her voice came from the other side of the living room. “He wasn’t around when Wes and Gunn needed him yesterday, so let’s see how he likes it for once.”

Rattling the door handle, Angel gritted his teeth and stifled the urge to bust down the door. Instead, he swallowed down his irritation and attempted to make her see sense. “Cordy, I know you’re in there.” His knocking became a soft rap.

“As far as you’re concerned, I’m not.”

That snappish statement felt dagger-sharp, piercing his chest with a hurtful stab. She was never this way in his dreams. There, her fiery personality was focused entirely on pleasing him. Right now his obstinate little seer had just one taste of what they could be like together. It was about time he corrected that.

There was no reason for being so ridiculously stubborn. “Let me in, Cordy. We need to talk.”

“No we don’t.” Her voice was closer now, emanating directly through the door as if she stood on the other side.

Exhausted, Angel really didn’t feel like arguing about it. He needed to get Cordy back where he could keep a closer eye on her. Where he knew that she’d be safe. That would also let him fix this, whatever it was between them that continued to keep them apart. All he needed was to have her in his arms again, saying without words just what she meant to him. Proving with his mouth and his hands just how much he needed her. Just the thought of laying her down amongst the silken sheets and covering her nude body with his own made his hands shake.

Bracing them against the frame, Angel touched his bent head to the door, aching at the thought that Cordelia was just out of his reach on the other side. “Don’t be this way. You know that you belong with me. I need you with me, Cordy, to keep you safe.”

A long pause followed, a hush so deep that he could detect the quick beat of her heart without distraction. When finally she spoke, Angel could hear the strain in her voice, a plea torn between a sob and a determined shout. “Go away!”

“No, I’m not leaving.” Angel hit the palm of his hand against the door, hearing a gasp from the other side. “Not until you open this door and talk to me.”

“Fine,” the abrupt answer actually surprised him. He figured she’d hold out a little longer before letting him in. Maybe she hadn’t forgotten about their kiss after all. Clicking of the locks followed and the door swung open to reveal Cordelia looking as furious as a gathering storm. “I’ll talk.”

With her blocking the door, Angel made no move to step forward. She didn’t even give him the chance to do so before letting him have it. “Where the hell were you yesterday? Wes and Gunn had to take care of my vision by themselves thanks to your disappearing act.”

“I just got the note.” Angel fished it out of his pocket as proof.

Cordelia made no move to take it. She just glanced down at the wrinkled, ripped paper before lifting her resentful gaze back toward him. “A little late for the party. You missed the gougefest. Wes’ blood was all over my hands.”

He could still scent traces of it in the air and knew Cordelia wasn’t exaggerating the situation. Guilt tugged at his gut, but she didn’t understand the reason he’d been away. He had to explain that it was for her own good. First, he had to ask, “Wesley… is he okay?”

Crossing her arms, Cordelia glared at him, “Do you care or are you just enjoying the guilt trip?”

Angel moved just a little closer, wanting to wipe that tight little pout from her mouth, but stopped to say, “That’s not fair. Of course I care.”

“It wasn’t fair that they were out there on their own.” Her eyes glistened brightly as her fear for their friends’ safety came through all too clearly. Seeing Cordelia on the verge of tears ripped him apart.

At a loss for words, Angel hovered between stepping back and pulling her into his arms. He opted for the latter, needing the comfort of feeling her against him just as much as she needed comforting. Taking one step forward, only to watch Cordy flinch in reaction, Angel bounded off the invisible energy barrier blocking his path. Instant understanding hit and Angel stared at Cordelia in shock, his head spinning at the realization that she went so far to prove that he was no longer welcome in her life.

“What have you done?” Thick with surprise, shock and anger, the question that he should have asked was, “Why?”

“Obvious, much?” Cordelia answered after reasserting her position close to the barrier. “I told you that I don’t feel safe anymore.”

That was ridiculous. He’d always protected her. A red haze glazed his vision for a second. It took everything in him not to attack the mystical barrier in unrestrained fury. Angel sucked unneeded air into his useless lungs in a frantic attempt to force calm, aware of her wide wary eyes pinned on his taut face. As the faint pungent scent of fear teased his flaring nostrils, his badly slipping control reasserted itself. “I’d never let anyone hurt you. That’s why you need to come with me.”

Cordy eyed him closely, suspicion in every line of her tense frame, refusing to be swayed by the wounded expression that had abruptly softened his angular features. “Pfft! You’re the creepazoid I’m afraid of, dumbass.” She wrapped her arms across her chest defensively.

Angel’s broad shoulders slumped under the weight of the condemnation in her unwavering gaze. He couldn’t understand it. He’d done nothing to earn such censure. Their tiff back at the hotel wasn’t something to get so worked up over. Surely he’d shown her just how much he wanted her the last time he was here. Puzzlement overwhelmed the remaining outrage of her actions and all he could do was ask, “Me?”

“You and your psycho-maniac other half,” she said and stepped further away as if the thought of Angelus being so close petrified her. He saw her quivering despite her efforts to control it. “Everyday, you remind me more of him.”

“I am him,” he reminded softly, not intending to frighten her with those words. If her wide-eyed reaction suggested anything, it wasn’t a sense of comfort. Anger quickly returned and simmered close to the surface. It wasn’t as if he was telling her anything new. “Don’t try to pretend that you don’t know that, Cordy. There’s no reason to fear me. My soul is still intact. I’m not evil.”

A soft huff of disbelief that sounded on her breath made his jaw clench in angry reaction. “Then what’s with the touchy-feely act? Guess you think I didn’t notice. If it’s not your wandering hands, it’s been your bad attitude.”

Leaning in as close as he could get, Angel told her, “I want you. It’s as simple as that.”

Hearing that seemed to startle her. Angel had no clue what was going on in her head, but her increasing heart rate accompanied other bodily reactions he had no trouble interpreting. A flash of arousal was followed by the electric scent of fear. It was all too clear that the latter was the overpowering sensation.

“Invite me in,” he urged, a hint of desperation sounding. “I need to show you that there’s nothing to fear between us. You know I could never hurt you.”

Grimly, Cordelia nodded her head, “Yes, you can and you will if I let this go any further. Deep down, you know it, too.”

Flashes from his dream easily came to him. Cordy in his arms, her neck bare and bleeding as he lapped up the fluid that gave her life and sustained him. Denial rang from his throat, “No!”

He hit his hand against the barrier with such force that his palm split, dark blood dripping down his wrist and splattering against the threshold. Closing the wound in his fist, Angel dropped his hand to his side, hiding the proof of his anger. Those accusing eyes kept a lock on his, daring him to deny his violent reaction.

The strangled sound of the plea that followed, “Don’t do this to us, Cordy,” was Angel’s final hold on solving this rationally.

“There is no us.” Cordelia whirled around so Angel couldn’t see the tears he knew were wetting her cheeks. “Go! I’ll call if I have another vision. Just be there next time. Someone has to make sure Wes and Gunn don’t get dead, even if it’s me.”

For a moment, Angel considered that as an opportunity, but then rejected it just as quickly. He wouldn’t know about it before Cordelia would be traipsing off into some demon’s lair and getting herself injured or worse. Darla and Drusilla were also still out there, a growing threat every moment they remained unaccounted. Angel wasn’t about to let Cordy put herself into that kind of danger.

“You step one foot outside this apartment after dark on any kind of mission more dangerous than buying take-out,” he saw her stiffen in reaction, “and I promise you’ll regret it.”

Whirling around, smudged mascara darkening her cheeks, Cordelia stalked up to the barrier and stopped just a breath away from his grasp. “That’s it. Go ahead and threaten me. Prove my point. You’re not exactly a boy scout when it comes to getting your way.”

Angel’s mouth quirked up at one corner in automatic reaction to the fire lighting her eyes, “It’s not a boy scout you want in your bed. It’s me.”

He couldn’t help but feel a twinge of satisfaction as her mouth dropped open in shock and then clamped shut just as quickly. While she was uncharacteristically stumped for words, he added pointedly, “You won’t always have this barrier to hide behind.”

“Why, you—” Cordelia started forward as if to take out her sudden rage on him.

Before Angel could take advantage of the moment, Cordelia was hauled back by an unseen force and lay sprawled on the carpet. “Thanks, Dennis,” his sarcasm was clear. As was the phantom’s reaction, Angel realized, as the door slammed shut.

Cordy leaned back against the couch cushions and swigged from the bottle of beer Wes was determined not to notice— this time.

“Ahhh, now this is the life,” Gunn let a lazy smile spread across his face as he stretched out his long legs and made himself comfortable.

Cordy gave his ribs a nudge with her elbow when he invaded her space. With a grunt, he moved over to the other cushion and wriggled down until he was settled. Reaching back over, he snatched the upraised bottle from Cordy’s grasp, ignoring her “Hey,” as he took a long draught.

“I brought ‘em, so I get to choose who drinks them,” Gunn responded, lifting his beer and taking a long draft. “And I choose me,” he finished with a smirk.

Wes merely rolled his eyes in a strangely familiar fashion and reached for one out of the pack on the coffee table, swatting Cordy’s hand as he did so. “I think you’ve had enough,” he ignored the petulant scowl thrown his way and leaned back into his chair. Taking a sip of his drink, Wes pursed his lips before speaking again. “Well, I still haven’t caught Angel at the hotel. I have no idea where he can possibly be going in broad daylight.”

Cordy bit the inside of her cheek, halting the flow of words that instantly came to her mouth to tell of the visit by said vampire two nights before. When another vision hit and Wes & Gunn again failed to locate Angel, she insisted upon going with them. No matter his threat. If he couldn’t be found, then he wouldn’t be there to make good on his threat. No matter that his words had left her chilled with fear, she wasn’t about to let her friends head into danger without her.

Not that it had been easy to convince either one of them to let her tag along. She hadn’t failed to notice their protectiveness during the fight, and their exaggerated concern over a small scratch she earned as a result of it.

No. Her confrontation with Angel was best kept to herself, she decided. It would only cause even more aggravation, and that’s the last thing they needed on top of the exhausting ‘missions’. This time, Wes only attempted calling the vampire twice before suggesting they gather their weapons and leave.

Time was of the essence, and they’d wasted 40 minutes arguing with Cordy about her decision to help. Her pale face and obvious discomfort obviously hadn’t put a dent in her stubborn determination to leave with them. They’d been so successful and worked together so well they’d decided to celebrate the next day. Now they sat with beer and munchies, chatting over their fight and how they could improve. Until now not one of them had mentioned the absent vampire.

“Did you check his room? He coulda been sleeping,” Gunn asked nonchalantly. He’d been told of Angel’s habit lately of sleeping the day away, and sometimes well into the evenings. Neither Wes nor Cordy had gone into too much detail about the day she’d quit, but he’d guessed it hadn’t gone well by the amount of times the girl had said the word ‘asswipe’.

“Um. Well, he wasasleep once or twice, but I didn’t feel it was a good idea to wake him,” Wes admitted.

Cordy pffted. “Good call,” she muttered under her breath, “don’t wanna do that.”

Wes glanced at her oddly before returning to his drink.

“As good as we’re doin’ we need to know if he’s in or out, man.” Cordy was already shaking her dark head before Gunn had finished.

“Uh huh. That girl was that close,” Cordy held a finger and thumb close together, “to being chow the other night, and last night no show again. I think we know where he stands. Definitely out.” She attempted yet again to snatch a beer- and succeeded, purely because Wes became preoccupied.

“Let’s be fair, Cordelia,” Wes finally replied. “He was most likely sleeping, and you know how hard it is to wake him. I doubt a phone ringing would have roused him.”

Cordy’s spine stiffened. “What do you mean I’d know?” A light flush colored her cheeks but she refused to drop her outraged eyes from her friend.

“I merely meant that the last time you attempted to wake him, you were absent a good ten minutes,” Wes explained, his mind suddenly recalling that particular day. He eyed the delicate flush with morbid interest until her eyes dropped and she fiddled with the neck of the bottle. He leaned forward swiftly, “And I’ll have that, thank you,” snatching the bottle out of her resisting fingers.

“Sleeping that much can’t be right,” Gunn commented. “It’s like he’s on drugs or something.”

“The only thing Angel’s addicted to is O-pos,” Cordy responded, inwardly adding that lately, she seemed to have been put on that short list the last few weeks. She shuddered with a mixture of fear and reluctant arousal.

Wes went silent and crossed his legs, nursing the bottle between his hands as he rolled Gunn’s comment through his mind, then shook his head. No. That would be impossible.

It would have had to begin when both himself and Cordelia had been present most of the day and evening. He doubted anyone had been able to sneak in, especially to go so far as to inject, or somehow ‘encourage’ Angel to ingest any kind of narcotic without waking him. Previous to his seeming need to sleep so much, the slightest noise awakened him.

As for his blood, well, the butcher he used was a rescued victim. A grateful one at that, only giving Angel the best he had. Satisfied he’d covered every avenue, Wes pushed it from his mind and lifted his drink to his lips.

But it wouldn’t hurt to have a little scout around in Angel’s rooms— when he was out, naturally.

Chapter 6

The stench of evil hung in the air, cloying and dark. Only it might have been the traces of perfume clinging to the leather chair at Lilah Morgan’s desk. Angel sat back, his feet propped on the edge of the desk, fingers tapping together, waiting and listening to the sounds beyond the closed office door.

He could hear them arguing from a corridor away as they approached. Bonus. He hadn’t expected to corner both Lilah and Lindsey tonight. They weren’t too happy with the outcome of their late night meeting, snipping at each other about some decision that had not been to their liking. For that one thing, they seemed to be in agreement. McDonald was hardly her protégée. Cutting each other down in order to get to the top here at Wolfram & Hart wouldn’t be a surprise.

Both were so wrapped up in hearing themselves talk as Lilah opened the door, that neither of them noticed the office wasn’t empty. Angel cleared his throat, “You two really blow around a lot of hot air.”

Lilah paled for a moment and then simply looked angry that he had invaded her private office. “How did you get in here?”

There were vampire detectors in place and dozens of other security measures. He couldn’t get in unless someone allowed it. As she slid a suspicious glance toward Lindsey, he pushed past her into the middle of the room, commenting, “It doesn’t matter. I’m more concerned about the reason he’s here.”

“Don’t worry,” Angel shifted his feet down from the desk and leaned forward to add casually, “I’m not here for your other hand.”

He saw the lawyer’s jaw clench and his good hand curl into a fist at his side. “You want something.”

Angel stood, slowly walking around the desk, freezing Lilah into place with a hard stare as she inched toward the open door. “Close it,” he instructed curtly, evoking an insolent glint that quickly faded. When the door clicked shut, he told them, “I recently discovered that some relatives have come to town. Something tells me that you two know all about it.”

“Wolfram & Hart doesn’t keep track of the comings and goings of every deranged vampire on your family tree,” Lilah said, tossing her slim leather briefcase onto a chair before crossing her arms in defiance.

Walking closer, Angel raised an eyebrow, “I never said they were crazy, though I assure you that Drusilla follows a path uniquely her own.”

Lilah shrugged one shoulder, met Lindsey’s gaze for a mere second, and then recovered with, “Anyone related to you would have to be insane.”

“You’re here for Drusilla?” The baffled question tumbled out of Lindsey’s mouth.

“You sound surprised,” Angel said as he watched a flicker of confusion play across his face. Acknowledgement came in the tensing of his shoulders as Lindsey kept his mouth shut having decided he’d already said too much.

Angel considered the fact that these two truly might not know about Drusilla’s presence in town. Her unique skills and senses could have led her to Los Angeles in search of Darla. It just seemed to be a big coincidence if that was the case. As for Darla herself, Angel felt certain that they were culpable for her return. “Forget about Dru, then. Just watch your backs. If you aren’t with her, then you’d better stay the hell out of her way.”

“Since you’ve checked under my desk for your missing vampire,” Lilah shifted to stand arms akimbo, her hands planted on her hips, “I think it’s time for you to leave.”

Standing close now, Angel plucked a tiny piece of lint from the shoulder of Lilah’s jacket. She shuddered at his touch, though not entirely from fear. “Not just yet. I know what you brought back in that box.”

He waited for their reaction. What they didn’t say was far more powerful than any lie that graced their lips. Lilah actually looked a little perturbed over the subject, as if she found it all distasteful. Her acerbic remarks did little to distract Angel as he realized that Lindsey was going to be far more cooperative.

A smug look slowly came over Lindsey’s face. “You think you know everything? Go ahead and tell me what you think was so important and why you think it has to do with you.”

Angel didn’t mind using his height to his advantage as he towered over Lindsey. “For some twisted reason, this law firm has decided to bring Darla back from the dead. She was a pile of dust at my feet. Now she’s human again.”

“Acting dumb won’t help you tonight,” Angel told him as he grasped Lindsey by the throat while Lilah quietly watched from the sidelines. “I wasn’t planning to resort to violence to get some answers, but what the hell. I’m tired and pissed off enough not to care if I accidentally crush your neck.”

Lilah’s hand absently strayed up to her own throat. When Angel’s gaze slid in her direction, she looked on in anticipation of his next move, waiting to see if he’d actually snap her co-worker’s neck. “Don’t look so eager,” he suggested as she toyed with her double-stranded pearls. “You’re next.”

“Save the promises, Angel,” she said confidently, walking around him toward her desk. “We don’t have your precious blonde whore. Yes, I do know all about her. It’s called research. Knowing your enemy. Since you insist on being one.”

“That’s all we’ll ever be,” he assured her as his hand reflexively squeezed tighter on Lindsey’s neck eliciting a croaking complaint.

“Pity,” shrugged Lilah. “Go ahead and kill Lindsey, but it won’t get you what you want.”

Tossing Lindsey onto the carpet, Angel reminded himself he hadn’t come here to kill anyone tonight. “Actually, I think I’m going to let him live.” Lunging across her desk, he latched onto to her strand of pearls and with a twisting pull, yanked her out of her seat. Fear at the unexpected move lit her eyes, a gasp parting her lips as her palms pressed flat against the desk. “You too, Lilah, for the moment. One or both of you know how to contact Darla and Dru.”

“Maybe we do,” Lilah told him, but the defiant glint staring back at him served only to push Angel past his self-imposed limits. Releasing her abruptly, his hand moved faster than she could follow, lightly backhanding her into her seat.

He watched with a tinge of satisfaction at the spill of blood dripping over her fingers as she cradled her mouth, and inhaled the rich scent of her fear that blended with Lindsey’s who still lay sprawled on the floor, clutching his throat. “There’s a little message that you’re going to pass on to them from me.”

The rattling at the door disturbed Dennis from his little ‘nap’ and for a moment he wondered what would have brought his roommate home so soon after leaving for her audition. Making his way to the door, he paused, confused, sensing someone other than Cordy on the other side. Inching closer, he blended with the wood grain and looked out into the hallway.

Dennis may have been limited to the apartment, but that didn’t stop him seeing anyone who stood directly outside the door. And this little lock-picker instantly perked his interest.

Petite, blonde… rang a bell. But why would the Slayer be visiting unannounced, or for that matter, try to break in? Everything he overheard suggested the young woman was more than capable of forcing the door without the need of a hairpin. Dennis’ amusement caused the lights to flicker. After all, that was the stuff of TV movies, not real life.

After observing her attempts for several seconds, he made a decision. From what Cordy had told him, there was no real love between herself and Buffy Summers, but he seriously doubted this visitor from Sunnydale would harm his room mate. He waited until the piece of wire was jiggled again, and released the lock.

Almost snorting at her gleeful expression, Dennis backed away as the door swung open and the petite blonde stepped over the threshold carefully, seeming to relax as soon as she’d done so. After the way she’d rattled the lock without regard to possible occupants, her hesitance on entering surprised him.

Hmmm, he didn’t sense anything supernatural about her, and that vexed him a little. Surely that much inherent power would radiate from within. He shelved that thought for a moment and contented himself with watching as she gracefully wandered around the room, picking up items and replacing them carefully.

She paused in front of the decorative mantelpiece and for a second just stared at the silver photo frame that was centered on the surface, then slowly, almost hesitantly, reached out and lifted it down. “How… sweet,” the tone of her voice unsettled Dennis, who edged a little closer. Although the breathy softness was attractive— if you liked that sort of Marilyn Monroe huskiness, there was an edge that didn’t seem to suit such a delicate specimen.

With an unpleasant twist of her rather garishly-painted lips, she replaced it in exactly the same position before swirling around, letting her ice-blue eyes run over various items in the living room before licking her lips and heading towards the bedroom.

Okay, so maybe he had possibly been a little hasty allowing Buffy Summers entry. The vibes he was now picking up made him start to regret his helping hand. Dennis had heard the whole tragic farce that had been Angel’s relationship with the Slayer, and for a moment wondered if suspicion and a hint of jealousy had brought her to the big city and to Cordy’s home.

After sitting on the bed and bouncing a little, ‘Buffy’ rose and advanced towards the closet. The doors slid open and she pursed her lips, eyeing the rather meager contents with reluctant approval. Pulling out an evening dress, she held it against herself and grimaced. “Voluptuous- now that’s a surprise.” Her catty comment was duly noted by the hovering phantom and prickles of unease grew rapidly.

He was about to let his presence be known when she gasped softly, shoving the dress back onto the rail, her fingers lingering on a black silk shirt half hidden between brightly patterned cottons and satins. After a second, she pulled out the garment and held it up against her face. Breathing deep, ‘Buffy’ scowled in irritation, fingering the material almost lovingly before starting to remove it from its hanger.

When the pillow hit the back of her head, the blonde jerked around, dropping the silk in shock. Wide blue eyes scoured the room and then narrowed at seeing nothing or no one there. As she bent to retrieve the garment, another pillow flew off the bed and hit her shoulder, the impact almost knocking her over.

It was time for the strange woman to leave, old acquaintance or not. Dennis definitely regretted his curiosity. It was obvious to him now that she was about to take the garment with her. Out of everything in the closet, that single shirt belonged to Angel. Cordy had recently taken a shine to the garment and wore it compulsively to bed each night, and no way was he going to let the intruder take anything, especially something that his roommate seemed attached to right now.

As the blonde backed rapidly out of the room, her face a picture of fear and confusion, Dennis continued his assault, not pausing until the front door had been yanked open and the nosy visitor had left. Then he set about collecting all the loose feathers floating around both rooms, switching the pillow with a spare in the linen cupboard, shoving the damaged one right at the back. Once the apartment was again featherless, he re-entered the bedroom and levitated the shirt, shaking it out before hanging it back up and sliding shut the closet doors.

He floated back to his wall and settled back down, deciding there and then that people without a key or invite would stay firmly on the other side of the door… also deciding to keep this little faux pas to himself.

If the Slayer was indeed in L.A., Cordy and the others would find out, he didn’t doubt. Guilt faced and dealt with, he drifted off into the ‘nap’ that been interrupted.

“Hey, Dennis. What, no ‘Passions’?” Cordy called out, kicking off her shoes and frowning in surprise upon finding the TV off. “You’re not sick are you?” Then she snickered as she realized just what she’d said, “Duh.”

Dennis retrieved her jacket before it could hit the hardwood floor, flicked it at her teasingly, and then hung it up. Lifting her shoes from the rug, he slipped them into the small closet by the front door before following her into the kitchen in time to see her delving into the freezer and extracting a small tub of Chunky Monkey.

Cordy shivered slightly at the waft of cool air that brushed her face and nodded. “Yup. It wasn’t worth getting out of bed for.” She sighed heavily and padded into the lounge to sit cross-legged on the couch, peeling off the lid and accepting the floating spoon with a big smile.

“They wanted me to wear this itsy little red bikini. I swear three dollar bills attached to chains would give me more coverage.” She dug into the ice cream and took a large mouthful mmm-ing with pleasure before continuing. “Flopping around like a stranded blowfish might cost me most of my dignity, but at least there wasn’t the possibility of showing my tonsils from a totally different viewpoint. Sheesh.” She rolled her eyes and took another bite.

After several minutes of describing her afternoon to her roommate, Cordy reached for a magazine and balanced it on her knees as she demolished half the pint of ice cream before passing it to Dennis to take back into the kitchen. She held onto the spoon, licking it clean before reaching forward and dropping it onto the coffee table.

When Dennis came back and lifted the utensil, she looked up from her magazine. “Leave it for now, sweetie. I don’t know if I’m done with the calorie splurge yet. What a sucky day.”

Curled up on the couch reading the current edition of Cosmo, Cordelia heard the spoon rattling on the coffee table. Her phantom was trying to tell her something and he certainly had her attention, “What is it?”

Almost instantly, a knock sounded on the door. The magazine flew out of Cordy’s hand landing on the floor as she scrambled to her feet. She wasn’t expecting Wes or Gunn today. Their planned get together wasn’t until tomorrow, barring sudden visions. Having kept odd hours at Angel Investigations, she barely knew her neighbors and couldn’t imagine them banging on her door in that demanding, heavy-handed kind of way.

That meant it had to be Angel or a persistent vacuum salesman. “Not interested! I don’t want whatever it is you’re selling,” she called out and then whispered to Dennis to turn on the stereo. As it blasted out the sound of Angel’s reply, she snatched her magazine from the floor and blindly flipped through the pages.

The sound of intermittent banging against the door and a grouchy voice trying to be heard over the din of the music only brought a smug smile to Cordelia’s face. A certain vampire was just going to have to learn that her apartment was now off limits to him. Though she really didn’t think Angel would hurt her, getting touchy-feely again was not something she could handle. He’d tried calling her several times, but the dumbass obviously forgot about caller ID and she had turned off her answering machine whenever she was at home to prevent him from leaving her messages.

Cordelia let go of the Cosmo to cover her ears as Dennis kept turning the volume up in order to drown out Angel’s voice. Despite the noise, she heard the crunch of splintering wood as the door burst open with superhuman force, bounding back against the wall, its hinges breaking. Angel stood there in the open doorway, trapped on the other side of the mystic barrier, looking furious.

He wasn’t the only one.

Jumping to her feet, Cordelia stormed up to the now detached door, staring down at it and then back up at Angel. With the music blasting at its loudest volume, she shouted out her anger. Angel was doing the same on the other side of the barrier. Unable to hear a word he was saying she really didn’t need to in order to understand that he was pissed off. She could read the, “Cordy”, “dammit” and “let me in,” on his lips. If his vampire hearing didn’t get what she was saying in return, she hoped that he at least picked up on the “psycho” and “asswipe” parts.

He signaled for her to shut down the stereo with a curt swipe of his thumb across his throat. Cordy put a hand to her ear and shrugged, looking smug despite the nearly painful noise as Angel started to pace outside her doorway. After a few turns, he stopped to face her again, eyes silently conveying his desire to settle this peacefully.

Cordelia’s ears were ringing and she could see from his expression that Angel had no intention of leaving without talking to her. She stalked over to the stereo and jabbed the power button sending the room into immediate silence. Turning slowly around, she kept several yards of space in between them. “What the hell is this? My door looks like kindling.”

Slight exaggeration, maybe, but how she was going to leave her apartment in the next ever eluded her right now.

Gripping either side of the doorframe, Angel tried to tamp down his anger, but he was fuming inside. As far as he was concerned, he had every right to see Cordelia face to face. He wanted her back where she belonged at the Hyperion. Back in his life and especially in his bed. Normally, he’d have taken it slower, more gently, but he couldn’t risk it. Not with Darla and Drusilla on the loose.

“I’ll pay for the door,” he sounded calm in comparison to the rage he felt inside. “In fact, I’ll get someone over here to fix it.”

“Damn right you will,” Cordelia huffed and moved closer to jab the air between them with a finger as if stabbing him in the chest with it. “I’ll send you the bill.”

Angel bowed his head, taking in a breath of air and releasing it as a soft plea, “Cordy, listen to me.”

Sweeping nervous fingers through her hair, Cordelia figured he’d found out that she had been out on a couple of minor missions with Wes and Gunn. Since their so-called champion couldn’t be found again, she’d demanded to tag along. Maybe Angel was here to make good on his threat. Hah! She’d go wherever she wanted to go and her stalkery ex-boss wasn’t going to stop her from seeing or helping her friends.

“Say what you have to say and then go,” she said dismissively, walking back over to the couch, forcing Angel to turn at an angle in order to follow her movements. She sat down, curling her legs beneath her and propped her magazine back on her lap, hinting that she had far better things to do than talk to him. “Storming around like a maniac and breaking down my door is hardly the way to convince me to work for you again.”

Dropping his hands from the doorframe, Angel leaned up against the threshold, crossing his arms over his chest and doing an impressive imitation of a kicked puppy. “You don’t have to run the office if you don’t want to. I just need you to come back.”

Something akin to guilt stirred inside her before Cordelia remembered she had no reason to feel that way. He just sounded so miserable that it sparked feelings she didn’t need getting in the way of her decision. The memory of their mind-blowing kiss was all too fresh, but it simply steeled her resolve. “You’re out of control. You don’t even see it. Just look at this place. Last time I checked the mirror, I did not have STUPID written across my forehead.”

“Dammit, Cor, I’m not going to hurt you,” he growled. “You have no idea what is going on.”

“Obvious much? You’ve lost it, psycho,” she pffted angrily. Though it was simply the truth as she saw it, her own words dredged up myriad emotions. “Guess it’s been too long since you played groin buddies with your favorite blonde, so you’ve suddenly decided I’m convenient.”

She couldn’t hide the hint of pain that sounded in her words and it wasn’t lost on Angel as he met her gaze from across the room. “That’s ridiculous. The way I feel about you has nothing to do with Darla.”

“What?” Cordelia thought she’d misheard him for a second. Just to clarify it, she said, “I meant Buffy.”

Angel looked confused, as if she’d brought up an irrelevant subject. Hello, this was the supposed love of his life she was talking about and now he acted like he didn’t recognize the name. His jaw slacked open, brows crunched together as if he was attempting to puzzle out the reason she’d mentioned the name, “Buffy?”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia got up off the couch and walked closer. “Y’know, tiny blonde slayer. Carries a big stake. Sent you to hell once.”

“This has nothing to do with Buffy,” he dismissed the idea off-handedly. Though his jaw was clenched as he said it, he reminded her, “She’s moved on. It’s time I left Sunnydale behind me for good, except for you. You’re the only one I need.”

Completely dumbstruck by that announcement, whether or not it was just some excuse to get her to believe him, Cordelia felt the impact of his words. If he was playing her, he knew just what to say. Reminding herself that mind games were just his kind of thing, she steeled herself against any faint-hearted reaction on her part.

The fact that Angel wanted her sparked all kinds of appeal… if she was out of her mind. No way was she forgetting what would happen to Angel’s soul if she gave into it. “But I don’t need you,” her hushed voice carried to him with the jarring impact of a scream. “Not that way.”

“You want me,” Angel countered in frustration. Suddenly, his tiredness started to catch up with him. “You love me. You tell me so every time I’m inside you.”

Trembling, Cordelia realized Angel was delusional in addition to being freaky, “No part of you has ever been inside any part of me. You’re starting to scare me.”

“I know,” he answered slowly, eyes darkening into pools of midnight. “I can taste it. There is no reason be afraid. Trust me, Cordy. I need you to trust me.”

Cordelia dipped her head, staring at her painted toenails for a few seconds until she snapped, “There is no trust. It’s gone. You’ve killed it.”

“You have to trust me, Cor. You’re in danger,” he pleaded for understanding even as a dark thread crept into his voice.

“From you.”

Shaking his head in denial, Angel explained, “It’s Darla.”

“Your skanky sire?” Cordelia had heard enough about her to form her own opinion of the vampire who created Angelus. There was one important factoid that Angel seemed to be forgetting. “She’s dust. Gone with the wind. If I have anything to fear from Darla, it’s that she taught you everything she knows. Go away, Angel. I don’t want you here.”

“But she’s back,” Angel explained that the danger was all too real. “Wolfram & Hart brought her back. I’ve seen her.”

“Just great, now you’re obsessing about blondes again.”

With Darla on his mind, Angel thought he’d imagined it when he first broke down the door, but the faint scent of his sire still lingered in the room. Fear for Cordy’s safety escalated instantly until it gripped his chest like a vise. “She’s been here, inside your apartment.”

“Checking out the competition,” Cordelia actually laughed at the notion. “Sorry she didn’t stay to chat. I could have reminded her about your no-bone policy. It doesn’t matter, really, cos she couldn’t have been in here. You’re not the only vampire without an invitation.”

Angel pressed against the invisible barrier, needing to get it through Cordy’s head that her life was on the line. “No, she’s human.”

“Darla’s human?”


“So not only is she not dead, but she’s human, too.” Cordelia crossed her arms and muttered under her breath, “That’s convenient. Well, it seems like you two are overdue for a family reunion. Why don’t you say hello for me and we’ll leave it at that.”

The fact that Cordelia thought he was crazy was making things more difficult for Angel and it was getting harder to control his temper. “Just do as I say for once, dammit. I want you safe and I can’t keep an eye on you while you’re so far away from me.”

“Maybe I don’t want or need your protection anymore.” Now exasperated, Cordy threw her arms in the air, “What’s it take to make you get it? You’re freaking me out. Stalking me like some lovesick lunatic won’t fix any of this. Just go. You’ll never get what you want, not from me.”

Angel’s gaze focused on her flushed skin and the rosy curve of her lower lip while her words sunk in. Oh, she was so wrong about that and soon, very soon, Cordy would discover how willingly she would give him everything he desired. “When I see you again,” he vowed, his voice silky soft, yet ruthless, “this barrier won’t be an issue.”

After waiting several hours for Angel to show, Wes finally pushed aside his doubts & natural anxiety and made his way upstairs, jumping at every sound, real or imagined, on the way.

By the time he reached Angel’s suite door, he was already a bundle of nerves. Armed with sterile gloves, tweezers, a specimen slide and a few small food bags, Wes entered hesitantly. He debated for several seconds whether or not to close the door, finally deciding to leave it ajar. It would look less suspicious, he decided if Angel were to come back and find him.

Then his slight shoulders slumped. Either way his goose was cooked. How would he explain snooping around his boss’s rooms with a pair of surgical gloves on? For a wild moment he envisioned asking the vampire to cough, then shuddered at the bizarre thought. The sooner this was done the better.

With that in mind, he pulled the gloves out of his jacket pocket and slipped them on awkwardly, cursing under his breath as some of the fingers refused to co-operate. Finally they were on and he began his search, dredging all of the practical experience garnered from his years studying as a Watcher.

Soon, his confidence grew somewhat and pretty soon every surface and cupboard in the living and kitchen area was thoroughly searched, with thankfully no sign of anything out of the ordinary. “Now for the bedroom,” he muttered under his breath, rather uncomfortable at the thought of searching such personal dwellings.

The bathroom was first on his list and that was accomplished pretty quickly, and, taking a deep steadying breath, he moved into the bedroom. The covers were half hanging from the bed, and the bottom sheet was removed completely and thrown in a crumpled ball on the floor beside the bed. Wes skirted that and concentrated first on the dresser and closet.

Surprise lifted his bows at the disorder of the once neat-as-a pin closet, with clothes precariously clinging to their hangers, and when he closed the doors, he had another good look around the room. Clothes were scattered around, slung over the bedside chair, and a frown of worry developed. Angel was almost anal, as Cordelia called him, about cleanliness, but it was no longer reflected in his sleeping quarters.

Letting loose a perplexed sigh, Wes stepped around the crumpled sheet and made his way to one of the bedside tables. As he was in the process of opening the single drawer, he paused, and then stooped lower. “Hmmm,” his soft wordless comment shifted some of the blue powder that was scattered across the surface and instantly he straightened.

Although not as cognizant in substances as he was with books, Wes knew enough not to inhale potential drugs. He waited for the dust to settle, pulling out one of the food bags and the piece of glass. By the time he’d used the edge of the glass to pile up the powder, he found he had more than enough to send it off to a small lab he used on occasion.

Once he’d scraped the contents into the bag, he quickly sealed it with a plastic tie, and shoved it into his pocket, turning on his heel and almost running out of Angel’s suite, yanking the gloves off as he went.

Wes didn’t relax until the door was shut firmly behind him and he was back in the lobby. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he almost wobbled over to his desk and flopped into his chair with a whoosh.

“I thought about what you said,” Cordelia’s voice brought Angel out of his deep thoughts as he sat at her desk. He turned to find her placing the cardboard box she carried onto the countertop. “You were right. Dennis finally explained about the intruder. He can’t protect me there.”

Angel pushed the chair back, turning it to face her as she walked around to his side of the front desk. Yes, he was right and it felt good hearing her say that, but coming back to the Hyperion meant more than accepting his protection. She had to know that. He let his gaze travel from her polished toenails and sandaled feet up the length of her, lingering in all the places he longed to touch and noting the way her body reacted to the weight of his stare.

“I brought a suitcase, too,” Cordelia licked her lips as his eyes dropped back down to them. “Just give me a set of fresh sheets and I’ll set up one of the rooms.”

“No.” He didn’t move from the chair, not wanting to frighten her away now that she had come back to him. “That’s not good enough. Darla can still get to you if she wants to.”

Making a move to grab her suitcase, Cordy snapped, “Then what good are you to me?”

He was out of the chair and held the suitcase in his hand before she reached it. “I think that’s a question that needs answering, but not here.”

Leading her up the stairs to the second floor, Angel felt surprised by the fact that she followed along. It didn’t take much imagination to know where he was going. He’d expected to hear a protest. No matter. He wasn’t going to tempt fate by asking why she’d changed her mind about it.

“You’ll stay here,” he pushed open his bedroom door, “with me.”

Cordelia brushed past him, her shoulder touching him as she walked into the room, looking around as if for the first time. Sizing the place up. “Tell me you plan to be a gentleman and sleep on the floor.”

“The floor doesn’t look very comfortable,” he pointed out wryly. Did she really expect him to offer it? When she knew there was nothing gentlemanlike about his feelings for her. “We’ll make do with the bed.”

“Just as long as we’re clear,” Cordelia nodded reluctantly. Pointing toward the left half of the bed, “Your side,” and then the other, “my side.”

Angel sat down on the end of the bed, directly in the middle. “Yours and mine,” he deliberately rephrased her words. “Absolutely.”

He watched in silence as she flitted around the room, moving his things to make room for her own. Settling in. Again, he wondered at the suddenness of Cordelia’s change of mind. This was his chance to prove that she would find pleasure in his arms, that he wanted her, even loved her. Now that Cordy was here, he wasn’t about to let her leave again.

“Why are you really here?” Angel couldn’t fight off his curiosity despite dreading her answer. He needed to know the truth and felt anxious as she left her task and walked over to stand in front of him.

Reaching out, Cordelia touched him, her hand palming his cheek, the warmth from her skin seeping into his. Angel nearly closed his eyes at the sensation, finding that gentle touch intoxicating. “I already told you. I thought about what you said to me. Everything you said. There’s no one I trust more than you and I came here to prove it to you.”

It wasn’t exactly the supplicant apology Angel had imagined, but it would do for now. “Just how do you intend to do that?”

“Any way you want.” Magic words, that’s all it took. After all, Cordy belonged to him body and soul. That’s why she had come, he reasoned, as his hand reached out to curl around her hip.

Pulling her into his arms, Angel settled Cordy atop his thighs, his hands roving over the firm curves of her bottom before sweeping up to tangle in the soft waves of her hair. “We’ll start where we left off,” he said suggestively, then brought her closer so that her mouth hovered over his. A throaty challenge followed, his own words causing his body to stir in anticipation. “Kiss me.”

Butterfly kisses lighted across his face, softly rousing a hunger that would not be sated with such simple fare. Addicted to her kisses, he needed far more than just the soft teasing of her lips and claimed her mouth with the intrusive sweep of his tongue.

Clothes faded away, leaving only that crimson slip of satin hiding Cordelia from his view. Angel hungrily let his gaze travel over every feminine curve, his hands following to cup and caress what he could not see. Burying his face against the curve of her throat, he pressed his mouth against the source of the siren call that filled his ears. Every pulse, each beat of her heart was all for him. Her arousal scented her skin and turned to liquid heat as she took him inside. Braced against his shoulders for support, she rode him slow and steady, the sensual slide of the satin and her skin causing them both to sound out their increasing pleasure.

Angel trailed his tongue across that hot pulse and shuddered at the promise of what lay beneath the frail surface of her skin. His hands clutched her closer as Cordelia’s arms wrapped around him, too. That tantalizing scent, he wanted to taste it, needed to feel the warmth against his tongue. Just the thought, the need, the desire shifted his body and his fangs extended as he opened his mouth over her throat.

Just then her lusty moans turned soft as Cordelia whispered those now-familiar words, “I love you.” He never tired of hearing it or of being deep inside her when she said it as if he could thrust into her heart and stay there.

Before his features could change back, she lifted her head, eyes full of acceptance as they roamed his face. When she leaned in to kiss him, fangs and all, “Now isn’t that touching,” the interruption came as an unwelcome surprise. Standing directly behind Cordelia at the edge of the bed, Darla slipped a hand around her shoulder and yanked her back against her. He could do nothing, helpless to do anything but hold Cordelia’s hips and feel the hot grip of their joined bodies.

Angel half expected Darla to vamp out and demand her share. He knew he should be ripping her apart for touching what was his, but he couldn’t seem to make a move against her. There was something not right. It held his attention, stirring confusion and dread. Another heartbeat sounded. Hers, pulsing a deadly tune.

“Death doesn’t require a pair of fangs,” Darla told him as her hand held Cordy tight. A knife appeared in the other, striking out, slicing across Cordelia’s throat.

Blood spewed forth, bathing him in its gooey warmth as the life started to fade from her eyes. He howled in rage, as Darla slipped away into the darkness, her final words spurring him to act, “But eternity does.”

Dying was not an option. He couldn’t let her go. Wouldn’t. Without hesitation, he bit into the wound, taking in the rich blood pumped by her fading heart and then prepared to give her his own. As Cordy’s pale mouth closed around his wrist, her hands gripping it as tightly as she could manage, Angel watched with growing horror at the realization of what he had just done.

He’d damned her.

Jerking his wrist away from her mouth, Angel heard himself screaming his denial. “No!” He awakened, shaking and huddled against his bedroom floor, muttering in fear and trying to separate reality from those dark visions. “Not Cordy. Not her. Not that way.”

Angel waited in the alley shadows behind Caritas, his black clothing blending him in with his surroundings. Nearly two hours had passed since the phone call that had him back on edge. The urge to pace off the caged feeling made the wait a long one, though the feeling was nothing compared to the shock he had received at picking up the phone.

He’d finally descended from his room after a very long hot, then icy cold shower after his nightmare to find the lobby deserted. Going by the empty teacup on Wes’ desk he’d been here at least once during the day. Angel only hoped that the younger man hadn’t been around to hear him screaming like a crazed psychopath hours earlier.

His mouth twisted bitterly at the thought. Something else to add to the long list of reasons Cordy had for refusing to come back to him. Ruthlessly tearing his thoughts away from the woman he craved, Angel focused on the reason for this clandestine meeting.


Her call out of the blue had literally knocked him sideways. The message he’d passed on through Lilah and Lindsey was simple. Get out of town or face the consequences. Darla never did like to play by anyone else’s rules. She wanted to meet him. Angel had listened mutely as his sire told him she’d chosen a time after sunset, “Don’t be late, my love. As you know, it isn’t safe for humans to hang around in alleys after dark.” Although her voice had been outwardly light and almost teasing, he hadn’t missed the underlying tone that hinted at a deeper purpose.

Now Darla was here, approaching him with that sinuous walk and a wicked little smile. Seeing her oh, so familiar face up close, hearing her unfamiliar heartbeat and her need to breathe filled him with dread and confusion. It seemed wrong and unnatural to see her that way, yet humanity was part of his elusive dreams. Somehow, Wolfram & Hart had given her something precious that might take him decades or centuries to earn for himself. For a moment, Angel imagined being human again. Cordy would have no excuse to fear him then. For now, she’d just have to get over it. She wasn’t as turned-off by that side of him as she pretended to be.

Distracted, he almost missed the tremulous plea pouring from Darla’s scarlet painted mouth. When she repeated it, his hands started to shake visibly enough for him to have to hide them in his pants pockets. He couldn’t believe what she’d asked of him.

There she stood, graced with the gift of life, yet begging him to take it from her. To turn her into a soulless demon. Anger at her easy disregard for her existence raged within him. Blind with it, he grabbed her shoulders roughly, shaking her slight form and not even thinking about the fact that it was the first time he had touched her.

Darla cried out, “I’m dying!”

A quick release followed, Angel’s hands opening up like they’d taken an electric shock from her words alone. It happened so fast, she stumbled for a second before approaching him again as he’d backed away, unable to respond.

Apparently, she’d contracted syphilis and was dying from it when the Master had found her and changed her. Diseases she picked up pre-demon had reasserted themselves. Recalling his own life of debauchery and whores, Angel suddenly wondered what lay in store for him. Then reasoned, unless it was just the evil influence of Wolfram & Hart being unable to give Darla a new life, only allowing her to pick up where she left off.

Shanshu suddenly seemed more complicated than ever, but Darla’s plea for him to take her life and to turn her made him want to retch up his last meal of pig’s blood. Any hope of settling this quietly and simply running her out of town where she could start a new life and he could forget she existed died in the darkness of that alley. Their meeting degenerated from there. Him refusing point blank and Darla reminding him, “I saved you.”

Her face blanched when Angel rapidly responded, “No, you damned me.”

Swallowing convulsively at her devastated expression, he’d stepped back until his shoulders had brushed against the damp wall behind him. “I can’t… won’t do that to you.”

“Not even if it means you’ll be saving me from death?” Rasping hoarsely, a raw sound left her throat accompanied by her desperate blue eyes boring into his as she leaned close. Angel felt nothing as she ran her hands across his chest, trying every trick she knew to get him to respond. There was barely a measure of pity before then and her attempt to seduce him into being cooperative killed that in an instant.

All he could think about was what Darla would do if she was a vampire again. Her first act would be to go after Cordelia and he wasn’t about to let that happen. The chaos and bloodletting that would follow her return to vampirism was undoubted. She wanted to be saved from death by letting him rip out her throat and literally swallow her life away.

Smooth lines defined his blank expression as Angel asked, “Is there a difference?”

Darla stepped back like he struck her, flinching as she realized he wasn’t going to take away her cursed life and give her back the power and eternal existence she craved. “Damn you! Damn you to hell, Angelus!”

Turning on her high red heel, Darla started to walk away. He grabbed her back so fast that she stumbled against him. There was a glint of anticipation in her eyes as if she thought he’d changed his mind. “Too late,” the words rumbled low in his chest, “I’m already there.”

He sensed her eager hope, a twinge of lust and natural human fear as he loomed large above her, feeling a dark twist of satisfaction in his gut that he could make her quiver without really trying. “Don’t get so wound up,” he growled softly as his hands squeezed hard enough to bruise her flesh, causing her to flinch at the pain. “The soul is getting to you, isn’t it? Does it hurt to remember what you’ve done to people? I see no regret in your eyes, but the fear is there.”

“Do something about it,” she begged him, no longer caring if he realized just how the pollution of her human soul made her feel.

“Live with it. Death may be your ultimate redemption,” Angel told her, “but you won’t get it from me.”

Darla squirmed to escape his grasp, but he held on tight, one hand grasping her jaw to force her to look at him. “Bastard.”

A sneer curled his lip, “You should know. I’m telling you again to get out of town. You don’t belong here and I don’t want you anywhere near me or mine.”

“It’s that bitch of a seer,” Darla kicked at his shin, which only served to make him angry. Maybe it was just what she said. “She’s nothing compared to me.”

“No, she’s everything,” he snapped and pushed her away. “If I see you anywhere near Cordelia, it won’t matter that you’re human. I’ll kill you.”

Any shred of remorse at the thought of it faded as Angel watched Darla stumbling out of the alley, blankly noting her desperate sobs and all-too-human tears.

Chapter 7

The new door appeared secure. There was little to indicate that the old one had been ripped from its frame. Angel smoothed his hand down the surface as he wondered if Cordelia would incite him to break it down yet again. Thinking about it, he should have used the opportunity to get her out, made her realize that staying in an open apartment wasn’t a good idea. But then Cordelia had fought hard to make this place hers and wasn’t likely to abandon it if she thought looters might take advantage.

Stubborn, beautiful bitch. Cordy would put herself in danger in a heartbeat if she thought it meant protecting something she cared about. Her precious apartment with its overly friendly phantom menace was just one example. She didn’t belong there. He’d let her stay for the moment, while things were unsettled with Darla and Dru, since he couldn’t seem to make her budge.

Cordy was just confused. Soon she would see the truth. That she needed him as much as he did her. She had to see it, to feel it as deeply as him. He’d make sure of it.

For now she was blind to the truth. Pretending she didn’t care. He knew she was lying, even to herself. The way she kissed him was all the proof he needed. That and the hundred little responses her body made to show him that she belonged to him. That soft mouth melting into his. Her greedy lips open to his plunder. Hands clutching him closer. Her breasts swelling in arousal, nipples peaking beneath his touch. Hips tucked into his seeking out a closeness their clothing prevented.

Damned interfering ghost.

Yes, Cordy wanted him. Her arousal teased his senses even as the turbulence of her fear crashed in behind it. A part of him wanted to wallow in it. After all, he’d earned every emotion she threw his way. That feisty spark of defiance turned him on just as much as her responsiveness. She could be so compliant, so submissive when he wanted her to be, letting him take her in all the ways he wanted.

No, that was part of the dreams, thought Angel and then shook his head to clear its foggy haze. But she loved him. Cordy just didn’t know it yet. It surprised him, the thought of her not knowing. How could that be when it was now so obvious to him? It hadn’t occurred to him until recently, the way he felt. Something… there was something she’d done. He couldn’t imagine what it was, but it was just a simple thing.

A switch flipped, a spotlight shone, a bell rang. Whatever caused it, Angel neither knew nor cared because all that mattered was an understanding that he wanted Cordelia. That he felt so much for her it was impossible to express with words. His need for her went beyond the physical. Soon, Cordy would know that, too. She’d understand. Believe it with every heartbeat. She would live and breathe each day with the knowledge that she belonged to him.

Anticipation set his senses tingling, his body practically leaping with energy as he focused on what he would have to do. First, he’d have to find her. Cordelia had a knack for slipping under his radar. He’d spent countless hours watching her lights go off and on, half-wondering if it was really Cordelia or just the annoying ghost playing with him from afar. No, he knew when she was there. Listened to her as she slept, breathing softly, mumbling in her sleep, moaning in pleasure when she was awakened by her dreams and couldn’t resist touching herself.

Being only a windowpane away was akin to torture. He wanted in. To be the one whose fingers gave her pleasure, feeling her heat and the liquid ecstasy coating him. Angel flicked his tongue across his lips at the thought of tasting her there. Of the rush of her blood as it raced in his ears while his face was buried between her thighs. That would only be the beginning. There was more, so much more that he would do when Cordy would open herself up to him, pleading for the pleasure he could give her and crying out his name as she begged him for more. As her body clung to his, she’d tell him how much she loved him.

For now, Angel needed to find her. It was late, long past sunset. He idly thought about the fact that she might be out with Gunn. A gloomy expression crashed down on his face as he immediately imagined the worst. That cocky bastard was good in a fight, but he had no business being so friendly with Cordelia. Didn’t he know what was good for him? How was it that Gunn earned Cordy’s smiles and laughter so easily? He’d better not find them alone together.

He drove by Gunn’s place in the Plymouth, saw that his truck wasn’t there and talked to a couple of his gang. Apparently, Gunn was at Caritas, a fact that they weren’t too happy about considering it was demon hangout. Angel ignored the distrustful looks they sent his way; he didn’t have time to teach them a lesson in manners.

Parking the car out of sight, Angel made his way into Caritas. He spotted them immediately, but Cordy and Gunn weren’t alone. Wes was with them, suggesting that this was not a date; just one of their little get-togethers that didn’t include him. The smoky air of the club and its shadowy corners made it easy for Angel to approach their table without being seen.

“I don’t get why you still go there.” Cordy took a sip of her coke, scowling first at the drink, and then at Wes before adding, “Not like there’s a reason anymore. I keep having visions, but Demento-Vamp is never around to respond. Might as well have our own agency,” her tone soured along with her expression.

From the cloak of the shadows, Angel tensed at the inference that he was never around and simply not worth anyone’s time. Why would she say that? Cordelia couldn’t mean it. Maybe it was just the drink talking. He stared hard at the dark liquid in her glass, wondering if Gunn was trying to get her drunk.

“Give it up, girl,” Gunn chugged his beer before continuing. “You’re just sore ‘cos we bought you a soda.”

So much for that idea, scowled Angel as he realized Cordelia’s ridiculous plans for permanently separating herself from Angel Investigations were all her own. He’d never let that happen. She belonged with him. The visions were his and so was she. It was that simple.

“Am not,” she denied hotly making Angel think for a second that she answered him. But her focus was nowhere near him. She remained ignorant of his presense and was too busy scowling at Gunn to notice that he’d almost stepped out to make her eat those words. “But the total wrongness of me being allowed to buy you beers isn’t lost on me.”

To her left, Wes grinned and saluted her with his glass. “And we’re very grateful, I assure you.” He lifted it to his mouth and took a healthy swallow, slapping his lips with gusto.

Gunn snorted and Angel watched as Cordy’s fingers tightened around her own glass of Coke reflexively. When she pointed out the ridiculousness of denying her a drink in a demon bar, Angel noted that for once her fury wasn’t directed at him. Though he wasn’t certain he liked that, either.

“So…” Cordy began conversationally, apparently giving up on the hope of getting something stronger than a soda, “What do you actually do there, Wes? Watch the Grumpmeister as he goes up and down the stairs to sleep the sleep of the seriously deluded, or debate the eternal question of how blondes turn men into homicidal maniacs?”

Both men winced at the bitterness in her over bright voice. Showing her their solidarity, Gunn nudged her side in sympathy while Wes pursed his lips before replying, “Actually, Angel rarely shows his face when I’m there.”

Still as a statue, Angel gave Wes a hard stare as if the thought alone would cause him to topple off his chair. Maybe that was true, but there were reasons for it. All too important reasons, Cordelia being the main one.

“Sleeping fulltime now?” Her loud scoff only caused Angel to smile twistedly as he realized she kept picturing him in bed. “With me not there to disturb him, I bet he’s making up for lost time.”

Not yet, but soon. Making up for lost time was something he would enjoy as soon as he had her there with him.

“I used to think the fangy fu- dudes slept thru the day till me and my crew found out pretty quick the movies got it all wrong,” Gunn commented, ignoring the mild chastisement in Wes’ eyes when he’d almost cursed in front of Cordelia. Angel knew that Alonna’s daylight kidnapping made it all too painfully clear to Gunn not to rely on fiction. “So he’s still catching those zees?”

“Yeah, must be real tiring not fighting for his redemption and killing evil demons.” Cordy took a large gulp of her Coke and slumped back into her seat with a frown of disappointment creasing her smooth brow. Then, after a long sigh, told them, “Boy, I never thought I’d even think something like that about Angel, never mind say it out loud.”

Cordy’s body language made it difficult to guess her thoughts. She’d been so focused on the idea that being with him would result in the loss of his soul. Angel didn’t know what to do to reassure her. All he knew was that he needed to be with her. They belonged together, no matter the dark warnings that came to him in his dreams. He could fight that.

He pushed his doubts aside, focusing back on the conversation at the table. “I don’t think, to be honest, that Angel is actually in residence half the time I’m there,” Wes corrected their assumption, perhaps retaining some feeling of loyalty. “Maybe he’s taken up patrolling again. Sometimes I can hear him quite clearly in the basement, training.”

“Training for what, stalking helpless victims?” Cordy muttered under her breath, too low for the men sitting with her to hear, but certainly loud enough for Angel to pick up clearly.

The talk veered off the topic and the mood instantly lightened, a real smile finally curving her moist mouth. Angel caught himself staring fixedly, his eyes running like a soft caress along the plump bow of her lower lip. It was making him crazy with wanting her. Looking, but not touching. Finally, Angel decided to leave. This wasn’t a clandestine meeting between Cordy and some unfortunate man, just the bonding between friends. Even if he happened to be the topic of conversation.

Soon, they would all understand. He’d make them see the truth. For tonight, they could have their fun. He was going back to Cordelia’s apartment. If he got lucky, they’d drop her off at the curb instead of walking her to the door. Then he’d get a little of the one-on-one time he deserved.

Turning, Angel strode toward the exit only to feel a tug on his sleeve as he swept past the bar. The smell alone told him who was standing there. Merl looked like he was about to dart away at the first sign of violence. “Hiya boss. Howya doin’?” The added smile instantly drew Angel’s suspicion.

Merl rarely made first contact. The snitch liked to keep things close to his chest just in case something came back to bite him on the ass. He avoided Angel at all costs and usually went through Wesley to make arrangements for providing intel. He was more likely to be paid that way.

The fact that Wes was sitting only ten yards away suggested this was something more than just Merl’s usual game. “This better be worth it. I’m not in the mood to make small talk.”

“Like that’s ever the case?” asked Merl, backing up just a little at the growl that followed. “Maybe I’ll just keep the news to myself then.”

With a lightning fast move, Angel wrapped a hand around Merl’s arm, pushing him against the nearest wall to hold him there. “Talk fast. I’m getting impatient.”

“Yeesh! Okay, okay, Remember that crazy girl, the vampire we was talkin’ about the other day?”

Angel nodded, “Drusilla.”

“I know where she’s holed up, ya see,” Merl’s grin widened and he glanced down expecting Angel to release his arm. The hold only tightened to the point where he couldn’t move without pain shooting along his shoulder. “Oww! I’m gonna hafta complain to the Host about his frakkin’ Sanctuary spell.”

“Where is she?” Angel ignored the nasal whining as Merl spouted off about the pressure he was under. “Wolfram & Hart got her. Invited her to town, they did. She’s stayin’ at one o’ them lawyers’ apartments.”

Though Angel easily came up with an idea or two, he asked, “Got a name?”

Merl gulped, shifted his eyes left and right, and then whispered, “McDonald. Y’know, as in the old geezer that had a farm and turned it into a franchise.” He grinned again at his little joke, only to see Angel staring down at him with stark seriousness.

“Where did you get this information?”

Watching as Merl’s eyes widened dramatically, Angel demanded, “What’s your stake in this, you little creep? I know you’re up to something. I can smell it on you.”

Quaking in fear, Merl begged him to listen, “No, no, it ain’t like that. Really, it ain’t. She paid me to tell you, but I wasn’t gonna cos I figured it was a trap, see? But then I figured you’d wanna know.”

“Drusilla paid you to give me information,” Angel highly doubted that. His childe never used money when she could use her fangs or her ability to bend the will of her victims.

“No, no,” Merl hastened to correct him. “It was some blonde chick. She wanted you to know where to find her. Said she was goin’ to some ritzy party tonight and wanted to make sure you were there. Gonna be a riot or somethin’.”

When the demon finally stopped talking, Angel dropped his hold. Somehow, this didn’t surprise him. Darla was still in the game, manipulating everyone around her to get to him. “What time is this party?”

“About now,” gulped Merl. Explaining, “You’re not exactly easy to track down.”

Angel took one final look over his shoulder to the table where Cordy sat with Wes and Gunn. Their attention was focused on the stage where Lorne sang of troubled waters, eyes skimming the crowd and meeting his for an instant. Determined to find Darla and put an end to whatever evil plan she was concocting, Angel turned away and took the stairs at a run.

The only clue she’d left him was Dru’s presense at Lindsey’s place. There was no time to head back to the Hyperion for weapons. He’d have to go in barehanded. That would be more than enough to squeeze the life out of her if it came to that. He’d give her death if she left him no choice, but not the life of the undead she craved. Facing Dru would be quite different, far from simple and not without its dangers. There was no telling what mood she would be in.

By the time Angel made his way to the exclusive high-rise apartment building that Lindsey McDonald made his home, he almost missed the lawyer climbing into the limousine parked out front. He had no idea if Lindsey was alone in that limo or if Darla and Drusilla were also aboard. Following at a distance, Angel found himself in suburban Los Angeles, surrounded by multi-million dollar mansions. Though his car was a classic, the Plymouth still looked a little out of place amongst the limos, sedate Jaguars & BMWs, and one flashy Lamborghini.

Lindsey McDonald’s limo pulled in through the security gate and proceeded up the curved drive. Quickly parking along the curb outside the estate, Angel scaled the vine-covered stone fence surrounding the property, landing gracefully below. The elaborate landscaping was well-lit, but some areas of the grounds remained deep in shadow, allowing Angel to get closer to the house.

There was a group of chauffeurs standing in a circle, smoking and talking about the party already in progress below. He listened for a moment, gathering clues as to the nature of the party and its host. This was Holland Manner’s estate, head of the Special Projects Division at Wolfram & Hart. Top employees and ritzy guests were here for a wine tasting.

Angel knew he’d have a problem getting in. Despite Darla’s message, he needed a verbal invitation from someone who lived there. That wasn’t very likely, though he thought Holland Manners was smarter than it appeared. Bad enough bringing Darla back, but he’d allowed Drusilla to enter the picture, all to get to him.

From his hiding place, Angel watched Lindsey step out of the limousine, but it appeared he was arriving with Lilah. They immediately went inside. There was no sign of Darla or Dru back at the limo, just the chauffeur standing by the open passenger door. After a minute, he closed it, walking in the direction of the other drivers.

Angel waited for ten minutes, focused on the front gate, hoping that they had not yet arrived. Deciding it was time to take the direct approach, Angel realized that the chauffeurs were in the way. He circled around the group, concentrating on staying out of sight until he made it to the house. As he glanced toward his goal, Angel saw a tall brunette and a petite blonde being greeted by the hostess. They had been there all along, lingering in the limousine that brought Lilah & Lindsey. Primping, he supposed. Darla was always one to preen and make late entrances. She claimed it was more dramatic that way.

Though he leapt over the shrubbery and dashed toward the front door, which was left partially ajar, it was too late. He stared down at the pool of blood spreading out across the tile flooring and heard a gasp, “Help me, please.”

As the woman crawled along the floor, slipping in her own blood, Angel saw the deadly wound on her throat. “Can I come in?” he asked, steeling himself for the confrontation ahead of him.

“Yes,” she whispered on a final gasp, the light fading from her eyes.

“Angel! How nice of you to join us.” Holland sipped at his wine before continuing, “Although I’m a bit at a loss as to how you managed that.”

“The nice lady upstairs invited me in,” Angel replied distractedly as he swept his gaze across the room, automatically assessing the situation. His senses had gone into overdrive since he’d crossed the entrance of the wine cellar, then it clicked when he focused on his sire’s smug expression. Darla no longer had a heartbeat. “What the hell have you done?” he almost snarled, anger ringing his eyes with gold.

When Holland shrugged carelessly, Angel wanted to knock that slight smile from his face. If it showed, Holland obviously felt confident that he had nothing to fear. “Oh, I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. The new look suits her far better than that of death’s door.”

That drew a smirk from Lilah and Angel suddenly regretted only splitting her lip. He sent her a sharp glare, which she returned until he lost interest in making her squirm. That happened almost instantly. He wasn’t here to play games and that was precisely what the people in this room were doing. They were fools if they thought they could play him this way and idiots if they believed themselves safe from harm.

Not that he was the one they should fear the most. Angel’s gaze slid back to his sire, who pouted dramatically. “I was hoping it would be you that did it, my love, but you’ve been so busy mooning over your new ladylove.” A glimmer of spite touched her cool blue eyes at the instant tightening of Angel’s mouth. “Drusilla came through for me when you failed. She knows the meaning of loyalty.”

The artless stab left him cold. He owed Darla nothing, least of all loyalty. As for Dru, she followed her demonic heart and her crazed senses. There was no sense in blaming his childe for Darla’s death when he knew she only did what she was told would please her. Darla’s throaty laugh made light of the circumstances as she pointed out the strange twist, “So now my grandchilde is also my sire. It was quite the little buzz.”

Dru smiled artlessly as she looked at them both, seeing more than the tension that was surely visible to all. The lawyers gathered in the room for the party were all equally tense, focused on him and awaiting his reaction.

“You’re a fool,” Angel’s voice dulled as he faced Holland Manners, sounding colder with each short syllable. Knowing that he was the instigator, that he’d designed this plan and arranged Darla’s return & subsequent rebirth as a vampire, he felt it necessary to reveal just how rash the man had been. “The nice lady that let me in? It was a plea for help from a dying victim.”

All color blanched from Holland’s face, leaving it pale and pasty as he realized his wife’s death and who must have killed her. Angel took no satisfaction in telling him, realizing that he didn’t give a damn if the world caved in on this man, or on any of them. He was tired of their interference, of their plots and the plans that always seemed to be focused on him.

Then he turned back to face Darla. “I want you gone,” he warned softly, ignoring the shift in the room from smug complacency to growing fear. The stench of it teased his senses, but Angel shrugged it off to concentrate on the two female vampires.

“Oh, but we just got here.” Darla licked her too-red lips and lifted an arm to run scarlet-tipped nails across her slim throat. “And I haven’t met the little woman yet. Thanks to my sweet Dru, I’m more than ready for that,” she purred throatily. Every muscle in Angel’s body tensed at the underlying threat lacing her tone.

“I warned you once,” Angel hissed as he stepped closer. “Don’t threaten Cordelia. Killing you as a human might have bothered me a little, but now I won’t hesitate to dust you again.”

While Darla digested his words, a pinched expression souring her looks, Drusilla weaved through the crowd to playfully gnash her teeth in Angel’s direction. “Bad, naughty, Daddy, I like it when you play rough, but Grandmummy is mine now.”

“Then take her and go,” Angel managed to escape the wandering hands of his lunatic childe. Adding on, “Do it before I change my mind and dust you both.”

“Yes, but we have to have dinner first.” Dru giggled coquettishly and looked around, sizing up the ‘cuisine’. Lilah swallowed visibly and stepped back behind Lindsey as the vampire’s dark eyes rested on her a little too long.

Holland stepped forward, almost yelping when Darla appeared behind him, her hand deceptively gentle on his shoulder. Now begging Angel, “You have to help us! For God’s sake man, you owe us that at least.” He rambled feverishly in his terror; his casual tone had bled away the moment he’d heard about his wife.

Angel stared back at him with a raised dark brow. Underneath his veneer of calm, rage simmered and for a moment he was tempted to ‘help’ the man by snapping his neck. “I owe you nothing,” he replied stonily. “There’s something you keep forgetting,” he added darkly. “I’m not a man.”

Capturing his attention, Darla’s pleasantly surprised laugh filled the air. “Took you long enough to figure it out, my boy,” her hand crept up and latched into Holland’s hair, yanking his head to the side. Sliding into her natural demon face with Dru following suit, she asked, “Are you really going to stop us?”

A collective gasp echoed in the room. The champion they had wanted dark and deadly was now the only thing standing in the way of their deaths. “I want you out of town or I will put you back in the ground,” Angel issued his last warning. It would be impossible to take on both Darla and Dru in these close quarters. While dusting them both would end any future conflicts, it was the here and now he had to focus on.

Fighting together, Darla and Dru stood a chance of beating him. If they dusted him, Cordelia would be… he swallowed sickly, not even wanting to guess what Darla alone was capable of doing out of spite. She’d always been a possessive bitch, and he knew Cordy would be kept alive for a long time.

“You know I’ll do it, Darla. Did it once before,” he reminded her, his expression enigmatic.

Tilting her blonde head as she eyed him, Darla’s mouth twisted in cold mockery, “Two human girls in the space of a couple years, lover? My boy is losing his edge. Although,” she swept her icy blue eyes down his frame, “you lost that the day you got the filthy soul.”

Angel remained silent, watching her stonily, more than aware of Dru in his peripheral vision. The younger vampire seemed more interested in the man she’d pulled out of the frightened clutch of people, but knowing her only too well, he kept the unstable vampire within his line of vision.

Realizing she wasn’t going to get the rise she’d hoped, Darla pouted in mild annoyance. Taking him down would probably be easy enough, but that was something that wasn’t an option in her mind. Want for him still flared too hotly. Plus she hadn’t missed the noticeable change in his demeanor, and was willing to wait for her moment to get him back where he belonged. By her side.

She glanced around at the sea of frightened faces and then back to Angel. How far was he already willing to go? From his outwardly detached air regarding the plight of the humans, Darla wondered if she hadn’t mostly succeeded already. Time to find out, she decided. “Say we leave LA and let you have your precious seer all to yourself. What’s it worth to you, Angelus, one night of uninterrupted dining?”

Angel’s gaze left hers for a moment and looked around the room. Terrified faces stared back at him and Holland was practically soiling himself with pure fear. His body shook beneath Darla’s deceptively gentle grip. “Please…” he mouthed silently.

Something snapped in Angel’s head and his eyes went blank. The consequences of such a deal weren’t lost on him, but all that mattered was keeping Cordelia safe. “Just keep in mind they’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth.”

Holland’s mouth sagged open as every remaining vestige of color bled from his face. Angel turned away, hardening his heart even more against the panicked cries for help. As he pulled the double doors together, his eyes caught and held Darla’s and desperately quenching down the surge of self-hate he felt at the sight of her gleeful, triumphant expression at his unexpected actions, he slammed the door and turned the key, moving up the stairs with vampiric speed determined to ignore the screams that now echoed from the cellar.

“I half expected my boy to join in. Pity.” Darla could have sworn she’d seen a familiar flicker in the souled vampires eyes, and it warmed her from the inside out. She looked directly into Holland’s bulging eyes. “Don’t be sad, not exactly how you planned it, but close enough for me.” With a shrug and a feral grin Darla attacked his throat with gusto.

Wes stared down at the opened newspaper with horror written all over his face. It couldn’t be! He reread the small print. No, the information hadn’t changed. “Good God,” he muttered, shocked to the core.

Wolfram & Hart, the name was a red flag. It was too much of a coincidence: a massacre last night at Holland Manner’s house, in his wine cellar. “So many deaths,” Wes sighed heavily. Even though the law firm had been nothing but trouble, almost killing him and attempting to drive Cordelia insane, no one deserved being butchered to death, as the paper worded it.

According to the article, a Ms Lilah Morgan and Mr Lindsey McDonald had survived with superficial wounds. ‘No comment’ from them even though the reporters had described them as pale and in shock.

The Head of The Special Projects Division, Holland Manners had perished whilst the other two thorns in their sides had walked away. Not so lucky were the lesser employees, who most likely had families that were now grieving.

The paragraph that stood out from the rest of the article was the mention of the doors to the cellar. From the morbidly detailed description of the damage, it was easy for Wes to ascertain that it must have been locked prior to the massacre. If the perpetrators to contain their victims had indeed locked it, surely they would not have had to force their exit after? That left him with the horror of realizing someone had callously locked the lawyers in with their murderers. In his stunned mind, Wes could think of no other reasonable explanation to dispute such an unpalatable conclusion.

“You been here all day, Wes?” His eyes jerked from the article, startled by the noiseless approach of the resident vampire, then they widened with surprise.

“Angel. You look… a little worse for wear.” He took in the unusual sight of a paler face with tired eyes ringed in blue shadows. His usually immaculately gelled hair was clean, yet tousled without any sign of hair products in sight.

His clothes, although looking clean were wrinkled and Wes wondered if Angel had slept in them. “And no, I arrived about half an hour ago,” he answered the original question before holding out the newspaper. “Have you heard about this?”

Angel took it from him without a word and scoured the article that covered most of the page. He was fully aware of the pale blue eyes assessing him and tried to shove down the guilt that had ate at him since he’d left Darla and Drusilla to it last night. Then his mouth twisted. “I see our two favorite lawyers escaped the all-you-can-eat buffet.” The comment slipped out and he regretted it the instant a gasp echoed through the lobby.

“All-you-can…?” He reached for the paper, scanning the article again, but already positive that that particular phrase wasn’t used anywhere in the report. He finally looked up to find Angel’s eyes were busy scrutinizing his boots. “Angel?” Wes took a deep breath. “Please tell me you weren’t there?” the shocked question reverberated through Angel’s tired skull and he dragged his gaze up to meet stunned blue.

“I didn’t kill them, Wes. They did that,” Angel defended himself, but still had the grace to look as guilty as hell.

Wes frowned in confusion. “They?” he asked quietly. “And who exactly are ‘they’.” Angel shifted uncomfortably before saying the names out loud. For a moment Wes looked again at the newspaper, closing it and folding it neatly before dropping it onto his desk. “Drusilla. Yes, I can see a remote chance that one of your… family may have decided to show her face, but Darla?” Wes chuckled, but the vampire noted the total lack of humor.

“Darla.” Angel nodded, his expression remaining closed.

Wes pursed his lips then spoke, almost as if he were thinking aloud. “First, you telling Cordelia that Darla was back, as human, was… extremely difficult for us to believe.” He lifted narrowed eyes and captured Angel’s wary ones confirming that Cordelia telephoned with a concern that he was becoming delusional and violent. “But now your resurrected sire is apparently re-fanged and helped kill almost an entire division of Wolfram & Hart. Come on, Angel, tell me, how can you expect us to not think you are having some kind of-of breakdown?” he asked almost pleadingly.

“Wolfram & Hart… remember Vocah, Wes?” he asked abruptly, then his mouth quirked bitterly. “I doubt you’ve forgotten. That ceremony was to invoke something.” Wes nodded slowly and leaned back in his chair.

“So you’re saying that they brought back a human Darla?” He inwardly mused for a moment then asked; “But now you’re saying she is a soulless vampire.” Wes stated rather than asked, but Angel nodded in confirmation, leaning forward and pressing his hands flat on the desk between them, his dark eyes tinged with a hint of wildness that had Wes pressing a little deeper into his seat.

“Exactly! Dru turned her. She asked me but I refused.” He grunted angrily and straightened up. “She took great pleasure in telling me last night.” Lack of sleep was making him loose-lipped and it seemed to Wes that he was unaware of how incoherent he sounded.

“She asked you?. So you’ve seen her previous to this.” He indicated the newspaper. Angel shook his head, abruptly realizing he was saying too much.

“That doesn’t matter, now,” he growled with irritation. “What does matter is they are in L.A.”

Wes stared at the now pacing vampire. How on earth had he missed all this? Things were dreadful, he couldn’t deny, but he’d hoped upon hope that it was an unpleasant phase that would soon pass.

When he’d last spoken to Cordelia, she’d mentioned Angel’s last visit, especially his ramblings about a human Darla. Wes had inwardly agreed with her blunt comment that the vampire was becoming delusional. Now he was totally at a loss. Angel was correct. The whole reason for Vocah’s attack was for the scroll of Aberjan, which held the invocation spell required.

Wes couldn’t dispute that, but why Darla? And why in human form in the first place? He also had to find out how this involved Angel. But it brought up too many questions that would need time to find answers, and right now, he needed to concentrate on the massacre at hand.

“You say you didn’t kill them, but I have to beg to differ, Angel. You did not deny being there, which is what I asked,” Wes paused and reached for the paper, leaving it folded but tapped it with a finger. “You didn’t help, and in my eyes is that any less heinous?”

Coming to an abrupt halt, Angel approached the desk in short angry strides. He snarled, “Darla and Dru are none of your business,” causing Wes to shrink into his chair and clutch the paper to his chest. The conflict in Wes’ eyes forced Angel to realize he wasn’t going to back down over something so serious. Abruptly, he added, “I have my reasons.”

“But isn’t it ‘our’ business too?” Wes asked nervously no matter what twisted logic Angel had come up with to justify his lack of action. “There is a risk to everyone, including your friends, with two such notoriously vicious vampires causing God knows how many more unnecessary deaths and suffering. Angelus was the only one that surpassed their reign of terror.”

His unneeded reminder rang in Angel’s head, and the rage bled out of him rapidly. “I’ll deal with it, just back off.” He finally replied. Wes stared at him for a long moment before reluctantly nodding.

“Very well, we’ll continue to concentrate on the helpless in the visions.” This jolted Angel. With so much going on, although never forgetting his seer, he’d given no thought of the mission fought for him.

He looked, really looked at Wes, and only now noticed the signs of sleepless nights, and bruises that hadn’t even begun to fade on his face. Although Angel himself suffered from lack of sleep, he could still function almost fully, and lately hadn’t been facing all kinds of demons, but Wes, Gunn and Cordy had, and they were also human.

That last thought brought to his mind Cordy’s threat. “I hope by that you mean Cordy having visions, with you and Gunn fighting them?” Wes cringed in his seat at the ring of amber that abruptly flared in the vampire’s eyes as he waited tensely for his reply.

“Of-of course, Angel. What on earth do you take us for?” he lied through his teeth even as he inwardly answered his own question: cowards who can’t say no to a woman with a tongue like a scimitar. He gulped in relief when the amber faded along with the threatening vibes.

Appeased, Angel’s tone softened. “Good. Don’t let her try to bully you into going.” Wes nodded with a smile he hoped showed Angel they could manage to do that. “I should have said something before now, but thanks— to both of you.”

Angel lifted a hand to stay Wes’ automatic protestations, adding, “I will put them both in the ground if it comes to it.”

Wes instantly frowned. “Angel, I know you have a certain… history with them, but surely the death and destruction they already caused is reason enough to rid the planet of them?” Angel’s dark eyes flickered for a second before clearing and meeting Wes’.

“You’re right,” he finally admitted, then his attention was caught by the discrete way Wes unexpectedly checked his watch with a frown before his brow smoothed and he relaxed. “Am I keeping you from something?” He asked, a little irritated at the thought that Wes would consider anything more important than what was happening right now.

Automatically answering, Wes started to explain, “Yes, actually, I have several errands to run before heading home. I’m expecting C—,” only to realize what he was saying and rapidly recovering with a cough, “nothing really, just a quiet night of relaxation. I just popped in here to check on y—things and then caught sight of the newspaper headlines.”

He glanced down, clearing his throat and checked his watch again blindly, hoping the vampire standing in front of him hadn’t noticed the slip. Cordelia wasn’t alone in wanting to keep jaunts away from her apartment at night to herself, and now, armed with this new, disastrous turn of events, Wes realized it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more prudent in future.

Mainly to keep Cordelia out of the firing line as she adamantly insisted upon no further contact with Angel. Things were dangerous enough with Darla and Drusilla in town. There was no need to distract Angel from his drive to purge human society of the two vampires by mentioning Cordelia.

“So, Angel, is there anything else I should know about?” he asked, relieved to find that the vampire hadn’t seemed to notice his faux pas. In fact, during the time that Wes was trying to figure out how to meet up with Cordelia at his flat without drawing suspicion, Angel had disappeared into his office and returned holding a manila file.

Wes nodded approvingly, “You’ve been keeping a record of events, I see,” only to frown when he received a negative headshake.

“No. This is something I was working on before…” Angel paused and then held out the file. “I want you to take a look at it now.” Wes’s brows lifted in curiosity.

“I assume it’s important if you feel it needs to be dealt with now,” he stated thoughtfully as he reached for the file, placing it on his desk and opening it out to find a sheaf of formal looking letters, and notes in Angel’s handwriting. He frowned and sifted through them, the furrow deepening when briefly skimming one particular page.

After carefully rereading it he lifted his head to stare at the vampire with surprised eyes. “Angel, this is a copy of your curse,” he waved the printed-paper between them, adding, “but it I find the title heading it somewhat mystifying: ‘Edited Kalderash version’?” Wes shook his head in confusion. “I had always assumed the spell used to curse you originated from the Kalderash, so this wording seems rather odd.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought” Angel nodded slowly, looming over the desk to shuffle through the papers and pull out a letter. “But I got this in the mail about a month ago, along with the Kalderash copy.” He held out the letter to Wes who took it and then propped his hip against the desk as he explained.

“Apparently, the gypsies were not the spell’s creators. Their ancestors came across it centuries before and—”

“Tailored it to their specific needs,” Wes cut in, his voice rising in building excitement.” Hardly unable to contain himself, Wes grinned in dawning comprehension as he came to the end of the lengthy letter. “Angel, it is imperative we obtain this- this scroll, um,” he glanced again at the letterhead. “Mister Brayess…hmm, his name actually rings a bell.” He squinted his eyes attempting recall what he’d read or heard, then his face lit up.

“Mister Brayess is a noted figure known by the Watchers Council. A renowned magus,” he revealed, his voice dripping in hushed awe. “The council have used his services on many occasions. One time in particular…” Wes jolted out of his reminisces when he suddenly became aware of Angel’s impatient gaze, and glanced at the letter again. “But that’s another story.” He cleared his throat and an excited gleam lit his pale blue eyes.

“Angel, you do realize the significance of such a find?” Wes’ body twitched with anticipation, causing a faint smile to touch the vampire’s pale mouth. Adding a soft tut-tut, he said, “Heaven knows why you didn’t show this to me before now. Performing the original incantation would nullify the Kalderash clause. It would mean a permanent end to the threat of Angelus”.

“Not exactly,” Angel reminded him, lifting a hand before Wes could protest. “I am Angelus. A fact that some people forget, or refuse to believe,” he added bitterly.

Wes was already nodding and inwardly biting his tongue. He of all people was very aware of this sometimes-unpalatable fact. “Yes, yes, of course,” he murmured almost apologetically. “The addition of your soul is what makes the difference; a-a vampire with a soul.” He corrected before continuing after a short, uncomfortable pause.

“Have you seen the scroll yet?” Angel shook his head and rose lithely to his feet, talking and pacing simultaneously.

“No,” he admitted. “Brayess was out of the country at the time, so my appointment was made to coincide with his return. But other…things distracted me. I almost forgot about it.”

Gaping, Wes stared at him in disbelief. “What could be so urgent to distract you from such a sensational revelation?”

“I’d say Darla and Drusilla’s appearance is ‘urgent’ enough, wouldn’t you?” Angel returned dryly. Almost instantly, Wes responded with what almost sounded like a ‘duh’ before nodding and sitting back into his seat.

“Yes, of course,” he replied, a little embarrassed with yet another bout of momentary forgetfulness. I must be more tired than I realized, he thought to himself “I’m afraid, In my excitement, I overlooked that for a moment. This appointment, you haven’t missed it, I hope?” he asked, getting back to the subject of the scroll.

Angel rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and halted his pacing to turn and face the other man. “No. It’s tonight.” He revealed wearily. “The guy lives in San Francisco, and won’t part with the scroll or ‘risk damaging it by using a photocopier’. I arranged to go there and transcribe a copy myself.”

“Completely understandable,” nodded Wes, thinking of the delicacy of ancient scrollwork.

Walking back over to the desk, he reached out to collect the paperwork and slide it back into the file. “I’d be away from L.A. until late tomorrow night,” he told Wes, frustration coloring his low tone, “and right now, that’s not possible.”

“No, no I suppose not.” Wes felt his excitement fading as he watched Angel tap the file with his forefinger, but suggested he might make another appointment at a later date.

That idea was cut off by Angel’s gruff response, “He always keeps the scroll with him. The curse is just one of many incantations.” Grunting in irritation, he added, “Brayess is leaving for his yearly retreat to a monastery in Tibet two days from now, which means if I don’t do it now, I won’t be able to get a copy of it until he gets back.”

“Which is when?” Wes sighed in frustrated disappointment at Angel’s low reply.

“Three months.”

“Crap, I’m late,” Cordelia muttered as she glanced at the clock hanging behind the checkout counter. The Blockbuster clerk quirked his mouth in a measure of sympathy, but failed to move any faster. Though it was just movie night at Wes’ place, punctuality was expected. Otherwise, she’d never hear the end of it.

Going out when and where she wanted was something Cordelia was resolved to do. No matter that Angel’s determination to see to her safety overlooked the fact that he was the one who scared her. He was obsessive, delusional and now starting to remind her of a Friday night horror movie.

So she’d been extra careful about sneaking out of the apartment. Angel couldn’t be everywhere at once. He was probably off chasing some blonde who reminded him of whichever ex-girlfriend he happened to be obsessing over. It confused her as to how a brunette like her got caught in the middle. Not that Cordy seriously considered what it might be like to be with him if the threat of Angelus was non-existent. Or missed the early days when it felt so good just to make him smile.

They’d built up a friendship out of the ashes of Sunnydale and it strengthened after Doyle’s sacrifice. Looking back, Cordelia couldn’t pinpoint when everything when wrong. There was a time when Angel stood behind her, when his strength was something she trusted. Now he forced her to keep glancing over her shoulder, suspicious of shadows. Being afraid ticked her off and it might have been stubbornness that made her determined to keep her movie night plans with Wesley, but she wasn’t about to let Angel turn her into a hermit.

Besides, Wesley’s apartment was just one bus transfer away. When she finally reached his door, a smug smile appeared on her face. Getting here was the big challenge, since Wes usually gave her a ride home on the moped once the buses stopped running. She knocked on the door, half expecting Wes to fling it open and demand to know why she was six and a half minutes late.

There was no response, even after Cordelia rapped a little louder, calling out to him through the door. “Guess the Grumpmeister has him working late again. No visions tonight, so it’s just nose-to-the-grindstone vamp issuing orders to his minions.”

Then she noticed the edge of a folded note poking out from beneath Wesley’s door. She stared down at it for a minute, wondering if some secret admirer was slipping her friend love letters. A grin formed along with the thought and Cordy bent down to pull the note out. “Wouldn’t want some nosey parker to come along and take it,” she said feeling completely justified.

To her surprise, the note was addressed to her in Wesley’s familiar scrawl. So much for Wes’ love life, Cordy sighed, opening the note and scanning its content. “Gone for popcorn. Make yourself at home,” she read. Frowning, Cordy read it again, scrutinizing the short message and finally rolled her eyes.

It looked like Mr. Prepared & Punctual had ruined his record. Shoving the folded note into her jeans pocket, Cordy decided it was better to wait for Wesley inside the apartment than to die of boredom by hanging out in the hallway. Besides, he said to make herself at home and that implied going in. Unfortunately, that also meant she would have to dig through the jumbled contents of her purse in search of the spare key.

When Wes had given it to her, he stressed that the key was supposed to be used in emergency purposes only. Pfft, like she’d normally want to walk into Wes’ place day or night for any other reason. It wasn’t like she’d sneak in just to put itching powder in his underwear. “Too bad I didn’t think of that before I left the hotel,” Cordy grumbled, but felt the grin spread across her face at the thought of Angel hopping around trying to reach all of the itchy spots.

Finding the key lodged between her compact and the side of her purse, Cordelia let out a triumphant, “Aha!” She let herself in and locked the doors behind her, setting the plastic Blockbuster bag on the coffee table. Everything looked so neat and clean, not like the last time when she had to wade through piles of research just to get to find the living room carpet.

Blame that on Angel, she thought sourly. He wasn’t around long enough to give Wesley anything to do, much less to cause him to get super-absorbed in finding out why some new strain of snot demon was causing sudden attacks of moo-shu flu and how there was a prophesy that involved the vampire-with-a-bad-attitude. Huh. Things were obviously so boring without her around the office, that Wes had nothing better to do than keep his apartment clean.

Impatient, Cordelia was already tired of waiting. Wondering how long Wes was going to be, she rummaged through her purse again and took out her cell phone. Punching in the number two on her speed dial, the action made Cordy realize she’d have to reprogram the number one spot. Thoughts of Angel left her with a scowl on her face. As she waited for the call to go through, she shoved her purse onto the couch, not caring that it hit harder than intended.

Then the beep-boop tones switched over to an automated recording, indicating that Wes either had his phone forwarded or turned off. “Stupid voice mail,” she muttered just before leaving him a message designed to get his butt home asap. “I’m here and I’m bored. Guess I’ll just have to rifle through your stuff while I’m waiting.”

Cordelia turned around to toss her cell phone onto the couch next to her purse and let out a short shriek of surprise as she saw Angel standing only three feet away. He closed the distance between them before the sound faded. “Wes won’t be home tonight,” his words sent shivers along her skin. “It’s just you and me.”

Chapter 8

“Wes will be here any minute,” Cordelia argued against the words that had rung so true. Angel was lying and she had the proof right there in her hand. “He just went out for popcorn, but he’ll be back. So you can take your trespassing, stalker ass out of his apartment.”

Waving the note in his face, she pointed out the message left there in black and white. Angel’s eyes flicked over it casually and she could swear that she saw a hint of a smug smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. It was that subtle. She waited for him to say something, but now he seemed to be busy eyeing her with that same slow regard. He certainly didn’t look concerned that Wes might come barreling home at any moment.

“Huh,” Cordy glanced down at the handwriting on the note. Damn, he was good. Had her fooled completely. Without this note, she might not have come inside. “You wrote this.”

Angel plucked it out of her hand, barely glancing at it before setting it aside. “Not a bad forgery, but then I had plenty of time to work on it. I’ve been waiting for you for a while.”

It never occurred to Cordy to convince Wes to cast the un-invite spell on his own apartment. Honestly, she hadn’t thought about him bothering her when she was with Wes or Gunn. Using desperate measures to get to her hadn’t even crossed her mind; though considering his reaction maybe she shouldn’t have been quite so surprised.

“I’ve got nothing to say to you,” she crossed her arms and glared back, “nothing. I don’t care what scenario your twisted brain has come up with. You’re not in control of my life. You don’t own me. So stop trying to handle me like I was your missing pet.”

Cordelia tried not to cringe at her own words as she could almost hear Wes telling her to stop provoking Angel. Every time she opened her mouth, it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull and waiting for him to charge. His eyes would cloud up with a red haze; massive shoulders and jaw tensing just before he would growl at her, issue some order or try to stare her down. Now he barely reacted, as if he let the words bounce off without even hearing a word she said.

Anger growing by leaps and bounds, Cordy tried to suppress the accompanying frisson of fear, but it ran wild right along with her imagination. Too many times lately, his grumpy & broody attitude gave way to downright scary. Acting like some psycho stalker was right up there on the list. “What have you done with Wes?”

“Nothing,” he answered with a too-casual shrug. “I simply arranged a distraction. Right now, he’s already out of town, left hours ago in quite a rush. Chances are he won’t make it back until morning.”

The idea momentarily set her reeling. “Wes knew I was coming over tonight. He would have called me if he couldn’t make it.”

“Guess not,” Angel’s amusement at her expense played subtly across his face. “There’s something so satisfying about sending a Watcher, former or otherwise, on a wild goose chase and seeing him eagerly take the bait.”

Eyeing him with suspicion, she asked, “What bait?”

Angel glowered for an instant. “Just something he couldn’t resist. I have serious doubts that it’s legitimate. Nothing’s ever that easy. Doesn’t matter, really.”

Whatever it was, Angel wasn’t forking over the information and honestly, Cordelia didn’t care as long as it didn’t put Wes in any danger. Asking about that got her a clipped reply, “He’s safe enough.”

“Better be,” Cordelia scowled at him. “What’s up with you? Sending Wes out of town, coming here…”

“It’s time we talked things out face to face,” Angel abruptly cut her off. “This ends the games, Cordy. I’ve put up with more than enough from you. No more playing hard to get. No doors, no locks, no more barriers between us.”

“Put up—,” Cordelia choked on the words as the rest of his sank in. Her escalating fear hit a raw nerve, anger swelling. Stalking over to the apartment door with the intention of flinging it open and demanding that Angel leave, she flipped the locks and tugged on the doorknob.

It opened an inch before Angel’s hand came down hard on its surface, slamming it back into place. “When we leave, it will be together.”

Staring blindly at a random paint chip, Cordelia suppressed a shudder and opted for trying to talk her way out of this situation, whatever it was. Unlike him, her emotions were all over the place, but she wasn’t foolish enough not to guess where he planned to take this confrontation. Her only hope was to keep Angel distracted long enough to figure a way out of it.

Cordelia latched on to one thought that still bothered her. “Wes wouldn’t tell you I was going to be here. How the hell did you find out?”

He crossed his arms, shirt stretching over his broad shoulders, leaning up against the door as if he was just having a casual conversation instead of using his strength to keep it shut. Boasting, “I know everything about you, all of your little habits. That includes your playtime with your pals. Tonight is movie night, right?”

“Like the video tapes weren’t a giveaway,” she huffed, not believing him for a second. Then again, the phone calls, visits and the fact that he was here seemed to confirm his stalker tactics. “Except, um, you got here before I brought them.”

The suspicion that he was exaggerating was the only thing keeping Cordy from really freaking out about the extent of his behavior. No matter how obsessed he had become, she still had a life of her own, sure that he couldn’t be everywhere. Until he commented, “You can’t make a move without me knowing it.”

Okay, so a little freaking out was probably in order. “Hah! If that was true, you’d have been there when I was helping Wes and Gunn with that demon. Y’know, the frog-faced one with the spiny things on its back.”

Cordelia waited for him to explode. Hadn’t he warned her not to go out with the guys on missions? Any second now, Angel was going to get pissed off and that would be all the proof she needed that there were still parts of her life he couldn’t touch.

Any second.

“Aren’t you mad?” she asked him a minute later when all he had done was stare back at her, his face a mask of deadly calm. Oh, yeah, he wasn’t exactly pleased, but he didn’t look like he was going to deny stalking her.

“You can’t hide anything from me,” Angel said, causing her to swallow down her lump of growing discontent. He was too calm, too casual and it irritated the hell out of her.

Her head snapped toward him as he straightened up, her hair flying around her shoulders as Cordelia’s own anger far surpassed any visible hint of emotion from him. “Guess that proves it. I won’t let you bully me into becoming a hermit. Cordelia Chase does whatever she wants.”

“We’ll deal with your defiance later. Unless you’d prefer to do it now?” Angel’s words fluttered across her skin like a soft caress despite the threat they carried. That simple question sparked a flurry of wild ideas. He hadn’t been very specific about his intentions to stop her from putting herself in danger or what might happen as a result if she rebelled against him.

Rattled by her trembling response, Cordy resorted to an eye roll and a fast, “Duh! Pfft.”

“I miss your smile,” Angel’s words startled her again, these seeming to come out of nowhere. Her down-turned mouth was nowhere near smiling right now. As far as he was concerned, there wasn’t much reason for letting him see it. “Things are so perfect between us sometimes, when you’re in my bed, but you’re here now. It’s not right, you know. Make it right, Cordy. You know you don’t hate me.”

After a long pause, she admitted almost reluctantly, “No, not that.” Hating Angel was not the issue at all considering the drivel he was spouting about being in his bed. Lots of other angry mixed up emotions, yes, definitely, but hate wasn’t one of them. “Ticked off, you bet. I don’t want you following me around like this. The only thing not right around here is your head. My life is mine and you can’t be a part of it anymore.”

Hurt and puzzlement stared back at her as if she’d just wounded him by taking away his favorite toy. Well, she didn’t exactly like it either. When she wasn’t busy avoiding him or being angry about his recent obsessiveness, Cordelia actually missed the big guy. Or at least, missed the friendship they once had together. His psycho act routinely squelched that, but she held out hope that he would snap out of it. “You’ve got me cornered, here. I admit it. You win. Just say what you came to say and then get out.”

Remembering the way Angel had pulled her onto his bed and into his arms that morning, kissing her despite the fact that he was still asleep made her realize he had been dreaming about her then. All that sleeping. Eew! He’d been fantasizing about her, and probably doing who knew what kind of pervy vampire things. Now he thought it was real.

An icky shudder tingled its way down her spine as she wondered just what those fantasies entailed to make Angel so obsessive, so determined to have her back. He was almost possessive about her. These days his demon nature was obvious, especially to her. Vamping out wasn’t necessary. Just the way he looked at her, sinfully dark and deadly serious, made her flush hotly as she admitted the idea wasn’t quite as repulsive as it should be. And that was a problem. A big, honking King Kong-sized problem.

Though Angel spoke to her without a shred of maliciousness, it was there beneath the surface waiting to break free. Plain and simple, he reminded her, “I’m not leaving.”

She didn’t bother to suggest that he let her be the one to leave. Waste of breath since Angel had already said the only way it would happen was together. “Fine. Don’t leave. Make yourself at home since you already have. This is movie night. You can even be in charge of the remote control.”

Cordelia started to move toward the coffee table where she had left the videos, hoping by some insane chance that Angel would actually go along with the idea. She took one step away from the door before he blocked her path. “I’m not here for movies, Cordelia. I want you.”

“Back at the office? I’ll have to think about it.” Not really, but it sounded good at the moment. Cordelia’s deliberate misunderstanding got her nowhere.

There was a look of such raw hunger in his eyes that her breath caught sharply in her throat. Cordelia realized she’d read it right. It wasn’t malice at all driving him to respond to her rebelliousness. If Angel was mad about it that was far from the only thing he felt. What the hell was going on in that thick skull of his right now? Wondering only left her shivering at the direction of her thoughts. Maybe it was best that she didn’t know. Guessing somehow felt a lot safer.

Under way different circumstances, Cordelia realized that she wouldn’t be angry at him for wanting her. Returning those feelings would be all too easy considering the way she felt about him to begin with. It was so hard to push aside friendship and curiosity for hatred despite his actions, especially since it seemed this was more than just Angel relying on his instincts as a vampire. Something out of his control seemed to be driving him along and she made a mental note to talk to Wes about what was really going on. Assuming he made it back to L.A. before Angel managed to do something stupid.

“Come home to me. It’s where you belong. I can keep you safe there,” Angel’s plea suggested that this crazy obsession was just about protecting her, but Cordy knew better. This was all about the part she feared most.

“No one will touch you,” he promised, only to tag on softly, “except me. Lovers belong together. You know how good it is. You need me just as much as I need you. That’s why I’m here, to prove it to you.”

It wasn’t necessary to ask how he intended to prove it. He defined seduction with every hard male line as his body moved, sinuously shifting closer, hands lifting to push against the door, blocking her in. The hard surface of the wood pressed into her back as Cordelia tried to avoid contact. Though he stood close enough that his familiar scent filled her senses, he kept a few inches between them. Teasing her with his closeness, gauging her reactions, and letting his eyes wander down her body.

His words went straight through her, spreading warm tingles of curiosity, but leaving twirling anxious butterflies behind. With a quick swipe of her tongue over her trembling lips, Cordelia reminded him, “We’re not lovers.” Her reaction to him scared her as much as he did. Angel’s sex appeal was potent enough without him really trying, much less laying it on thick. As his closeness played havoc with her senses, she let her anger win out, snorting bluntly, “You’re living in your own delusion.”

Angel trailed a fingertip from her throat, down the swell of her breast to the top button of her blouse. “Is this a delusion? Feels real to me.”

She couldn’t suppress the pleasurable shudder that light touch evoked, but Cordy knew she couldn’t let him take this any further. Whatever Angel had going on in his head, she wanted no part in making it a reality. Knocking his hand away as it lingered along the valley of her cleavage toying with the small button, her unease grew by leaps and bounds.

Dealing with broody, grumpy, pissed off Angel was oh, so different than trying to manage this guy. The last thing she needed was to get tongue-tied over the fact that Psycho Vamp knew how to make her tingle. She’d handled all kinds of crap back in high school from groping guys who were more hormones than brains, but Cordy wasn’t sure it prepared her to deal with this.

“Shouldn’t you be chasing down blondes?” Her acerbic question only earned her a soft caress as Angel’s hand slid up to stroke her cheek before fingering through her hair.

“Not tonight,” Angel answered as his other hand came down between them. “No need to be jealous. You’re the only one that matters. As long as we’re together, you’ll be safe.”

Cordelia licked her lips again not realizing it would draw his attention, and then captured her bottom lip between her teeth for an instant before telling him, “Stop being so melodramatic. Can’t you ‘protect’ me from the other side of the room?”

Pushing with both hands just above his waist was like trying to move a rock wall. He didn’t even seem to notice, too busy brushing his thumb across her lip, though she fixed that fast enough by opening her mouth to chomp on it. Too bad for fast reflexes. Angel gave her a little growl and grabbed her by the hair at the nape of her neck, holding her in place as his mouth moved in to claim hers.

With a jerk, she braced herself for a kiss that devoured. Cordy slammed her eyes shut and told herself not to respond. What came was something unexpected, so soft and gentle in its brevity that it drew a gasp of surprise from her throat, her lips parting. Her eyelids fluttered open to find him watching expectantly, those brown eyes filled with emotions she’d never seen before.

Crap, it wasn’t fair. Getting sucked into his delusions wasn’t an option. She had to put a stop to this. Angel had conveniently forgotten all the reasons why wanting, touching and taking were bad, bad things for everyone.

“Back off,” Cordelia demanded, glancing down at her blouse and finding that he’d managed to unbutton it all the way down to the point where it tucked into her jeans. Shaking with adrenalin, a combination of anger and fear, she tried to push the tiny buttons back into place. Her own inept fumbling made her stop. Deciding to forget it, she dropped her hands to her side. “I want you out of here. This is Wesley’s place. You need to get a grip.”

A little tug from his right hand reminded her, “I’ve already got one.” Smirking playfully before his head blocked out the light, Angel kissed her again. He took her mouth, marking his territory with a series of soft caresses, tiny nips and the gentle swipe of the tip of his tongue against the seam of her lips.

“Stop,” her lips brushed his as she said it. Angel’s head snapped back, though he didn’t move to release her. Squirming in his arms, Cordy pushed with her hands and arms until he gave her a little space. “Whatever this is, it can’t happen. You know that.”

“Don’t say that,” he rubbed his forehead lightly along hers. “We deserve to have some happiness.”

Cordelia huffed, “I deserve a hell of a lot of happiness. But it won’t happen like this. We can’t do this.”

“What are we doing?” Angel teased as he pushed aside the gaping collar of her blouse, exposing the tempting curve of her collarbone. His head dipped, lips moving across her heated skin, the sound of her ragged breathing in his ear.

“Sex,” she blurted it out. “We can’t have sex. You’re cursed. Too much happiness and it’s hello Angelus.”

As his tongue found a ticklish spot, Cordy shrieked and her hand slapped at his head in automatic reaction. Her squirming intensified, forcing Angel to shift closer and to tug her hands back down to his chest. The reminder didn’t faze him at all. “Forget the curse,” he purred the words into her ear, nipping at her earlobe on his way down to pay homage to her throat.

Realizing that Angel was only half there if he thought the curse was something she’d forget about, Cordelia tugged at his hair. “Are you looking to get staked?”

“I won’t bite you tonight,” he promised in a way that made it sound like he was reminding himself not to do it. When he lifted his head to look down at her, Cordy felt almost certain he thought he’d done it before.

Wide-eyed, she glanced in the direction of the couch where the contents of her purse included a stake and a small perfume spritzer of holy water. The thought of actually using them on Angel was suddenly harder than Cordelia ever thought it would be. If he was Angelus…pfft! Easy decision, but he wasn’t soulless, just sick in the head, caught up in his delusions.

Why did it take going crazy to make him want her? That thought really irritated her. Not that she wanted him before, either. That was beside the point, Cordelia counseled herself. She didn’t know it then. He was supposed to say something first and then she would have told him…just what she was telling him now.

“C.U.R.S.E,” she spelt it out for him while he let his lazy gaze settle on the curve of her mouth. “Get it through that head of yours.”

Whatever was going through Angel’s head, he wasn’t really listening. This was all just a game to him, one he seemed to think she was playing. Because he actually let out a grunt of disbelief at her insistence that he posed a threat. Somehow he’d forgotten about the real danger this living fantasy entailed. Muttering, “You never talk this much,” Angel stopped her mouth beneath the soft pressure of his own.

They tussled against the door, rolling one way and then the other. Though Cordy was trying to get out of his clutches, she knew that Angel was just toying with her. If he wanted to stop her, he’d have her flush against the door with her arms pinned over her head. Every time they changed positions, he kissed her again. No longer soft and teasing, but masterful kisses that left her feeling hot and flushed, gooey inside and weak in the knees.

Between kisses, he assured her there was no need to fear him, though the way he looked at her as he said that word made Cordy realize he didn’t mind the fear at all. “It won’t happen,” Angel muttered as his lips took hers, drawing unbidden mewls from the back of her throat. “For us, it’s not a problem. Never has been. You know that.”

“What! I know squat!” Curse or no curse, just the implication that bliss wouldn’t be an issue caused her already volatile temper to swell. And that wasn’t the only thing, she noticed as his hand swept down to her bottom, pulling her into him. “Why the hell not? You’re feeling pretty damn happy already, if you ask me.”

There was no pretending that bulge pressing against her belly was anything else. She squirmed again, trying to move away, but Angel moaned a deep sound of pleasure at the friction she created. The shuttered gasp she made followed her own involuntary reaction as her hips moved to meet his forward thrust.

“It’s not the sex,” Angel seemed to lose focus for a second, lifting her just a little higher onto her toes, his hand still cupping her ass. “It’s how I feel about you.”

Already unbalanced, she gripped his shoulders, kicking his shin hard, forcing him to release her. Cordelia let out a triumphant, “Hah!” at his painful grunt and at achieving momentary freedom. “You son of a bitch! Don’t kiss me and say I can’t make you happy.”

She pushed past him while he was distracted, only to feel his hand clamp around her wrist just seconds later. Spun around to face him, she was pulled close again, but her wrist released. Angel was inches away, staring down intently. “That’s just it. Except for now, when your nasty little tongue gets into gear, you’re my perfect happiness all in one beautiful package. We’ve already found it together so many times. What makes you think we can’t do it again?”

“Cut the crap. Guh! That’s your delusions talking,” Cordy said, rattled by his tenacious hold on the idea that they were already lovers. “It’s all in your head. I’ve got no idea what I did to make it to the top of your fantasy list, but I don’t want you. Comprende?”

“Liar,” his short retort accompanied a smug gleam and Cordelia knew he wasn’t completely wrong. Obviously, he was deranged enough not to know reality from his delusions, but that wasn’t what scared her the most. He brought that to light with pinpoint accuracy, “That’s not what you felt the other night when you were tucked away in your bed wearing my shirt, moaning my name in your sleep.”

Knowing that he’d been watching her sleep wasn’t half as disturbing as thinking of what he’d seen when she woke up. Hot color rushed into her cheeks as Cordy remembered giving in to her own aching needs, her fingertips dipping between her thighs to rub along slick and sensitive flesh. It hadn’t been Keanu or Brad or Jude filling her head, but Angel.

So maybe Angel wasn’t the only one with issues. He scared the hell out of her lately, but Cordelia scared herself even more. She couldn’t admit that truth to him, because it would only feed into his obsessions. He was all soft seductiveness at the moment. No matter what excuses Angel made up in his fantasies, Cordelia knew the threat of his curse was all too real.

The front door was now a couple of yards behind them. If it had only been inches, that would make no difference. Despite all her struggles, Angel thought this was all part of some seductive game on her part. Short of kneeing him in the groin she was running out of options. Pursuit was an innate response for a vampire. He’d simply break down the bathroom door if she managed to make it that far. Nor did she particularly want to give him the thrill of chasing her around the couch or the kitchen table.

Making a stand right here was the only thing she could do, but the unexpectancy of his gentle touches and restrained strength made it hard to fight him. Clinging to her anger was the only way to make sense of this, because if she gave into those tempting kisses, she’d be lost and then so would he. “You know I’ll hate you for this.”

“No you won’t,” he whispered with complete certainty. Then Angel reached down to the hem of his sweater, peeling it over his head, letting it fall from his fingers to puddle on the floor.

It was far from the first time that she had seen him this way. Despite her fear of Angelus, she was more afraid of her involuntary reaction to Angel. Desire sparked inside her, leaving her tingling with want. Cordelia tried to look through jaded eyes, remembering that torso riddled with bullet holes, bruises and deep gashes.

Smooth, pale skin stretched tight over his muscles, scar-free and beautiful. Those broad shoulders, so powerful, along with the sculpted strength of his arms drew her gaze. Until it dropped to his chest with its thickly muscled pecs and the small, brown nipples that for some reason left her mouth watering. The urge to reach out and rub them with her fingers surprised her and Cordelia gulped, wiping her hands on her jeans.

The ladder of his ribs trailed down to his taut waist where his skin disappeared beneath the leather belt and black pants. His dark clothes did nothing to hide his arousal and Cordy’s eyes suddenly snapped back to his face, wide and staring. Hooboy! Talk about fantasy material. This was so not what she needed right now. A part of her recognized that Angel might actually have a chance of seducing her. No matter that the thought of Angelus was enough to play tug of war with those forbidden desires.

One last time, Cordelia tried to make him see reason, “This isn’t a game and I’m not playing with you. Let me go before it’s too late. This isn’t the way it should happen between us.”

“Let me handle what happens,” Angel stepped closer whispering into her ear just what he wanted, but she refused to let her tears fall.

No, Cordy figured he had gone to too much trouble to corner her here in Wesley’s apartment. Now her only concern was making it out alive. Because if Angel truly made love to her as he intended, soft seduction his routine, she had no doubt the curse would kick in. No matter how mixed up things were between them now, the feelings that existed were still real, at least on her part. At least they used to be, back when she thought of him as her best friend.

There was only one thing to do at a time like this, Cordelia realized resolutely as he moved to kiss her again: give him a taste of reality. Maybe, just maybe, he’d come to his senses. To Angel’s surprise, she reached up, grabbed him by the ears and kissed him roughly.

All of her anger went into that kiss and she was determined to make him see that she wasn’t going to give in. Breaking it off, she pushed hard at his naked chest and demanded, “Is that what you want, dammit?”

All she got was confusion and him muttering comparisons to his dream girl again. “That’s not what I planned for tonight, but then you know I love it when you’re playful. Take this off,” he flicked his fingers over the loose collar of her blouse. “It’s blocking the view.”

Cordelia grabbed the loose sides of her shirt, clutching it closed over her exposed cleavage and apricot silk bra. Playful? He had to be kidding. Clearly not, she gulped, noting his anticipatory daze. Angel was testing her compliance, expecting her to follow along with his every whim like his Bimbo Cordy did in his dreams. Turning around, she peeked over her shoulder watching him watch her as if he expected her to begin a sexy striptease.

Somehow, she managed to make her fingers follow instructions. When she turned back around, every button was in its proper place and closed right up to her neck. Letting her anger roll around in her mouth, she smirked obstinately, “The view is none of your business.”

Before the last word died on her breath, Angel ripped the blouse away, sending buttons popping and curling the material down over her shoulders to hold her in place. “Are you sure you want it a little rough this time? Sounds fun; mostly for me.” Anger burning in his eyes over her disobedience cleared almost instantly. What was left was just a naughty sparkle that played havoc with her imagination. His voice gentled again with a warning, “Don’t provoke me again unless you’re ready for it.”

She watched numbly as his anger faded away entirely and he slipped the ruined top from her arms to toss it away, smoothing his hands up and down the area where the pulled material left red marks. When his gaze dropped down to the swell of her breasts, Cordy knew he was back to thinking romantic nonsense. His curled knuckles skirted the edge of her bra, teasing her skin, and then moved to bump across the traitorous peak of one nipple.

A soft sound escaped at the sensations he created. Cordelia closed her eyes for an instant, arching her back in search of his touch as it left her. Then he reached down to grasp her wrists and her eyes snapped open again. As Angel pressed her palms to his chest, she jerked her hands away as if scalded. “Forget it. I’m not touching you.”

“You kissed me a minute ago,” he reminded her that her logic was a little twisted. But he didn’t give her time to argue about it. Talking was far overrated, anyway.

“I liked that blouse,” Cordelia complained just before he smothered her words by covering her mouth with his own. Hungry, eating kisses followed, no longer softly teasing.

She backed away and he followed, keeping their bodies in check with the gentle lead of his hand. Feeling the edge of a doorframe against her back, she glanced quickly over her shoulder and saw the bed’s comforter down-turned and in order, making it clear he’d intended this from the start. Sneering, Cordelia quipped, “I supposed you managed fresh sheets, too.”

Angel sounded out a little growl of frustration, touching her jaw with his fingertips and turning her face back toward him. She batted his hand away. “It’s not even me you want,” her contempt failed to distract him as if he was already lost in his dreams.

Capturing her wrist, he raised it to his mouth, pressing a kiss into the center of her palm. Then Angel moved her hand to his chest again and began lowering it down the length of his torso, pressing her palm against his skin until it moved over his belt and the soft material of his pants. Cordelia gasped his name as he pushed her hand into contact with his erection.

“Tell me again I don’t want you,” Angel let out a low sound as he led her touch down the length of him, curling her fingers under his balls for an instant before she shook her hand out of his loosening grasp.

Stubbornly, she pushed past him into the room, the only direction he would allow her to go, and told him again that it was the fantasy he really wanted, not her. A low grunt was the only reply, acknowledgement, denial and disbelief all in one single incoherent syllable. Cordelia knew she wasn’t going to get anywhere and now his wandering hands were making it hard to think about the fact that she didn’t want him, either.

He cradled her closer, hands along her shoulder blades, deftly unfastening the hooks of her bra, but making no move to remove it just yet. Simply mapping out the smooth contours of her back as her head lolled back in response to the random smooches along her throat and the underside of her jaw. From behind, his hands moved outward, curving around to her ribs, his thumbs broaching the loose barrier of her bra to edge along the curve of her breasts.

Cordelia shuddered at the intense jolt of pleasure that shot straight through her. Reaching out, she held onto his waist as he bent her low, his mouth targeting the tempting shadows of her cleavage. Tingles spread across her skin like a spider’s web as his tongue dipped in and out just to taste her there.

“Oh,” Cordelia’s own moan startled her out of the hazy pleasure that momentarily grabbed her. Her eyes popped open to see the ceiling from her strange viewpoint, but it allowed her to focus on the situation rather than what Angel was doing with his mouth. Geez, he hadn’t even taken off her bra and she was panting for more.

“Stop that.” Panicking, she squirmed and elbowed her way out of his grasp. Only Angel wasn’t expecting it and Cordy fell out of his arms to the floor. They stared at each other for a moment, gaping in reaction. The shocked expression on his face nearly made her giggle until she recalled that none of this was funny. Only it was in a twisted kind of way.

Before all of this happened, if anyone had warned her that one day Angel would be making good on plans to seduce her, she would have laughed until she made herself sick with it. This wasn’t funny at all. Whatever snapped inside Angel to make him so psycho had also focused all of his energy and desires on her. Part of her liked the attention. She admitted that much to herself, but that wasn’t any excuse for letting herself give into it considering what would happen.

The dark, demonic side of him that scared her edged ever closer to the surface. Accepting that it existed was one thing, but having it focused on her was quite another. Running would only let loose his temper. Giving in would risk allowing Angel a moment of bliss. Now looking up at him from her sprawled position on the carpeted floor, Cordelia knew the only way to get out of this with Angel’s soul intact would be to keep him on the edge. Dread pooled in the pit of her stomach and she took one final peek toward the living room. There was no way out of this.

“Can’t you take a hint,” Cordelia glared heatedly. “I don’t want your kisses.”

He crouched down next to her, hand reaching out to grasp her face even though she was already looking his way. It gave him control, but he couldn’t squelch the irate flare in her eyes. Angel’s mouth crashed down on hers, almost bruising in intensity at first, only to soften at the first frightened sound that escaped from her throat. His mouth tugged at her lower lip, pulling it between his before his tongue darted out almost teasingly, touching hers and then sliding along.

Cordelia clutched his shoulders as they kissed, trying desperately to fight the temptation to give in. Her fingers curled into the short strands of his hair, planning to rip it out by the roots if it would put an end to their kiss. But her fingers loosened, and her mouth opened to his and she was just as greedy about tasting him. They were both on their knees, kissing frantically when she felt him dip two fingers into the waistband of her jeans. A jolt of energy shocked her into reacting as he thumbed open the metal button.

Dragging her mouth from his, she opened it over his jaw, clamping down as hard as she could before he forced her away. Angel was on his feet in an instant, “You bitch!”

She wiped the blood away from her mouth, feeling rather pleased with herself that he’d actually called her a bitch. “That’s right. If you think I’m gonna just lay back and take it nicely, you’ve been dreaming about the wrong woman.”

When his hand dropped down from his jaw, she saw the angry red mark she’d left on his skin. She was so focused on his face that Cordy almost missed his fingers closing in until they trailed along the curve of her face. His thumb swept up a tiny drop she’d missed, spreading it across her bottom lip as his gaze lingered there.

“This is the second time you’ve bitten me,” Angel reminded her, a thick, sensual thread lacing his voice. “Next time, just go for the throat.”

Scooping her up into his arms while Cordelia stared stunned that he was more turned on than angry, Angel carried her toward the bed. “That was me being pissed off, not foreplay.”

Angel dumped her onto the bed, her bra straps sliding down, apricot silk clinging precariously as she bounced to a halt. “Is there a difference?” he asked with a twist of his mouth and then started to remove the rest of his clothes.

Grabbing a pillow, Cordy clutched it to her chest, clamping her eyes shut as she decided not to look. Considering her reaction to his bare chest, it might not be a good idea to look at anything else. The metallic chink of his belt hit the floor and she quickly realized that her imagination filled in quite a few blanks despite her refusal to watch. Two solid thunks, one right after the other, had to be his shoes. Then the unmistakable rip of the zipper in his pants followed and the soft whisper of material sliding across skin.

For a moment after that all Cordy could hear was her heart pounding in her ears. There had to be a way to handle this. Buck nekkid Angel wasn’t so different from anyone else. She’d just cut him down to size by making a snide comment. Only she opened her eyes before saying it and the words just got trapped in her throat as they came out. That brief sensation beneath her hand as he’d forced her to touch him told only half the story.

“Oh, crap!” Cordelia trembled in reaction, sensing she was in serious trouble. Just the sight of him made her clench in unwanted reaction, hot need curling deep in her belly leaving her aching, moisture gathering between her thighs.

Unfettered by clothing, his bulky mass was streamlined. Pale skin stretched over sinewed muscle. Her gaze followed his taut waist, darted into the tempting dip of his navel and then traveled leisurely down a thin line of hair leading to a dark thatch nestled around the jutting flesh below. A hot flush suffused her cheeks as Cordelia wondered how it would feel in her hand.

Nervously, she darted her tongue across her lips leaving an unintentional shine. It captured Angel’s attention as he moved closer with leonine grace. The thought of him covering her body with his, using his bulk to pin her to the bed, and taking her, wasn’t repulsive at all. Only he wanted a fantasy that she couldn’t give him. Cordy wanted more than that, but mostly, she wanted to live to see the dawn.

Anger was her only weapon against his perfect happiness, only she was fighting her own arousal, too. Pulling herself to her knees, Cordy held the pillow to her breasts, her bra stuck between them. Then grabbing hold with both hands, she bashed him with the pillow. “Leave,” she demanded, hitting him again, “me,” and aimed for a third try, “alone.”

He snatched it from her hand, knocked her off balance and had her on her back all within the space of a few seconds. Cordelia’s hair splayed out in silken waves across the sheets, her arms arced above her as Angel loomed overhead. He held the pillow aloft as if considering whether to keep playing, but then tossed it back toward the headboard. Reaching down, he tucked a finger beneath her bra and tugged it away.

Cordelia yelped, her hands flying up to cover her exposed breasts. They tingled at the added attention, the velvet tips pointing their erect posture into her palms. It might seem silly considering where Cordy knew this was headed, but Angel had never seen her this way before. Not for real. She met his amused gaze, shifting as he moved along side.

Silence settled between them. Cordy waited for him to leap on top of her, pry her hands away and have at it. But he simply sat back, tight buttocks resting on his heels, knees spread without regard for the view he provided. She jerked as Angel dropped his hand to her thigh, following the seam of her jeans downward. Then he tugged off her shoe, followed by the other.

Peeling off one sock, Angel rubbed his thumb along the tiny pulse behind her ankle. The other sock was half off when Cordy maneuvered her leg, kicking out with her foot and connecting mid-chest. Caught unbalanced, Angel fell backward, toppling over, landing on the carpeted floor with a heavy thunk and a loud curse.

Cordy was on her knees, sock dragging behind her, hands still cupped over both breasts and peering cautiously over the edge of the bed when Angel bounded to his feet. Jaw clenched, he yanked her off the bed to stand beside him. “What the hell was that for?”

“Guess I gotcha,” Cordelia shrugged. “You’re getting slow. Has to be that cellulite I saw when your ass was flying over your head.”

“Maybe you should point it out,” Angel suggested smoothly. “Only your hands seem to be rather full at the moment. Overflowing, in fact.”

Cordy noted the way his eyes lingered along her half-hidden curves. A deep chuckle sounded from Angel, startling her, the sound unsettling in its rarity. So much for keeping him angry and on the edge. All she seemed to be doing was stimulating his funny bone, amongst other things.

Angel took the opportunity to lean in, kissing her cheek and nuzzling his face against hers. “You’ve forgotten one thing,” he purred the words into her ear. “Now I can do this.”

With a swift tug on her zipper, his hands slid over bare hips, pushing both jeans and panties into a pile around her feet. Angel swallowed her complaints with his mouth, trapping her hands between them as he pulled her into his arms. With her feet caught up in her clothing while stubbornly continuing to cover her breasts, she couldn’t move.

But he could. Angel captured her head in both hands, his mouth devouring hers. Eking out responses that Cordelia didn’t know she had in her. Softness abating, intermixed with something needier, demanding she give into it. Those strong hands stroked her finding places that made her arch into him and mewl softly for more.

Cordelia looped her arms around his neck, kissing Angel back with an intensity that rivaled her fear. Forgetting all about her nudity, she moaned at the sensation of her breasts pressing against him. She could feel herself giving into it, wanting those firm strokes and tender caresses. Needing his hands on her. Feeling him hard and ready, pressing against her bare belly; just wanting to touch him as he was touching her.

They couldn’t do it like this, Cordelia snapped back from the edge of losing all control, remembering suddenly where all that touching and kissing would lead, but it was already happening. All this felt too damn good. He had a talent for kissing away all resistance. Any longer and she’d be lost, just like their friendship was lost.

“Just do it now,” her urgency was fed by fear. Yes, now. Get it over with before she caved in completely and started saying things she’d regret. Things that might be dangerous for them both. Cordy still had a few verbal reserves left and hoped she had enough resilience to hang on.

“Don’t be so impatient,” Angel murmured against her mouth as he lifted her back to the bed. He discarded her jeans and clinging sock before settling down in the cradle of her thighs, his weight shifting above her. “I want to see you.”

“You’ve seen enough,” she bellowed back. “Sheesh! Any other guy on the planet would be finished by now.”

Angel didn’t answer. He busily occupied his mouth by scattering kisses across her skin. Random spots, different sensations. Teasing her with his touch. Fingertips barely grazing her breasts and wandering off to the plane of her belly, the curve of her hip, the skin along her inner thigh.

The flat of her palms smoothed along the sinewed muscles of his back, fingernails curling over the dark tattoo that marked him. A fine sheen broke out across her skin as Cordelia writhed to the mounting pleasure Angel created. The grinding force of his hips pressing his hard length against her drove them both wild.

He cupped her breasts, his calloused fingers roving over them. A growl rumbled at the back of his throat as he plumped them together, looking as giddy as a two year old with a new toy. Cordy’s hands hovered, her head spinning as he dipped his tongue between them again, the wet sensation sliding along her skin. A pinch followed, her nipples captured and released. Tongue fluttering across one before his open mouth closed over the full curve of the other breast, gently biting.

Cordelia never imagined such sensations. This was too much. It had to stop. She was so close to telling him how good it felt, that she wanted more. It was already hard to keep still, impossible really. Her thighs clutched his hips, legs shifting anxiously along the length of his.

“Dammit, Angel,” she gritted her teeth, forcing herself to yank him away from her sensitive breasts. Those deep brown eyes were filled up with too many emotions. Lust was far from the only feeling gleaming in their eternal depths. Desperate to make him end this, to forget those romantic delusions running through his head, she pushed at his face, making him lift his upper body. “Get it over with. I’m the victim, here, not your girlfriend.”

Angel buried his face against her belly, shaking his head in denial as if filtering out the words he didn’t want to hear. She had her hand on the nape of his neck, fingers unconsciously soothing. “Please listen to me, Angel, please.”

Whatever plea he heard, it wasn’t the one intended. His hands gripped her hips as he started to kiss his way across the slight curve of her belly. When Angel flicked his tongue into her navel, Cordelia curled into it, the sensation connecting to the empty ache inside her. He moved her further up the bed, pushing her thighs up and open, sending her a sharp look when Cordelia started to protest.

She did anyway. Knowing what he intended, Cordy panicked, her heart racing in response. It was far too intimate. Something lovers did. Not to mention the fact that there was little hope of not enjoying it, because she had a feeling he knew what he was doing. Just his hands massaging her inner thighs, his mouth coming down and dropping a kiss so close to where she wanted it was enough to make her squirm in need.

“Go ahead,” she dared him, trying anything to keep this from being about them. Letting her own feelings get tangled up in this would be devastating, even if she managed to keep him from losing his soul. He wanted his fantasy and someday might actually come to his senses. She didn’t want to be stuck with feelings that weren’t returned. “It won’t be your name I’ll be screaming.”

That caught his attention. He bit down on her thigh, just hard enough for her to yelp out his name. “You were saying?”

“Bastard!” Cordy swatted at his head and flopped back on the bed, her fingertips slithering down to rub at the sore spot only to hold on when the flat of his tongue stroked along her slick folds. Her hips jerked at that first sensation, her breath a gasp on the air.

Pushing with her feet, she scrambled back on the bed until she bumped into the headboard. “Dammit, I don’t want you making love to me. Either stop now or just give it to me.”

Angel rose up to his knees, his body tense, his sex still thick and hard. It bobbed heavily with his movement as if calling her attention. She ached inside, wet with want despite herself. It angered her that she couldn’t resist him, blaming Angel’s licentious history because she didn’t want to admit there might be other reasons.

“What is it, Cordelia?” All gentility vanished suddenly from his voice, replaced by an earthy ruthlessness that crawled along her skin. “You should have told me you wanted to be fucked. The front door would have been good enough for that.”

The crudity of that word ripped at her heart. He would never say that to her. Only he did. She’d driven him to it and the fact should have pleased her. That was her goal, after all. Make him angry. Keep him on the edge. A tear escaped, clinging to her eyelashes before falling down to her cheek.

“Too late for tears,” Angel took hold of her legs, pulling her closer. Stroking his length, catching her gaze there, he growled, “This is what you want, isn’t it? I’m going to give it to you, Cordy. Just tell me one more time.”

“Yes, yes, just take what you want,” she cried out, yielding nothing.

Those words jarred a memory and Angel muttered, “Darla said to—.” He broke off staring at Cordelia with a look of fear, but it couldn’t squelch his lust. That burned even hotter as his dreams came flooding back.

The sound of Darla’s name on his lips lit a fire inside Cordelia. “I don’t care what you think that dead bitch told you. She doesn’t exist.” Launching herself at Angel, she pummeled his chest until he took her wrists and twisted her arms behind her back, holding her steady. “It’s all an illusion, a dream, you psychotic bastard.”

Angel switched holds so that he freed up one hand. He trailed his fingers along the outline of her body where it pressed tightly to his from thigh to chest and then skipped up to tangle in her hair, tightly fisting it in his grasp. “Darla is a dead bitch,” he rasped along her throat before nibbling at the cord of her neck. “But she’s as real as you.”

With his teeth at her throat, Cordelia stopped squirming, freezing into position. The idea had been to keep him on the edge, not plummet over it. “Okay, okay, I believe you.”

“Liar,” he said, lapping his tongue over the little red marks on her skin. Cordelia moaned wantonly against his mouth as his wolfish kiss demanded her response. Angel released her wrists, moving his hand along the firm curves of her bottom, squeezing one cheek before sliding up her back. “I can taste your fear, feel you trembling, but you want this, too.”

“No I don’t,” Cordy pushed her palms against his chest, but her denial sounded half-hearted even to her. She ached, wanting him. Her traitorous body aligned with his as Angel lowered her down to the silk sheets. Then she kissed him before he could do it to her, one hand curled over his shoulder and the other with fingers spread along his jaw.

Angel’s hand curved along her thigh, fitting it higher along his hip, positioning to take her. He tucked his forehead into the nook of her neck, breathing in her scent as he sought entry below. “Tell me you want me.” Something in that sounded like a sob muffled his plea for truth, but she heard it all the same.

Though her heart was breaking when she answered, Cordelia closed her eyes against the hot sting of her tears. “Not in a million years,” the hoarse lie trembled on her lips and she wound her arms & legs around him as he thrust home.

She wouldn’t say that. Not his Cordy. She wouldn’t. Not Cordy. Not her. Not in a million years. Angel knew she wanted him, wanted what he could give her again and again. He thrust into her, a pounding rhythm that gave her what she claimed to want with no feelings required. Far be it from him to deny her.

They’d shared pleasure before. Countless times, though it was never this intense, this real. Had it all been dreaming like she claimed? No, that would make this unthinkable. She was playing a new game, that’s all, and if she wanted rough this time, he would give her anything she wanted. Her heat scorched him as he thrust deep, her body fisting him even tighter than he’d imagined.

All his senses were swimming. Conscious thought ebbed away as Angel let his instincts take over. Their bodies parted and merged, banging almost desperately together, but edging them closer to a spiraling peak now imperative to reach.

Cordelia made only incoherent attempts at reminding him this wasn’t her choice. Mostly, it was just husky little grunts and moans as she rocked against him with equal intensity. Something feral broke free from within her, a fiery passion Angel never anticipated, even in his dreams rousing him in ways that left those dreams in shadow.

He watched her hips writhing, rocking, those sensual contortions taking him in. Angel reeled as his cock pulsed, throbbing, sliding slickly as she contracted around him. Her body sang in biorhythmic tunes as he pushed the limits of her pleasure. Warm breath panted in his ear, each intake brushing her pebble-tipped nipples into his chest. He covered her sweat-slicked body with his own, flexing his hips to send hers crashing back into the mattress with those deep, rapid thrusts.

Fingernails trailed darts of pleasure down his back as Cordelia urged him on. He buried his face into the soft cascade of hair clinging to her throat, her damp skin causing stray tendrils to stick here and there. The pounding pulse close to his ear left his mouth watering. His hands slid along her torso, pressing her shoulders back so that her grasp fell away. Clasping his fingers through hers, he held her down, seeking out that heady beat once again, this time with his mouth.

Angel pressed his lips to the hot-spot of her pulse point. The urge to bite rose up so swiftly, he felt the familiar ripple against his skin as bone started to shift. She must have sensed it coming, calling out his name as he lingered there at her neck for a moment longer than necessary. When his mouth descended to her throat again, it was just a kiss he left behind, suppressing the demon rising within and lifting up to quell the fear rising in her passion-hazed eyes.

“I’d never hurt you,” he promised thickly. The whispered mantra of it sounded on his lips as he released her hands. “Never, never.” His touch instantly gentled, the pace of their joining altering into a rhythm no longer pounding, but still primal.

Her body gripped him tight, instinctively holding him inside just a fraction longer with each thrust. Angel watched in wonder as Cordelia came, pleasure lighting her face as he moved deep inside her, something else he hadn’t got quite right in his dreams. With a loud moan of his name, her arms and legs snuggly held him as she rode out her orgasm, urging him on again.

On the edge, he grunted at the intensity of the pressure building as his balls pulled tighter with each thrust. Cordelia locked down tight around him, panting and grasping blindly for purchase as she continued to thrust her hips a little more furiously than before, sensing he needed it. There was just one other thing he needed and the terrified look in her eyes told him that she knew what it was.

“Tell me,” Angel demanded she say it. She always said it. That was as far as his current state would allow him to reason.

Reaching up, Cordy yanked his head down so that her mouth pressed against his ear. Her voice came out raw and unsteady, their bodies still moving together. She said only one word, his name, before clamping her teeth down on the straining muscle at his throat. The sudden sensation sparked his release and he came hard thrusting his seed deep inside her.

How long they lay there in silence was anybody’s guess. Both were too caught up in their own thoughts to speak. Angel nuzzled against her, soaking in her warmth. She released a soft gasp as he slipped out of her body and draped himself across her in a completely possessive way. The drumming beat of her heart sounded in his ear as he rested his cheek against her breast. Its steady pace sped up rather than slowing down and he immediately understood the reason for it.

“Relax,” he muttered, smoothing his hand along the curve of her hip. “Nothing happened.”

Her soft pfft caused a smile to tug at his lips. Angel lifted up so that he lay on his side, reaching up to capture her face as she’d turned it away from him. A deep flush brightened the lustrous glow of her skin. Shyly, she crossed her arms and curled one leg just enough to cover herself. When he let his fingers continue along their path and settle open-palmed against her belly, Cordy finally put voice to her thoughts, “Why not?”

“I don’t know,” he answered quite honestly, his confusion clouding his brain even as he leaned in closer. Adding, “Told you not to worry.”

“Easy for you to say,” Cordelia griped softly, looking uncertainly at him as if not knowing what would happen next. Then her eyes dropped down to the crumpled sheet at the foot of the bed and Angel could tell she was trying to figure out how to pull it up without exposing herself again.

“Don’t hide yourself from me. I want to see you.”

Angel felt his body clench in hot arousal as Cordelia shifted toward him, lowering her arms, but then cupping her breasts momentarily before releasing them. His hand, still on her belly, slid upward passing over hers and curved around one full velvet-tipped mound. “Beautiful,” he whispered against her mouth as he let go to shift his hold, arms reeling her in for a series of soft, wet kisses.

A soft sigh sounded against his lips and when Cordy’s arms wrapped around him again, Angel could feel her relax into him. Perhaps he’d caught her off-guard, but this time, she’d dropped her playfully aggressive game. Their lazy kisses and soft caresses stoked the fire still smoldering within. When his renewed arousal stirred against her thigh, it was only natural for her to shift beneath him, to open herself up to the need building between them.

One smooth thrust brought them together, but this was different than before. Far more intimate in its gentility than the rabid passion that drove them both to that first climax. Angel reeled at her touch as her palms stroked down his back. The way she kissed him now felt so warm, so full of the softer emotions she’d hidden from him before. His body expressed what he could not find in words to say.

No warning came. Angel clenched in sudden pain, still in the midst of making love to her when it happened. He pushed away, stumbling from the bed, his arousal fading as he clutched his chest. A bright glow burst from within, surrounding him in its blinding light.

“Oh my God!” Cordelia stared in horror as she watched him collapse to the floor. The look on her face devastated Angel, but then it dawned on him that she had every right to be afraid. He felt it too as pain frayed every nerve, almost missing her whispered, “I gave in. I let it happen.”

Struggling to his feet, he waved Cordy off as she reached out despite the danger, flinching from her touch. “Get away from me,” he growled, afraid for her more than he was for himself.

Angel fought it with everything he had not knowing whether will alone would stall the change. All he knew was that when it happened, he needed to be as far away from Cordelia as possible. Snatching his scattered clothing from the floor at his feet, Angel leapt out the bedroom window onto the fire escape, still naked, and disappeared into the night.

Left behind, Cordelia stared at the open window, listening to the blurred sound of distant traffic. Drained of energy, stunned by all that had happened, trembling in shock, she curled up in the center of the bed, tugged the sheet up to her chin and forcibly held back her tears.

Chapter 9

The door handle jiggled.

That was all it took for Cordelia’s eyes to snap open. She couldn’t recall when her unblinking gaze had faltered. Her spiraling fear had kept her wide-awake since it had happened, when the consequences of their actions led to Angel losing his soul. After pulling on her clothes and hesitating briefly on whether or not to put on her torn blouse, she’d reluctantly slipped Angel’s discarded sweater over her head. With his scent surrounding her, she’d taken up residence on the couch for the rest of the night, waiting for the inevitable return of Angelus, her heart in her mouth.

Bolting upright and reaching for the stake she’d retrieved from her purse hours before, Cordelia crept nervously towards the front door. It didn’t even occur to her right then that the vampire on the other side could quite easily have heard her racing heartbeat, as she positioned herself so she’d be out of sight.

Gazing down at the stake clenched in her trembling hand, it suddenly hit her what she was about to do. Oh, God! I’m gonna stake the one person that means so much to— Cordelia shook her head roughly. What was she thinking? Angel was dead. She’d already killed him. A sob caught in her throat.

That momentary loss of concentration gave the intruder the chance to unlock and open the door. She jolted as it swung towards her, belatedly raising the stake and rushed forward. A split second later, it fell from her nerveless fingers.

Wes heard a dull clatter and turned towards the noise, startled, only to be engulfed by a soft, warm body that clutched on to him like a lifeline. “C-Cordelia? What are you—?” He attempted to figure out the reason for her presence, but although something nudged at his sleep-deprived brain, his thought processes refused to work.

“Are you alright?” he finally asked, his voice muffled a little by her hair. Returning the embrace awkwardly for a brief moment, Wes attempted to step back, but Cordelia’s arms tightened around his neck, almost cutting off his air supply.

After a moment, Cordy realized how tightly she was clinging to her friend and reluctantly stepped back on shaky legs. On belatedly catching sight of a soft beam of light shining through the windows, she literally sagged in relief: sunlight equaled a reprieve from the now-soulless vampire.

“I’m sorry.”

Wes stared down at her bemused by the apology, and then nodded slowly. “That’s okay. I think my throat survived the experience,” he reassured her, instantly frowning as she pulled away jerkily with a something that sounded oddly like a sob and indrawn breath.

“This time, yeah,” Cordy muttered under her breath as an unbidden image of Wes’ throat torn out because of her filled her inner vision and she shuddered in reaction before looking him in the eye. “Angelus is back,” she blurted out.

Wes blinked slowly, his mind sluggishly making the leap toward an explanation. Obviously, Cordelia had witnessed the effects of the incantation and had jumped to the wrong conclusion. Angel must have wanted to keep the news to himself until the results could be confirmed, but the fact that Cordelia had seen something certainly suggested success.

Staring at her for a second before replying, Wes whispered to himself, “It worked!” Shaking off the triumphant thrill and stepping forward, he announced, “The Curse is—”

“Broken,” her voice shaky and almost incoherent, Cordelia added guiltily, “I know.”

Oh God! How in hell had he guessed what she’d done so fast? She wondered to herself feverishly, not noticing the hand that had reached out to grasp her upper arm.

Wes looked at her oddly when she flinched at his touch. Caught up by her misunderstanding started shaking his head and rushed to correct her. “No, not broken. There was an incantation. I’ll explain everything right after I put the kettle on.”

He attempted to usher her towards the couch, but she pulled back and just stared hard. “Tea? At a time like this? Hello, didn’t you hear what I said? I thought you’d be… shocked,” she huffed in disbelief. This couldn’t be happening! Cordy was beginning to wonder if the lack of sleep and stress was causing her to hallucinate.

Wes seemed to be oblivious to her distress and shook his head with a weary smile on his face. “Because I was expecting it,” he replied, giving Cordelia a gentle tug. This time she followed him numbly, her head in a confused whirl. Wes was at a stage himself where he was overtired and rather light-headed; missing the import of Cordelia’s words and still reeling with excitement at what he’d accomplished the night before.

Once they were settled on the couch, he turned to her, his tired face almost alight with exhilaration. “I need you to confirm some details for me,” he began without preamble, missing the instant flush of color staining her cheeks and the downward sweep of her lashes.

Oh God, he does know what happened between me and Angel. Am I wearing a neon sign that flashes ‘I gave Angel a happy’? Cordelia cringed at the thought that it was so obvious. Unless, hopefully, she was imagining the whole conversation after all!

“Tell me… when did you last see Angel?”

Her eyes lifted instantly, more than a little bewildered at the direction his questions were going.

What the hell is he on about? she thought, becoming more confused by the second. Her dark head shook slowly as she attempted to clear her overtired mind. Just answer the damn questions, Chase! Cordelia told herself.

“He was here,” she replied softly, lifting a hand to rake trembling fingers through her disheveled hair.

His brows rose at that. “In my apartment? Why would he think to come here?” Taking a good look round as he spoke, Wes noticed for the first time how…immaculate his lounge was. Inwardly deciding to shelve that until later, he turned back to the strangely reticent brunette perched tensely next to him.

“Very well— but when?. What time was that at?” he clarified at her look of continued confusion. Cordelia scrunched up her face and then scowled at him.

“Does it really matter, Wes? The point is, Angelus is out there and you’re sitting here asking me dumb questions!” She half rose to her feet, sitting down with a dull thud when he instantly reached out and yanked her back.

“Cordelia,” Wes pronounced slowly and then took a weary breath before continuing. “I have not seen a bed for the last twenty four hours, made a wonderful breakthrough and have driven to and from San Francisco with several hectic hours between journeys,” he explained in a strained and rather irritated tone. “So please, do calm down and just answer the questions.”

Staring hard at him for several long seconds before slouching back into the couch, Cordelia muttered tensely, “Oh, I don’t know.” Bitterly responding, “It didn’t actually occur to me to look at the time right then, ya know.”

Wes’s gaze turned inwards momentarily before his face cleared, his earlier excitement shining in his pale blue eyes and he leaned forward. “Alright, the time isn’t actually as important as… can you tell me what exactly happened?”

She blanched at his question, her mouth opening and closing silently. He wanted her to give DETAILS?!

Oblivious to her reaction and eager for anything that would aid confirmation of his night’s work, Wes tried to point her in the right direction. “Did his eyes glow- his body? It’s extremely important.”

Her breath whooshed out of her lungs at his added words. Oh, those details.

“Okay….um. He did this glowy thing” she finally replied. “His whole body… oh God! This is all my fault!” she blurted out harshly, her hands abruptly covering her face.

For a moment, Wes sat there, not sure what to do or say. Dumbfounded by this strange reaction, he reached forward and touched her arm gently. Asking softly, “Now why would you think that? You two obviously made up your differences, and came here to….” Wes’ eyes flickered towards the backpack on the floor near the door, and things were suddenly not making much sense at all.

Why would Angel bring Cordelia over to his apartment, knowing full well he was out of town overnight? That didn’t make sense at all. Tiredness abruptly faded, his eyes sharpening as they swung back to the figure huddled next to him.

Finally picking up on her distress, Wes watched, momentarily frozen to the spot. Hush-voiced, he asked almost hesitantly, uncertain that he wanted to know the reason for suspicions that were starting to take shape in his head. “Cordelia, what exactly occurred last night?”

Lack of sleep abruptly seemed to catch up with her as a little of the tension left her body. Finally, he seemed to be getting it. Cordelia sat still for a long moment before eventually dropping her hands listlessly into her lap.

“I bought videos,” she replied simply.

Wes blinked abruptly as recollection kicked in. It was movie night. He’d been so caught up on his unexpected ‘mission’ that it hadn’t crossed his mind from the moment Angel mentioned the scroll.

“You weren’t here,” she continued in an almost flat tone. “But Angel was.”

Glassy eyes lifted to meet his, and the stark pain reflected in them twisted his heart. Wes gulped down the sense of dread that formed a knot in his throat.

“He told me he’d got rid of you for the night… sent you off on some wild goose chase, that we needed to sort stuff out.” Her tongue tripped over the last few words and she licked her drying lips and swallowed thickly.

Wes unintentionally tuned out the last of her words as he focused on only one phrase. “Wild goose chase?” His features tightened in outrage, adding stiltedly, “I assure you, there was nothing ‘wild’ or goose-like about it! In fact,” he rose stiltedly to his feet and strode to the door, bending to pick up the backpack before returning hurriedly, “I have proof here that the tide has changed- for once, to our advantage!” He returned to the couch and sat with a disgruntled humph, quickly jerking open the zips of his bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers.

Cordelia sat staring at him numbly, by now completely confused with the whole thing. For a moment, she’d been convinced that he was getting it. That he knew what had happened between her and Angel. She rubbed her forehead tiredly as she half listened to Wes rambling on and waving sheets of handwritten pages in her face.

Was he not listening? Something they’d all feared happening since that time with Rebecca Howell, and he was going on and on about God knows what, and totally ignoring the most important and fear-inspiring facts.

Shaking herself out of her stupor, Cordy reached out and yanked the papers from his wildly waving hand. Wesley, listen to me!” she almost yelled into his face, startling the man, who stopped in mid-sentence. “Angelus– ANGELUS is out there and probably…,” she paused, then added “no, DEFINITELY planning our horrible deaths!” Her voice rose even as she did so. “And what do you do? Sit here yammering on about I-haven’t-a-goddamn-clue what!”

Running out of steam, Cordy slumped back onto the couch and rubbed her face roughly. After a moment of shocked silence, Wes cleared his throat uncomfortably and leaned forward.

“Cordelia…” he cleared his throat again before continuing quietly. “I assure you, my overnight absence is very much to do with Angel AND Angelus.” He raised a hand when Cordy’s mouth opened to interrupt. “No, let me finish.” Sitting back a little, he rifled through the papers scattered around him, then held one up.

“Angel informed me yesterday that a renowned mage contacted him with what he called the original soul-spell used on Angelus. One without the, um, happiness clause.” Wes took advantage of her sudden stillness and rushed on. “Basically, it turned out to be valid, and last night, with the kind help of Mister Brayess, the spell was performed not too long after I arrived there. I believe it was a success,” he concluded softly.

“What are you saying?” Cordy asked dumbly, by now her head swirling almost drunkenly.

Wes took a deep breath and rubbed his own eyes roughly. “Angel was re-cursed last night without the clause. Angelus is no longer a threat.” Cordy stared at him for a moment before shaking her head in denial.

“You’re wrong. Angelus is undead and kicking.” She told him resolutely. Shaking her head strongly when Wes instantly responded by repeating the details of the affects of the Spell. “No, Angel lost his soul last night.” She took a deep breath and added in a hushed whisper, “And I’m the reason for it.

“The only way the spell wouldn’t have worked was if Angelus was already released, so I really don’t understand why you are so adamant that he is amongst us once again.”

Saying nothing, Cordelia simply glared back.

Wes let loose a sharp bark of laughter before adding, “To lose his soul, Angel would have had to have experienced a moment of perfect happiness, and—,” then it clicked. His jaw snapped closed abruptly at the flood of blood that rushed under Cordy’s skin, her eyes revealing stark pain…and guilt? The pieces suddenly dropped into place…his brain waking with a rush that made him light-headed.

“Dear God! Tell me you both didn’t…” he whispered, swallowing hard when her eyes dropped to stare at her hands that twined restlessly in her lap. Silence lay like a heavy blanket around them until Cordy lifted her head and looked into his eyes.

“I didn’t want it to happen, Wes. I… Angel was acting insane.” Her voice now flat and drained, she explained, “He was talking like we were already together. God…” her eyes dropped. “I didn’t want to, but eventually I let it happen. Thought I could control it, prevent him from blissing out; that he wouldn’t…with me. Guess I was wrong.” The last uttered in a hoarse whisper.

Wes couldn’t have held her stricken gaze a second longer and was almost relieved when she looked away first. Dear God, was I too late? Did the spell not work? Wes wracked his brain trying to think of something positive he could say to Cordy, something to reassure her, but Lord Almighty, he’d never, in the years he’d known them both think that something like this could have happened.
A part of him wanted to rail at her for getting into that situation in the first place. But although she’d been painfully brief in details, the intimation that this wasn’t as cut and dried as an out and out disregard of the curse that plagued Angel stilled his tongue. The sound of Cordy’s uneven breathing filling the room brought Wes out of his darkening thoughts, inadvertently causing Cordy to jolt when he abruptly sprang to his feet. Sitting here wasn’t going to help, he decided, and to say he felt out of his depth where even attempting to discuss the event of the night before was an understatement.

Regretting that his years as a Watcher hadn’t prepared him for a situation such as this, Wes mentally put it to one side and instead considered their next move regarding Angel. Most importantly, he needed to find out for certain if he had indeed been too late…or just failed.

The thought was a bitter pill to swallow. The danger of the real possibility that he did indeed fail, that Angelus was out there doing what he does best and no doubt planning to come back for Cordelia, as well as himself and Gunn… he shuddered inwardly as he his imagination went into overdrive.

First things first: he had to get Cordelia somewhere safe.

“I think…” Wes paused when Cordy peeked up at him through wet lashes. Then remembering that her apartment was now protected by a spell, sounded more confident with the plan of action rapidly taking shape in his head, Wes told her, “I think we need to get you home where it’s safe.” He reached down to help her up then thought better of it. “Yes, that’s the plan.”

They walked slowly across the room when Wes stopped abruptly, pursing his lips and glancing at the quiet brunette by his side. “I think also I should make a call.” Cordy watched him numbly as he picked up the phone and dialed, then listened with detachment as he spoke.

“Gunn? I need your help.”


From the moment his bare feet touched asphalt, Angel started to run. The dimly lit alley stunk of overripe garbage piled high in the metal trashcans. Pebbles and shards along the ground dug into his skin, but he barely registered the annoyance as he headed for the nearest sewer entrance. Flinging the circular metal grate aside, he dropped down into the darkness, eyes immediately adjusting to the lack of light.

The pain in his chest was already diminishing. Experience taught him that when it went, his soul would go with it. So Angel ran, his thoughts full of horrors only he could imagine. Things he had done to Cordelia in his dreams. Things he knew he was capable of doing without the weight of his conscience guiding him. The soul kept him in check, tempered his bloodlust, eased his darker desires, and allowed him to love. Once that was gone, there would be nothing holding him back.

So he ran even faster until he was no longer sure of where he was except that it was dark and lonely, a place to hide. Only there was no hiding from himself. He was the one to fear. Deep down at the core, he was a demon yearning to break free of its fetters, to be unleashed on the world at large, wallowing in pleasure, doling out pain and playing on the tightrope in between.

Those thoughts never really went away. Most days, he pushed them deep, fought against them aided by the disgust and guilt that followed. His desires were harder to channel because they were all focused on Cordelia. Once he’d acknowledged that he felt something more than fondness, more than friendship, more than his own protective instinct to safeguard something that belonged to him, Angel could no longer deny those feelings existed.

Stopping in his tracks, Angel glanced back over his shoulder along the path that took him away from her. Love. Longing. Lust. Loss. Feelings swept in on him as his initial panic began to wane. Experience prepared him for that sensation of freedom as his soul faded into the ether. Only it did not come.

The pain vanished into memory leaving no physical sign of its existence behind. Still clutching his clothing, Angel held it to his chest as he slid down into a crouch. Relief poured through him at the realization that by some miracle he still retained his soul. The hunger he experienced wasn’t for blood and death. It was all longing for her. All he could think of was Cordy, his thoughts still clouded, knowing that she felt something for him even if she didn’t say the words.

Angel knew that she loved him, knew it with a certainty that was unquestioned deep inside. After all, she’d said so. Told him a dozen times, a hundred times, but not tonight when everything seemed so new. Her body surrounded him, took him deep inside her soft heat, and engulfed him in pleasure. Every soft breath, each pulse, the ecstatic moans were all for him.

Then Cordy gazed up at him, their eyes locked even as their bodies moved in sync, edging close to another climax. It happened then, the moment when the sensations took him by surprise, pulling at something deep within as he poured his heart into her eyes and saw it reflected there. Only that look had changed to horror.

What had he done?

He didn’t feel the cold against his damp skin, nor notice the stench permeating the sewers. All he felt was anguish as a slow trickle of reality began to mingle with his dream-soaked memories. Nothing was as he imagined it. Cordelia had been different this time, he realized without fully understanding why. Playfully aggressive and at times not so playful, he’d taken it all as a game.

Cordy was certainly not as submissive or demonstrative as she usually was, but he’d found her more passionate, more beautiful, more…real to him in ways she had not. This wasn’t just another dream. It wasn’t the fantasy she’d accused him of living.

Just the thought made him leap to his feet, anger flaring his nostrils wide. His jaw clenched tight as he clung to his own denial, just as tightly as he clutched the dark bundle of fabric to his chest. Slowly, Angel glanced downward, realizing that he was still naked and that somewhere along the way he had lost his socks and shoes.

Stepping into the pants, he yanked them up, roughly pulling the zipper into place. His hands went to his face, covering it, rubbing before his fingers streaked up to comb through the short strands of his hair. A loud expletive ripped from his throat, one as foul as the scent of the sewer and it echoed resoundingly. He stood frozen to the spot until it diminished, fading away into the shadows ahead.

There was something wrong with him. He could sense it. Angel felt different, but didn’t understand why. He hadn’t lost his soul, but he was beginning to question whether he’d lost his mind. Everything he had with Cordy, thought he had, might have been a dream.

Tonight was real enough, he was certain of that. Knowing only made it worse, caused that gut-punched feeling. He’d wanted Cordelia. Taken her. Like a nasty itch along his brain, he realized she’d said no. That she didn’t want him. Not in a million years. Yet he’d taken her anyway.

A deep sob threatened its way up his throat at the thought, but he swallowed it down, pushing it deep down where he usually kept all his feelings buried. Cordy would hate him for this. She’d warned him and he thought it was all a game.

“My bad,” Angel half laughed at his own crazed decision to follow his desires. The sound of his own voice disturbed him and the words made it all seem worse.

This wasn’t a joke, unless it was all on him.

Cordelia was alone. He’d run out on her thinking that it might save her life. That he was losing his soul. Dammit, he knew bliss. If that wasn’t it, he’d experienced something indistinguishable. Thinking about it right now was like trying to find his way through a thick fog, impossible without stumbling into barriers.

Despite the need to make things right with Cordy, he knew that he was the last person she would want to see right now. He wouldn’t know how to begin or what to say to make this okay. Angel needed time to think, to clear his head. He knew he couldn’t return to the apartment now, not unless he felt the urge to be staked.

Lost in thought, Angel started to move. He barely took notice of the direction he traveled. The tunnels were a maze beneath the city and he wandered aimlessly, focused only on the woman he’d left behind.

Even through the haze of his own guilt and confusion, Angel sensed the approach of dawn. It took a few minutes to focus enough to recognize where he was and that he needed to get back to the Hyperion. Though the tunnels protected him from the light, hiding there would not solve his problems. The answers he needed weren’t going to be found in the sewer.

Arriving through the basement entrance, Angel made his way upstairs, noting with a rueful eye the emptiness of the lobby. He made his way upstairs, taking one slow step after another as if his limbs weighted him down. It was only his guilt, he knew, dragging along like an invisible chain.

Halfway down the corridor, his head snapped up, eyes rimming with gold as he sensed that he was not alone. Darla was waiting for him.

“What happened to you?” she asked with a faint grin of surprise even as her cool blue eyes ran over his near-naked frame appreciatively. Even though Angel looked worse for the wear, Darla couldn’t deny he still oozed sex appeal.

Angel walked silently past her without making eye contact and reached for a discarded shirt draped over a nearby chair. He shrugged it on but left it hanging open, deciding not to bother. Instead, he half turned her way. “Get out.”

The low flat tone momentarily jolted Darla, but then she shrugged it off and her sensual smile quickly returned. She’d heard worse from his alter ego in the past.

“Don’t be like that, lover,” she purred, almost floating towards him, halting the hand she reached out to his face with a grimace of repugnance. “I see you finally got what you wanted from that slut.”

Her tone laced with a snarl, but Darla was too caught up in her own spitefulness to notice that the dull expression in Angel’s eyes suddenly turned dark and cold. Slowly, he moved to face her, his jaw clenching, heavy muscles tensing in reaction to the tittering laughter that left her throat.

“What’s wrong? Did the fair Cordelia fail your expectations, or,” Darla mock-gasped, covering her mouth for a second even as her eyes widened dramatically. “Did the little tease reject you?”

Ignoring the threatening growl, she circled him, trailing an icy finger across his chest and spine before appearing in front of him licking her too-red mouth and draping her arms around his neck. Remaining silent, Angel stared at the wall directly ahead, seemingly ignoring her. Darla shrugged off his unnatural stillness, instead reveling in the fact he hadn’t pushed her away. Leaning in until her body pressed intimately against his, she reached up on her toes and put her mouth to his ear.

“Don’t worry, my sweet,” she whispered consolingly. “Leave the ungrateful bitch to me.” Angel tensed against her but still remained unmoving. Feeling more exultant by the second, Darla sucked at the fleshy lobe of his ear and nibbled softly, adding. “I have so much more to offer you than that pathetic human.”

Angel listened as she attempted to seduce him while simultaneously threatening Cordelia. She wouldn’t even say her name and that was just fine with him. Cordy meant so much more than this bitch who twined around him like a choking vine. Hearing those threats brought back images of Darla slicing a knife blade across Cordelia’s throat, telling him it didn’t take a pair of fangs to kill her.

Now Darla was a vampire again. Ten times the threat she was before, she made no pretense of wanting Cordelia dead in order to regain her place with him. And then the slow burn of rage engulfed him.

The harsh sound of breaking glass broke the unearthly silence in his room, but Angel didn’t even flinch. Instead he looked down at the blonde sprawled on the floor surround by shards of glass almost satisfied by the expression of shock on her pretty face. He strode over and reached down to yank her roughly to her feet, then pushed her away when she attempted to grab hold of his arm. She staggered for a moment before taking a few steps back.

Angel arrogantly turned his back on her and stooped to pick up one of the French doors that had been wrenched from its hinges. After resting it against the wall he slowly turned back to face her, his face expressionless. “Last time, Darla. Get out before I kill you.”

Rage flared in her glittering blue eyes as she absently brushed the dust and glass from her clothes and hair. “You don’t mean that, Angelus,” his alter ego’s name grated, but Angel kept his expression deliberately blank.

Ignoring the slight tensing of his large body, Darla approached him again, although this time she watched him warily. “I’ve always known how to please you,” the sensual smile slipped back onto her pale face. “Do you honestly think you can get better than this?” She swept an arm across her scarlet-draped body before moving closer and resting her hands against his chest.

Angel looked into her familiar and deadly face for a long moment. “Yes,” he replied with a simplicity that was as cold as it was final. Darla looked up enquiringly and then her mouth parted in surprise.

The half-open door to the suite abruptly bounced off the wall at exactly the same moment as the stake plunged home, causing the two men who’d been about to cross the threshold stop dead in their tracks. Before their eyes, they watched Darla crumble to dust.

Angel stood motionless, not deigning to look either toward the doorway or the floor, still holding a jagged piece of wood he’d retrieved moments before from the remains of the shattered door.

Wes took a hesitant step forward, glancing at the pile of dust that was all that remained of the female vampire, still stunned at what he and Gunn had just witnessed. Then he raised wary eyes towards the frighteningly still figure standing in the middle of the room.

Chapter 10

“Don’t move.”

Wes tightened his grip on the crossbow as the last of Darla’s ashes fluttered to the floor. Her killer stood rigidly amid the dusty remains, eyes devoid of any guilt, rage or murderous zeal that might provide a clue as to his true identity: Angel or Angelus.

A chill zipped down Wes’ spine as his scrutiny gained him a glimpse of eternity, cold and dark, reflecting nothing. He crooked his finger a nudge closer to the trigger. The empty eyes staring back provided no hint. He took in a shaky breath and held it as he gazed into their fathomless depths, searching for a sign of hope.

If this was truly Angelus as Cordelia intimated, one weak moment, a false move, any indecision could cost them everything. Give him a single opportunity and it might be their remains on the floor. After Cordelia’s shocking revelation, doubt plagued Wes’ mind. How quickly his sense of triumph waned as success turned to failure.

Or had it?

The incantation had been legitimate, but he might have been too late. The truth was standing before him. Angel or Angelus? Wes took a hesitant step across the threshold maintaining eye contact along the way, not daring to blink.

“You’re dust,” Gunn’s bald threat sounded right behind him making their intentions clear, not that it wasn’t already apparent. He just wasn’t big on diplomacy.

On the way to the Hyperion, Wes had informed Gunn that the probability of having to face Angelus was relatively high. Though he’d left out most of the details, the mere mention of Cordelia’s name brought Gunn to conclusions not far off the mark. Axe in hand, he was more than willing to take action.

Gritting his teeth, Wes sounded out Gunn’s name, urging him to stick with the plan and follow his lead. “We agreed I’d do the talking.”

“Who needs talking,” Gunn huffed. “Soul or no soul, I’m gonna kick his ass.”

Wes noticed that those dark eyes never wavered from his own, though he had no doubt that they saw every move Gunn made. Even Wes could sense him moving in the background, no doubt maneuvering about with the axe in an act of showmanship.

Slightly irritated at the interruption of his assessment, Wes continued to scrutinize the vampire standing before him. Seconds had already passed, more than a minute. Long enough for Angelus to make any move he needed to escape or to find a dozen ways to kill them.

Then the moment came when the wooden shard in his hand dropped to the floor and his cold stare fell away just long enough to reveal both shame and anguish. It looked heartfelt, painful, and real. Then it vanished again behind a grim expression as he ordered flatly, “Get out; both of you.”

A hopeful swell of emotion flooded Wes. He knew that Angelus could be deceptive, but he needed to find out one way or another. All he could think of was to give him an opening. So Wes lowered his crossbow and stepped closer. “A-Angel?”

Gunn wasn’t going for it, moving past Wesley as soon as he dropped his arm to his side. There was no stopping him and Wes tried, too late, to wave him off with a subtle motion. Subtlety was lost on Gunn at the moment and he’d no sooner ordered Angel to, “Show me what you got,” in quite ornery fashion than the vampire did just that.

Moving faster than either human could anticipate Angel grabbed the handle of Gunn’s axe, twisting both it and him around. Wes gaped in horrified reaction, raising his crossbow, but finding he had no clear shot. Tossing the long-handled battle-axe aside, Angel now had him in a headlock.

“Drop the crossbow,” Angel demanded while yanking Gunn to a standstill when he tried to break free. Tilting his head, he all but growled into Gunn’s ear, “When I said to get out, I meant now.”

Abruptly released, Gunn stumbled forward, nearly knocking Wes to the floor as he was tossed back across the threshold. When they both regained their balance, it was to see Angel slumped down in his leather chair looking like he’d just lost his best friend. Considering that might be an understandable consequence, Wes jockeyed for position as Gunn moved in for a second round.

“Stand back,” he said firmly, squaring his shoulders. “We’re not leaving until we get answers to some very important questions. The first of which is?”

“I didn’t lose it,” Angel’s quiet statement cut through, surprise filling every syllable. He shook his head, confused and amazed by the fact. Wes stared hard at the vampire for a long moment, searching for any signs that he was being hoodwinked before the rigidity in his frame slackened. “I’m still…me.”

Gunn accusingly pointed a finger toward him. “Not for lack of trying.”

The wry look sent Gunn’s way was hard to miss, but Wes hardly noticed. Swamped by an overwhelming sense of relief, he felt his knees shaking as the tension drained away. Finally, he uttered, “Thank God. It worked. It worked! I knew it.”

Rising from his chair, Angel walked forward, buttoning up his shirt along the way. Wes kept a hold on the crossbow despite the certainty of his success, watching as Angel’s gaze narrowed suspiciously. “What have you done?”

“Yeah,” Gunn commented as he retrieved his axe from the other side of the room. “Why aren’t we kicking his ass?”

“Because his soul is still intact.”

Gunn wasn’t too impressed with that fact, pointing out, “That don’t make it right.”

“Er, well, no, of course not,” Wes stuttered in agreement. He saw the grim expression on Angel’s face and knew that he was of the same opinion. “Gunn is quite right in demanding an explanation for your actions, but I must first inform you that the incantation was a success.”

As if he’d forgotten all about sending Wesley to San Francisco, Angel looked stunned by the news. Obviously, he never considered the fact that the scroll might truly be legitimate or that Wes would take the initiative to recite the spell.

It was rather a satisfying moment to point out, “So much for the, uh, goose chase, I think she called it. Though your reasons for me going leave a lot to be desired, my timing, I think, was rather impeccable.”

Having only buttoned his shirt halfway, Angel’s hands fell limply to his sides. “Is??”

The words were apparently stuck in his throat, Wes noted, picking up where his voice trailed off. “Is the soul permanent? Yes, it should be. I’ll have to arran-“

With a growl, Angel cut in, asking thickly, “Is she okay?”

Wes realized that he hadn’t been thinking about himself, but Cordelia. A shudder worked its way through Angel’s big body, visible to the two watching his every move. Guilt, no doubt, he assumed.

“No thanks to you,” Gunn responded before Wes could, walking forward aggressively until only a few feet separated them. “If it was up to me, your dust would be next to that pile on the floor. She’s safe. That’s all you need to know,” he added with a curl of his wide mouth.

Sensing trouble again, Wes stepped in, but Angel was feeding off of Gunn’s anger and took objection to the fact that Cordelia was being kept from him. “Where is she?”

“Calm down,” urged Wes. “This will only escalate into something none of us need right now.”

“Where is she?” Angel enunciated each word slowly, the question now a demand. “Darla threatened-“

Wes held out his hands, pushing back and signaling his plea that they put a halt to this before it got any worse. “Safe at home,” he explained without adding a reminder that her apartment was protected from his entry.

“You mean safe from me,” his anger dwindled with every word and he rubbed his hand over his face as if trying to wipe away the evidence of his guilt. “I’d never hurt her. I couldn’t.”

The latter seemed to be muttered mostly to himself as he half-turned from them. Wes guessed he had a lot to think about. “Physically, she’s fine. This whole ordeal has been rather a shock for her.”

“I don’t know what your definition is of ‘hurt’, man,” Gunn shook his head in disgust, “but then, you ain’t a man.” He sucked his teeth sharply, his big hands tightening on the axe handle.

Angel looked confused, holding Gunn’s fiery gaze “I didn’t….” His eyes, dark and tortured, turned Wes’ way. “You know I’d never hurt her!” Neither man missed the pleading tone that threaded through his impassioned words.

Wes’ gaze faltered and slid away and he let out a strained breath. “At the moment, Angel, I don’t know anything.” Then looked back up from the contemplation of his highly polished shoes to add, “Whatever you think you’re feeling doesn’t change the fact that she didn’t want it to happen.” He shook his head in complete dismay and deep disappointment.

Angel frowned darkly and half turned away, aware but not caring that Gunn stood behind his now vulnerable back. “That’s not true. It wasn’t like that,” he denied tiredly, “Cordy and I, we’re…” Pausing, he raked an unsteady hand through his already tousled hair. “Something’s wrong with me.”

Noting that Angel seemed to be having trouble thinking straight, Wes frowned deeply. The lack of sleep and his obsessive behavior all added up to something, but he might have to put it all down to a psychotic break unless new evidence came to light. There were other possibilities, but they required research and the passage of time.

“That’s why you’ll be staying here until I sort this out,” Wes said determinedly. He was grateful that Angel appeared to be calm at the moment. Having to dust his friend in spite of his soul being intact was not something he wanted to do. There was an explanation for this and he just had to find it.

Gunn pointed out that they’d need to keep a 24/7 watch over Angel’s whereabouts. “I don’t trust him. We could turn our backs for a second and he’d be out the window and after Cordy.”

“Nothing will happen to Cordy.” Angel turned, looking him dead in the eye. “Get the chains. I won’t stop you.”

“Yeah, I’m all over that plan.”

Wes quickly forestalled that action even as Gunn headed toward the door. “That won’t be necessary.”

“I say it is,” Gunn’s quick rejoinder followed.

Glancing over at Angel, who seemed to be staring at his bed as if it was the last place he wanted to be, Wes let out a deep sigh before addressing the vampire. “There is no changing what happened today. You will have to live with it. Being chained here is not going to alter that.”


“Cordelia is safe,” Wes interjected. “You haven’t been yourself, lately. I have a few theories, but until I am able to sort them out, you’ll have to remain here. We’ll take measures to ensure that you do.”

Feeling rather confident of the fact that Angel was now cognizant of his wrongdoing, Wes highly doubted Cordelia would be in any further danger. In his right mind, Angel would stake himself before harming a hair on her head. There was a reason for the tangled mess that led to all of this and now he needed time to prove it.

“Gunn and I will be downstairs,” he said as he watched Angel slump down into the seat of his leather chair. “We’ll be here…if you need to talk.”

That familiar broody face was enough to convince Wes that he was making the right decision. Angel’s gaze was already turned away, an expression of guilt weighting him down as securely as any chains ever could.

Following him out the door, Gunn pointed out, “If I go back in there, I ain’t stopping to chat.”

Arguing with Gunn was pointless. Wes tried to focus on the tasks ahead, sorting out the details of his theory that would declare Angel to be just as much a victim to all of this as Cordelia herself. Only Gunn wasn’t about to be quiet and let him think things through.

“I still say chains woulda been the way to go. We can’t trust him.” Gunn’s disgruntlement sounded in Wes’ ear as they made their slow way down the stairs.

By now, all Wes wanted to do was call Cordelia to assure her Angelus was not a factor and sleep for at least several days. But that was not even a possibility right now, and the thought only made him irritable. “I think that chains are going a little overboard.”

“Overboard? Have you forgotten what he’s already done?” Gunn gripped his axe that little bit tighter as he glanced behind him, his dark eyes reflecting frustration and anger.

Wes paused in mid-step and rubbed a weary hand over his face before looking directly at Gunn. “I have a good idea why Angel has been behaving strangely. Things should improve from here and he shouldn’t slip back,” he tiredly replied. “Plus, with the added advantage of having his soul bound, we at least don’t have to be concerned about Angelus.”

“He wasn’t Angelus when he did what he did,” Gunn reminded grimly, causing Wes to wince slightly before continuing down the stairs.

“I have my suspicions about his unexpected behavior. I believe Angel has been influenced by outside forces.” Wes returned defensively. “And from what I have just witnessed, I think he is almost definitely coming out of it.”

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Gunn pushed ahead before confronting the man with a disbelieving glare. “So, what you sayin’? We forget it happened and pretend everything’s rosy?”

Wes held back the urge to retreat as Gunn crowded him unconsciously as he spoke.

“Not at all.” He let out a weary sigh before continuing, “As I said, I do believe something or someone is behind this. I’m not saying Angel’s behavior has been at all acceptable, but we do have to take into account the real possibility of foul play.”

Starting to feel like a broken record, Wes sidestepped the other man with a frown and walked over to the checkout counter and picked up the receiver. Looking over his shoulder, he caught Gunn’s eyes. “We are going to have to take turns keeping a close eye on Angel. Are you okay to take first watch?” he asked, attempting to suppress a yawn.

Gunn may have been a little mollified, but Wes was more than aware it wouldn’t take much to make him all gung ho again. A small part of him had doubts about leaving Angel in the hands of his somewhat hotheaded friend, but what choice did he have? Lack of sleep was quickly catching up on him now that intense relief had drained the adrenalin-based energy from him.

“As long as you know: he steps one foot outta line and he’s dust.” Gunn’s reply upped his concern another notch and Wes turned to face him with a deeply serious expression.

“As long as you know that unless he attempts to walk out of that door, staking isn’t an option,” he reminded him with a hint of unexpected steel lacing his tone. After a pause, Gunn nodded in reluctant agreement.

“Glad that’s settled,” Wes nodded back before turning back to the phone. “I’ll leave you to it and contact Cordelia with the news. First I must make a rather important call.”

Huddled on the couch clutching her comforter close, it crossed Cordy’s mind that she’d been doing that a lot in the past 12 hours. It took couch potato to a whole new level. God she was tired, but sleep was the last thing on her mind right now.

Looking over at the clock on the mantle, her shoulders tensed that little bit more. Where the hell was Wes? Two hours had passed since he’d dropped her off; his warnings still sounding in her ears. And still no word.

Had they found Angelus; confronted him? Were they still alive? Cordy swallowed down the acrid bile that rose in her throat at the thought, and as the minutes passed agonizingly by, anger slowly replaced her fear. Anger because she hadn’t followed and brought her own stake. Anger because she agreed to “stay safe” at her apartment, but for the life of her she couldn’t bring herself to move off the couch.

Imaginings grew at an alarming pace, her mind sinking into a well of despair- and the phone rang, its warble breaking the silence and jolting her so hard a wave of nausea threatened.

Cordelia shot off the couch, almost tumbling to the floor as the comforter twisted round her legs. Righting herself she rushed to the phone, and then hesitated just as her hand touched the receiver.

What if it was Angelus? A shudder ran through her at the thought. She shook the possibility off. Why would he bother? Why give her a chance to prepare, escape? A harsh breath forced itself out of her mouth. You never knew with the sick bastard. Angelus had always been cocky. He probably wanted to gloat.

“Oh, stop being a whiny baby,” she pulled herself together with difficulty and picked up the phone.

“Hello?” A wave of intense relief rushed through her when Wes’ familiar voice came down the phone. He wasn’t dead. To have that on top of the guilt already eating away at her… “Cordelia? Are you there?” The worry in his voice triggered her locked vocal chords.

“Wes, are you okay? What about Gunn- did you find Angel…Angelu??” the words poured out, barely a breath in-between as anxiety notched by the second and it took a while for the repetition of her name to sink in and bring her questions to an abrupt halt.

“Yes, Cordelia, I’m fine, Gunn’s fine and Angel…is still Angel.” As Wesley’s hasty reassurance rang in her ears, Cordelia’s knees buckled. Blinding relief whooshed through her, her hand reaching blindly out to press against the wall to stop from crumpling to the floor. She could vaguely hear the sharp concern as he called out her name and managed to reply with only the slightest hitch.

“He’s still Angel?” Cordy forced down the jumble of questions that revelation set off, pressing the receiver tightly against her ear in an attempt to still the tremor in her hand. “How?” wrenched out of her throat, and for a moment silence greeted her before a deep sigh sounded in her ear.

“The incantation worked,” he replied, the relief in his voice, to her, sounding oddly subdued to Cordy. “I was in time, after all. Cordelia…” Wes cleared his throat before continuing and her heart clinched in anxiety as she waited. “It’s… the whole scenario is a little more complicated than I originally thought.” He halted abruptly before blowing out a sharp breath. “Look, I need to come over. We can talk about everything then, alright?”

Cordelia’s brow furrowed in confusion, irritation mixed with dread at his sudden hesitancy. “Is it…bad, Wes?” she swallowed tightly as he paused again.

“Nothing we can’t sort out,” Wes eventually replied, his tone now full of calm reassurance. “I’ll be there in approximately twenty minutes. Why don’t you make us some tea in the meantime?” he suggested, waiting for her agreement before ending the call.

Numbly pressing the end button and placing the phone down, Cordelia turned and trailed back to the couch. Once there, she grabbed the comforter and pulled it up until the soft fabric pressed against her trembling mouth.

Angel hadn’t lost his soul. According to Wes, the incantation had been successful. Any other time, she’d be thrilled that this happened. None of them needed the threat of Angelus hanging over their heads. Wes’ impeccable timing came with a downside.

Who’s to say Angel would’ve experienced that moment of bliss with her? Not that she wanted Angelus around. Hell, no. Fretfully, she wondered why it bothered her so much, knowing whether or not a perfect moment could ever exist between them.

Cordelia could agree that pure bliss evaded them that first time. Under the circumstances, it was amazing that Angel made her? it wasn’t bad despite the way it started. Then she’d conveniently forgotten, getting caught up in how he could make her feel. It made her believe that anything was possible.

Only reality crashed in upon them and Cordelia remembered that Angel’s fantasy world and his creepy stalker act led to this. If there was bliss, it was all thanks to what was going on in his sicko head. That’s what confused her the most.

Since when did Angel start thinking of her that way? Her insecurities ate into her as this thought rolled over in her head still not knowing what brought on his sudden interest. It had come seemingly out of nowhere. Yet it wasn’t just his behavior that mortified her, but her own reaction.

There were feelings there she didn’t want to name mixed up with anger and fear. Doubt fogged over the rest. What the hell had possessed her into thinking it was possible she could have caused him a moment of perfect happiness? She wasn’t Buffy. Soul lossage and the Slayer sorta went hand in hand.

Cordy’s stomach roiled with such a surge of jealousy that she gasped out loud, her face paling even more as momentary disappointment flooded her at the thought that she hadn’t been capable of causing him to lose his soul. Oh, God. Self-flagellation eclipsed the disappointment, and tossing aside the comforter, she rose on shaky legs and made her way to the kitchen, hating herself more with every step.

“Angel’s not the only one needing a straight jacket and a padded cell,” Cordelia muttered as she filled the kettle with water. “Imagine actually wanting Angelus around just to have proof that Angel?”

That Angel…what? Cordelia’s voice trailed off for a moment as she turned off the tap. “He wants me? duh, kinda obvious.” It would take more than that, she knew instinctively. Losing his soul would take more than just wanting and having.

They’d had sex, sure, but did anyone really know for a fact if that was what did it? For all anyone knew, including Angel, sex might not even be the trigger, but the deep love for the woman he had sex with.

Shaking her head, “Made love to,” Cordelia stressed the difference aloud as her mind wandered to their second time together. The gentility of his touch couldn’t diminish everything that happened before it.

If it was just about sex, Cordelia knew, “I’d bliss his fangs off,” but it was more complicated. It had to do with his feelings, not hers, whatever they were.

That was the real problem. Supposing Angel did have feelings for her beyond friendship, they were twisted up by this dark obsession. Even if Angel’s soul was secure, things couldn’t go anywhere between them. Not with him being a psycho stalker.

Wes shifted restlessly in his seat as he waited for Cordelia to bring the tray of tea into the lounge, biting his lip to stifle the heavy sigh that threatened to slip out on noting her seeming reluctance to commence with the discussion to come. He couldn’t really blame her.

The momentous task of explaining both his suspicions and more recent findings related to the dreadful mess that was the past several weeks, wasn’t something he relished.

Wes shook his head, most probably for the millionth time that day since his earlier concerns had been found to hold more than an element of possibility. He just hoped that the explanation and factual evidence brought to the table, as it were, was sufficient to at least partly dispel the pain and confusion seen quite clearly shadowing Cordelia’s normally sparkling hazel eyes since the moment he arrived back at his apartment in the early hours of this morning.

The heavy sigh repressed moments before escaped when glancing at his wristwatch: six hours. Six hours had passed and yet it felt so much longer to his weary mind. Guilt made an unwelcome appearance yet again as his head turned, eyes going to the kitchen doorway, where the muted clink of crockery could be heard.

I should have called to cancel, Wes thought, self-annoyance flaring within. If it had crossed his mind at the time, this whole messy business could have been averted, and thus then not put into the position of having to attempt to clear up the whole sorry mess. “I’m way over my head here,” he muttered to himself, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

“What was that, Wes?” the quiet question jolted his awareness back to the present; startled eyes lifting to regard the speaker who was in the process of settling comfortably on the couch, a tray holding two cups, a jug of milk and a bowl of sugar that surrounded the pot of steaming tea now resting on the coffee table between them.

“Um, a bit of a headache,” he quickly replied. “Lack of sleep must be catching up on me, I suspect.”

Cordelia wrinkled her nose and nodded wearily. “I feel ya. I suppose I should be glad I’m not the only one.” Glancing at the tray, she asked, “Want to do the honors?”

With a nod Wes rose and approached the table and busied his hands while he quickly arranged his findings inwardly before speaking. As he filled her in about discovery of the suspicious powder in Angel’s rooms and his earlier phone call to the lab he sent the sample to, he could tell by her stiffening posture that he’d gained her complete attention.

“This isn’t the first time drugs have affected Angel’s behavior,” he reminded her and knew by Cordelia’s expression that she was recalling how he was drugged by Rebecca and it blissed him out enough to bring out Angelus. “I suppose we can thank ourselves lucky that this time the drug used didn’t go to that extreme- thank goodness,” then cringed a little as she seemed to sink into the couch, her eyes swiftly shielded by her lashes.

Clearing his throat, he continued, explaining that the drug was a complex formulation, something not marketable, made for a specific purpose. His voice lost the edge of discomfort as he warmed to the subject, realizing too it was a purpose he was beginning to understand. His source had provided him with a breakdown of the powder’s complex properties. The metabolites included hallucinogens and neurotransmitters designed to produce both psychotropic and physical effects.

Cordelia lifted her head as he spoke, her eyes slowly glazing over. Then she hmphed and narrowed her gaze, causing Wes to stop mid sentence. What with the lack of sleep, she scowled in irritation. “Any chance you can repeat that in English, Wes? Real English, not words that just had to be made up by some kook in a lab coat?” At his sheepish expression, she softened her tone. “I get that Angel went psycho and started with the stalkery behavior, but I want to know is… why me?”

“Yes, of course. Sorry.” Wes shifted in his seat and took a sip from his teacup before clarifying. “The drug affects the part of the brain that pulls out deep desires and brings hidden emotions to the surface…” his voice trailed off as the contents of his words suddenly hit him. “Which must mean Angel had hidden desires for you.” Even as he said it out loud, it instantly made sense to him.

A strange kind of relief engulfed Wes when Cordelia expressed surprise, the shadows in her weary eyes clearing a little his words sunk in.

“We can assume that over the past month, maybe longer, that somehow Angel’s sire, Darla, had been sneaking unobserved into the hotel in our absence.” Wes continued with a deep frown, his own eyes averting when Cordelia’s face paled noticeably.

“I first assumed that the drug was designed to be inhaled”, he revealed “but quickly disregarded that considering we know that vampires don’t actually breathe. The lab informed me that the compound was in fact triggered by contact with saliva. Darla must have used her fingers to -.”

Cordelia interrupted loudly, “Ew!” her nose scrunched up in distaste. “Can we skip the howdedodies and move on?”

“Right, yes of course,” Wes cleared his throat noisily. “Given the properties of the drug, Darla, obviously being an egotist, must have assumed she would reap the, uh, benefits.” Ignoring Cordelia’s deepening expression of distaste, he soldiered on, determined this time not to be interrupted.

“The findings show that the property of the drug enables the ‘giver’ to literally orchestrate the victims dream- not unlike lucid dreaming. Control must initially have been Darla’s, but Angel’s subconscious feelings and desire for… another, ” Wes stumbled a little, a slight flush tinting his otherwise pale face, “were obviously stronger.”

He paused, thoughtfully. “Something must have triggered it- possibly your scent,” Wes guessed with a slight frown that matched the one creasing Cordelia’s brow.

Her eyes went wide suggesting a moment of clarity “The hair sniffy… that must’ve been when it happened.” Wes was about to nod in agreement when he caught a subtle change in her expression as another obviously more distressing recollection hit her.

Searching his own memory for that moment and other early signs, Wes came to focus on one in particular. Tentatively broaching the subject, he asked, “That day when you went to wake Angel regarding your vision… did anything untoward happen?” Feeling surer by the second that he was onto something when her mouth gaped open in shock, he saw a healthy dose of mortification reflected in her eyes.

“Uh, what makes you ask that?” Her defensive reply turned suspicion into certainty.

Leaning forward to place his teacup on the table, Wes used the distraction to get better control over his own discomfort and by the time he straightened up his gaze was earnest yet revealed sympathetic understanding. “Cordelia, I can recall quite vividly that day. You’d had a vision and went to inform Angel, who was, as we know at that time, taking to sleep long hours. You came down after quite a long period of time skittish and upset.”

Wes did not wait for a response before adding; “When Angel joined us he too appeared completely distracted; as well as sporting a fresh wound on his …face.” His cheekbones flared hotly, matching the color that had suffused Cordelia’s face, and he relented a little. “I’m sorry for putting you into this position, but it could be important.”

Cordelia dropped her eyes, the blush fading from her cheeks as she silently contemplated her fingers that twisted the soft fabric of the sweater she wore. Her anxious fiddling drew his attention to the fact that it was the same sweater he’d found her in hours earlier. Until now it hadn’t clicked that the item of clothing belonged to Angel. And her not changing out of it strangely gave him hope.

His attention was brought back by the sound of her halting voice. “Angel was asleep- duh!” Cordelia’s mouth twisted even as her deeply shadowed eyes rolled in typical fashion. “I called him but he was out of it…” she paused and swallowed. Wes remained silent and patiently waited for her to continue. “When I shook him, he pulled me onto the bed and kissed me. I lost it and …bit him”

“Hmm…the act of biting Angel may even have triggered something else on a subconscious level.” Wes nodded to himself. “He is a vampire, after all.” Cordelia glanced up, her surprised expression bringing home that she expected to be reproached for her behavior.

After a long pause Cordelia shifted awkwardly in her seat. “So…how was he? Angel,” she added in response to his faintly confused expression. “When you found him?”

Wes drew in a deep breath and leaned back in his chair before expelling it, “Seriously distraught over what happened, which is understandable considering the circumstances,” he replied tiredly, meeting her anxious gaze. “He was concerned for your welfare.”

Noting the tremble that assailed her mouth, Wes pushed on. “Angel seemed aware that he’s not himself and I can almost certainly assure, open to seeking help.”

“He needs it,” she frowned. Then her expression softened again. “So what happens next?”

“We decided that for now, it would be best if Angel remained in his suite,” Wes replied. “Give him time to…recover. The effects of the drug are already diminishing. I believe it will take a while for it to leave his system completely, but there should be no sustained aftereffects.”

“How long do you think that will take?” Cordelia asked, chewing her bottom lip and revealing her anxiety. “I mean, he was seriously delusional,” she reminded him.

Nodding slowly, “I do recall you mentioning concerns regarding his mental health a while ago.” Wes pursed his lips in thought before continuing. “If he’s been on it for a month, then there is no precise way to tell how long it will take. Each passing day should bring him more clarity,” he reassured her with an optimistic smile, relieved when she returned it, albeit wavering.

Wes’ next concern hovered on the tip of his tongue: easing Cordelia back into her routine at Angel Investigations. “Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can put this whole mess behind us and continue on with the mission.” he concluded. But his growing relief at being able to look ahead with a positive air deflated at Cordelia’s abruptly shuttered expression.

“I’m all for the mission. You know that,” Cordelia agreed without hesitation. “But going back? I’m not sure that I can.”

It was Wes’ turn to gape in shock- rapidly followed by the urge to kick himself as he realized how linear his view had been. He’d simply assumed having all the answers and reducing Angel’s culpability would be enough for Cordelia to forgive the vampire’s recent digressions and return to the fold.

Providing Cordelia with the details of what caused Angel’s behavior seemed a logical path to forgiveness. Wes considered that Cordelia normally put a unique twist on logic. He’d pushed aside her need to recover from this whole experience, supplanting it with his own hopes that things would go back to normal. Even better than normal considering his belief that Angel’s soul was now permanent.

“I hope,” Wes swallowed, struggling to express himself, “that you will consider forgiving him.”

Cordelia’s pensive expression failed to assuage his fears on that matter. She obviously was not yet willing to commit herself to forgiveness one way or the other. As he realized that both of his friends were going to need time to make it through this ordeal, Wes decided to back off.

Pushing her now would gain nothing. It might even have the opposite effect by driving Cordelia further away. He couldn’t take that chance. Rising to his feet, Wes picked up his teacup and quickly drained the contents, grimacing a little as the cooled liquid slid down his throat, then setting it down on the tray, suggested that he should go. “It is time for me to get some sleep.”

He left out the part about needing to relieve Gunn once refreshed. “I suggest you do the same,” Wes stood looking down at her tired, almost lost, eyes, “if you can.”

Cordelia rose from the couch to walk him to the door. “Call me later, okay? I want to know how he? how things are going.”

Wes let that little slip slide. He stepped out into the hall, turning back as he realized, “Oh! One more thing I forgot.”

“What?” Cordelia asked warily.

“It’s about Darla,” he began only to be cut off before providing the details.

Wrinkling her nose in distaste, Cordelia pointed out, “That bitch already knows the drug works. What’s to stop her from trying it again? or coming after Angel in some other way?”

Wes took the quick route, “Darla is dead,” and watched as her mouth dropped open in surprise. “Angel staked her because she threatened you.”

Chapter 11

“Your little blonde slut is dead.”

Pursing her burgundy lips, Lilah paused to let the news sink in. Lindsey sent her a scathing glance over his shoulder that only spurred her on. “Would you prefer to think she left you? It’s been two weeks and darling Darla hasn’t even bothered to write.”

“Screw you, Lilah.”

Rich laughter poured from her throat as Lilah relaxed into her chair, fingers strumming against the padded arms. When she’d gotten all of the enjoyment out of that moment, she leaned forward to pull a memo from her desk. Holding it out to him, “Would you care to see the latest report?”

Lindsey walked over, snatching the report from her hand to quickly review it. “There’s no trace. Even the psychics can’t pinpoint her.”

“Yes, it’s rather strange. They all think she, ah, bit the dust,” Lilah smirked at her own little joke. She’d already been lambasted for her part and now it was her turn to make Lindsey pay for dragging her into it.

“What about him?” Apparently Lindsey couldn’t even say the name.

Lilah didn’t really want to talk about it. Even if Darla’s involvement hadn’t been her own idea, anything that involved bringing out the dark side of Angel was her business, especially if the plan failed to work. Their Intel was sketchy, but the psychics had made a strong statement that Angel’s future as a player and a champion was even more likely to cause problems for Wolfram & Hart. What that meant precisely was still to be determined.

“There was no sign of him up until two nights ago,” Lilah explained. “I was beginning to think Darla succeeded in turning him and they’d run off together.”

Leaning forward on the edge of the mahogany desk, Lindsey looked like he was about to blow a gasket. It was such fun pushing buttons when he made his vulnerabilities so obvious. “After all, Lindsey, you don’t really believe she’d choose you over him.”

He threw the report down scattering papers everywhere, his face a twisted angry mask. “Just tell me where to find them. They must be together. Angel would never kill Darla. She’s his sire.”

“You forget that he did once before,” Lilah reminded. “Besides, it’s clear that he’s no longer under anyone’s control. Angel’s back on the streets again.”

Making her point, Lilah informed him, “Night before last, two interns spotted him at Caritas singing Manilow for the Host. They didn’t get the full details of their conversation afterward. Those two friends of his came in looking sour-faced, but left with smiles on their faces.”

Lindsey said, “That could mean anything. Where was the girl, his seer?”

“Not there,” reported Lilah with a shrug. “Still locked up in her own apartment from what we can tell. She doesn’t go anywhere on her own and hasn’t set foot at work since before Darla went missing.”

“Maybe I should pay Ms. Chase a visit,” Lindsey muttered more to himself than to Lilah. She could see where he was going with this and while she didn’t care if he got himself killed in the process, she didn’t want anyone to think it was her idea.

Lilah pushed her chair away from the desk, stood, leaning forward with both hands pressed against the edge. “You don’t go anywhere near her without my say so. If the drugs are out of Angel’s system, then it’s a good bet that sooner or later his little crackpot team of investigators is going to track down the source.”

If it wasn’t already too late, she thought. “Yesterday, he took out one of our ops down at the docks.”

Even Lindsey looked surprised. “Wait— weren’t we expecting a new shipment in from Hong Kong?”

“Precisely,” Lilah’s face tightened as she remembered the chewing-out she’d been given. When it came down to it, Angel and his actions affecting Wolfram & Hart were her responsibility. Damned if she wasn’t going to make sure Lindsey got his share of the blame.

“If he knows,” Lindsey’s voice fell, a look of pure anguish on his face, “then chances are that Darl—”

A knock sounded at the door and Lilah, already bored with Lindsey’s show of grief, called out, “Come in.”

It was an inter-office messenger carrying a package wrapped up in brown paper. “This was hand-delivered, ma’am. I was told you’d recognize the sender.”

Lilah took the box with a vein of impatience, waving the young man off. He took a hasty retreat, not bothering to close the door behind him.

“Wait!” Lilah yelled as she saw the dark scrawl across the top of the paper. She set it down on the edge of the desk, backing away. The office boy returned, peeking in around the edge of the door. “Did you follow protocol and have this examined before bringing it?”

A nod followed. “All clear, ma’am. One hundred percent checked out and cleared. The x-ray machine, bomb-sniffers, and the psychics all had a turn.”

“What is it?” Lindsey picked it up from the desk. Then he saw, “It’s addressed to the two of us.”

“Open it and find out.” Despite Lilah’s curiosity, she didn’t want to be the one to open that package. The upper left side of the box was emblazoned with an inked stamp from the Hyperion. If she needed any more proof that Angel knew Wolfram & Hart were involved, this was it.

Lindsey ripped the brown paper away. Taking the letter opener from Lilah’s desk, the slit open the tape holding the box closed. When he opened up the flaps and looked inside, Lindsey staggered back with a look of horror. He stumbled, falling backward into a chair.

“Oh, my, now I really have to look,” Lilah gingerly stepped up and took a peek inside the box.

Wrapped up inside a sheaf of wax paper was a pile of blue-flecked dust. Lilah’s eyes widened at the sight of what she presumed were Darla’s ashes, and then narrowed again upon seeing the note tucked inside. She carefully extracted it.

Shaking off a bit of the dust, she paused at Lindsey’s fixated gaze. “We can vacuum your girlfriend up later. Listen to this…”

Lilah read him the note written in Angel’s distinctive scrawl. With Darla’s involvement, Wolfram & Hart’s involvement had been suspect from the first. Angel Investigations not only identified the substance they were using, but tracked down the company’s ties with the pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Angel was holding both Lilah and Lindsey personally responsible for Darla’s resurrection, her subsequent death and everything that had followed. Further interference that placed Cordelia Chase in danger would mean he’d take it out directly upon them.

“He’s slain his own sire,” Lindsey slowly rose to his feet and went back to the desk gazing into the box. “What could have possessed him?”

“You did, you moron,” Lilah propped a hip on the edge of her desk. “You and your crackpot plan to drug him into submission.”

Lindsey put his hand in the box, running his fingers through the powdery ashes. “Maybe we could—”

“Forget it,” Lilah snapped. “We’re not bringing her back again just to improve your lousy love life. Besides, do you really think they’d send back Darla’s ashes without fixing it so that it would never happen again?”

“No,” he gave them that much credit. Lindsey picked up the box, holding it close to his chest as he headed for the door.

Suspicious, Lilah warned him, “Make a move against Angel or his little seer and I’ll see to your termination— permanently.”

Angel was her territory. If anyone around Wolfram & Hart was going to counter this action, it was going to be her.

Forty-three days, 15 hours and a handful of minutes had passed since Angel last touched Cordelia. Not that he was obsessing over the idea. It was only natural to remember how long it had been since screwing up the best thing in his long and undeserving existence.

He’d spent the first days coming down from the effects of the drugs, when all of his dreams were filled with her. So real, too real, they left lingering traces of her warm touch across his skin as he awakened aroused and alone. Anger instantly followed the realization of his body’s betrayal. It obviously had no clue that it wasn’t supposed to want Cordelia that way.

Missing everything about her, it was the simple things she used to do that he longed for. The way she could make him feel human again, even if only for a minute, always amazed him. Just the way her bright smile would drag him out of the depths of his own tendency to brood. God, he needed that now.

No matter how many times Angel tried to fit his feelings for her back into the safe, comfortable zone of platonic friendship, he’d failed. Wesley’s carefully constructed explanation of the drug’s effects left him wondering if he would’ve ever made a move without them. Sitting here in his rooms had afforded him the opportunity to think back on every memorable instant of their time together.

He wanted that back.

It had taken another week for the dreams to fade, though he dreamed of her still. Only now he could tell the difference. That’s when he’d allowed Wes and Gunn to release him from his imprisonment in his rooms though they weren’t quite ready to give him the freedom of the streets. The training room became his only outlet. Angel had welcomed the activity, which gave him a respite from thinking about Cordelia.

How she must hate him.

Angel scrubbed a hand over his face at the thought of it. He tried to ignore the deep hurt flaring in his chest because he knew he deserved it. The trust that had built up between them— he’d shredded it into irreparable pieces. Despite that, he clung to a thread of hope because he knew he would do anything fix this, to get back to what they had before, even if he wanted more.

The thought annoyed him. He had no right to want more. No matter how many times he told himself that Cordy seemed to want him, too, he remembered that he’d forced her response. So he tried to convince himself that he could settle for less, even if it was only seeing her.

Two days ago, he’d gone to her apartment. Angel had rationalized that it wasn’t stalking, exactly. He was just checking up on a friend. Having suggested to Wes that he turn their routine video night into a trip to the movie theater, Angel had followed behind unseen by either Wesley or Cordelia.

He had lurked in the darkened theater, watching the two of them sitting side by side munching popcorn from a bucket as they laughed over the comedy on the screen. There would’ve been a time when Cordy would have tried to drag him along to see the show. He’d have given anything to be there beside her with the light from the screen flickering over her beautiful face.

Angel felt an empty ache as he remembered her smiling, her head thrown back, eyes crunched closed as she laughed. He missed that, missed her so much. That night, he had left the theater, determined not to follow her again without a good reason. If Cordy needed time to resolve what happened between them, he was going to give her the space she needed.

Soon enough, she’d come back.

Plagued by doubts, Angel headed out of his rooms with a plan of taking it out on the punching bag in the training room. He reached the top of the landing when the conversation going on in the lobby finally sank in. He stopped short, listening carefully as he realized Wesley had just returned from Cordelia’s place.

Gunn asked, “Any change?” before Wes had hardly got in the door. Whenever one or the other stopped in to visit, the question was asked. It had become a ritual between them the past few weeks, Angel noted, having heard it many times before always with the same negative response.

“Only to my thoughts on future wardrobe purchases,” Wes replied wearily, slipping off his jacket and flopping down on the couch next to Gunn who eyed him with a lifted brow. “Apparently, wearing plaids with stripes is ‘total sacrilege’.”

Having eavesdropped a time or ten, Angel gleaned every bit of information he could from their conversations to assure himself that Cordelia was doing okay. He told himself that her refusal to return was temporary. That next time the answer would be different. Apparently, whenever Cordy didn’t want to talk about him or the date she planned to come back to work, she would steer the conversation to a subject as far away from that as she could get.

Angel’s mouth quirked and he shook his head at her ability to completely disarm a man with just a few words. He watched Gunn nod in wholehearted agreement, hearing him ask, “Have you told him yet?”

Then grunting at the equally weary shake of Wes’ head, Gunn added, “Not like it matters what he thinks. Dude’s only got himself to blame.” Absently scratching his bald head as he spoke, “Hell, I wouldn’t wanna come back if I was our girl.”

Angel tensed at those words, anger flaring. Of the two of them, Wesley had been the most supportive. He understood the science behind what was done to him. Lucky for Gunn that he acted as the peacemaker because there had been three occasions early on when Angel nearly took his head off for daring to talk about Cordelia.

Fortunately, the drugs had worn off and he understood exactly where Gunn was coming from. Had their roles been reversed, Angel was certain that he would’ve done the same. His interests were in protecting Cordelia and Angel respected that.

From the landing above stairs, Angel could see the frown clouding Wesley’s face. “Whilst I understand your reservations, at the end of the day we need Cordelia back with us. The visio—”

“Like Cordy said before,” Gunn harshly cut him off, “she don’t need to be here to do her bit.”

“If you’d let me finish,” Wes sat up straighter, turning to face the younger man. “The visions are only a small portion of it. Before this dreadful occurrence we were…” a slow breath escaped, the tension stiffening his shoulders fading as he slumped back down.

Angel swallowed hard, listening, waiting to hear what Wesley had to say next. “Cordelia and Angel were- are the closest thing to a family unit I’ve ever had the good fortune to experience, and I’m loathe to lose that connection.”
Wesley’s words might have been an echo of his own thoughts and feelings. When it came to family, Angel hadn’t experienced that in a long time. As a vampire, he knew a far stronger connection to family than he had ever known during his days as a human, but that had been twisted by pain, lust and death. It wasn’t a real family, just a connection by blood.

Knowing Wesley felt that way gave him hope that he would continue to press for Cordelia’s return. It would be wrong to make his own appeal, Angel knew. He had picked up the phone and dialed all but the last couple of numbers on more than one occasion. He didn’t know what to say to make it better, because there was nothing he could say or do to erase what happened between them.

Below, the hard light in Gunn’s eyes softened in understanding as they rose from the couch to turn towards the stairs. “So… whose gonna tell him?” he asked, all earlier aggression now absent from his quiet tone.

Angel slipped further back into the shadows as they approached the bottom of the stairs. Despite Cordelia’s efforts to evade the subject, she’d always managed to give them the same impression. She had no plans to return. None, at all. To date, neither Wes nor Gunn had broken that news to him, but Angel knew. He just didn’t want to believe it.

“I’m hoping it won’t come to that.” Wes followed Gunn’s eyes, his troubled gaze rising higher to sweep the shadowed landing beyond.

Only twenty short minutes ago it had all seemed clear in Cordelia’s head. She’d come to the decision that minds had to be made up- or to be more specific, her mind. Now, staring up at the once elegant facade of the Hyperion, doubts began to resurface.

Was this what she really wanted? Would she miss it if she continued to stay away like a scared rabbit too timid to face the big bad wolf? That last thought had her head shaking in wry amusement picturing Angel as a large sleek and predatory wolf. Somehow that fitted him to a T, but putting herself in the role of a timid little rabbit—no way in hell. Her mouth thinned in self-disgust at the thought.

But still she hovered outside, caught between running back to the safety of her apartment and facing her fears. Cool moisture flecked Cordelia’s upturned face and she realized it had begun to rain. The gentle shower developed into driving drops that pelted her mercilessly, and its ferocity did what no amount of internal arguing could manage.

Her shoes click-clacked against the rain-slicked sidewalk as she hurried towards the hotel’s entrance. Before doubts could reassert themselves the door had been pulled open and already shut soundlessly behind her.

Finding the lobby deserted brought all her misgivings rushing back to the surface. Has she heard wrong? Wes had definitely said he’d be returning to the hotel for the remainder of the day, even giving her a rough time of his departure home afterwards. 6 pm. It had only taken her about an hour, two at the most after he’d left for her to decide to stop avoiding the hotel and Angel. 4:15 pm.

So where the hell was he?

Biting her lip fretfully, Cordelia eyed the shadowed stairs to her right. This needed to be done. One way or the other she had to know whether spending day in, day out side by side with Angel was ever going to work again. But facing him on his territory with no one around to at least quell some of the unease she felt at being here? Well that was a whole new level of confidence she doubted she had right now.

As her eyes darted from the stairs to the exit, the muffled sound of laughter drew her attention and she tracked the sound and saw a figure move past the office window below the mostly drawn blinds. Cordelia sagged in relief. Hearing the cultured tones of Wes seconds later evaporated the twinge of fear that bugged the hell out of her and she moved further in to descend the steps on her way over and then stopped dead.

Tilting her head to the side, Cordelia peered more closely until she saw that there were two distinct figures in the office and neither of them belonged to Angel, which meant he had to be upstairs. The fact that they hadn’t rushed out to greet her meant that they’d obviously not heard her enter the building.

It took two seconds of internal debate for her to decide against telling them she was there. With Wes and Gunn’s overly protective behavior of late, Cordelia knew when she told them of her decision to confront Angel they would instantly demand to accompany her. Visions of them arriving at Angel’s door, her looking like a filling in a sandwich as they flanked her had shaking her head and backing up.

Cordelia didn’t want Angel thinking she was too scared to face him alone… her mouth twisted at that. Duh! Like he probably hadn’t guessed already. But that wasn’t really why the thought of them by her side made her uncomfortable. Some things she had to say weren’t for their ears. She still had some dignity left. Okay, so yeah, them knowing she’d bumped uglies with Angel was mortifying enough.

Taking a deep breath to steady her skittering nerves, she turned towards the stairs and resolutely ascended, her hand gripping the rail until her fingers whitened from the pressure. It hadn’t occurred to her that their first meeting would be in his rooms. Thinking of what she was about to do set off every alarm system in her brain, but in a way it would be a catalyst. It was, after all where it had all started to change between them.

Rounding the corner at the top of the stairs, Cordelia began her trek down the dim corridor. Her step faltered as it hit her that the last time she’d been in Angel’s suite he’d pulled her down and kissed her. Oh god.

She could feel her resolve weakening with every step until her forward momentum stopped altogether. Maybe it would be better after all to have Wes go get Angel and then they could talk somewhere a lot less volatile? Then another thought hit her. Darla had been dusted in those rooms too. Staked by the man she had turned into a vampire over two hundred years ago. They had history, boy howdy, Cordelia’s lips curled in disgust at that. Angel had staked Darla once before for threatening the love of his unlife: Buffy. He’d done it again for her. That had to mean something, right?

That thought firmed her jaw and raised her head high as she began to walk, this time more confidently, eating up the last few feet until she faced his door, her knuckles rapping the hard wooden panel briskly. The harsh sound caused her to flinch. Maybe she had knocked a little too hard? Maybe he was asleep?

She gulped. Great. Pushing aside that unsettling thought she concentrated instead on the loudness factor, berating herself for not taking a second to temper her assault on the old dark wood, then the door opened and there was Angel, all tousled and damp, clad in a black muscle shirt that displayed rippling sweat-sheened muscles and a strip of bare skin above low-slung loose but molding black sweat pants that seemed to cling to lean hips by will alone. Her mouth dropped open. Thoughts of loudness vanished from her mind as she stared at the vision of salty goodness in front of her.

As still as a lion awaiting an approaching gazelle, Angel stood his ground. He’d heard her cautious steps along the hall just as he was heading toward the bathroom for a hot shower. Even before she knocked, he had a hand on the doorknob, ready to swing it open, eager to see Cordelia and scared to the core that she might be a figment of his imagination.

As his whole body went on alert, Angel sucked in a deep breath of air, his head tilted against the doorframe, taking in the faint scent of her. It had been quite a while now since he’d had a dream that he couldn’t distinguish from reality. Every instinct he had told him this was real. That Cordy was now standing on the other side of the door.

Angel released his hold on the brass doorknob, taking a few steps back to wait for her to enter. Racing thoughts ticked off the passing seconds. Why had she come? Wesley and Gunn seemed certain enough that Cordelia was never coming back and he’d just spent the last hour pounding out his frustrations on the punching bag.

The guilt he’d come to live with had a permanent home inside him, weighing heavily on him. This surprise move gave him the tiniest spark of hope. Angel latched onto it as he held his immobile stance by the door. Most of all, he didn’t want to make any move that might scare her away.

The loud knock that came jarred him. In the past, she’d rarely bother with a knock on his door whenever she slipped in to tell him about a vision or, more rarely, a paying client he needed to see. Cordy had a policy about letting sleeping vampires…sleep. Instantly thinking of the day he dragged her into bed with him, mistaking his dream, kissing her— and her hard chomp on his lip waking him up, Angel found it strange that she chose to come to his suite.

If this was going to be Cordelia’s opportunity to tell him off for stalking and forcing her into having sex with him— what else could it be— then Angel was surprised that it was going to happen here. He deserved whatever she had planned, but if Cordelia thought he was going to let her leave again without giving him a chance to explain his actions, she’d be wrong.

After the knock, Angel counted the time in heartbeats finally deciding that Cordelia wasn’t going to come in on her own. Pulling open the door, the full impact of her sumptuous scent swept around him as he took in her rain-kissed appearance. Her cheeks glistened with a light sheen, damp hair curling in a riot of waves around her face just like when they were in bed together and her aroused body climaxed around his.

The reminder made him tense fearing that he’d get hard again as he often did over the memory of making love to Cordelia. That’s what it was to him, what he’d intended all along despite the fact that reality was a much different story. The loose material of his sweat pants wouldn’t exactly hide his reaction, Angel realized, somewhat mortified at the thought of what she might think, especially since her gaze seemed to be trained on the patch of skin just above his waistband.

Angel rubbed a hand across it, noting the way her eyes darted up to his and the flush sweeping across her cheeks. For a moment, he almost thought she’d been checking him out. Then Cordy blurted, “You’re all sweaty.”

He’d been training. Angel made a sorry excuse for attempting to explain that as he backed away a bit. He’d been headed to the shower when she arrived. Now he felt self-conscious at the thought of his fresh sweat being unpleasant to her in such sharp contrast to the way her own damp skin made him react.

“Are you going to invite me in already?” Cordelia finally demanded deciding to take the bull by the horns. Hovering out here in the hallway where Wes and Gunn might overhear made her anxious to get on with this. She only hoped Angel hadn’t noticed the way she was staring at him.

God, he looked sexy without even trying. What was it about fresh sweat that was so sexy on a guy? He smelled— manly. She licked at her lips remembering the taste of his sweat-dampened skin, the feel of his heavily muscled body covering hers, the way she clung to him as he took her.

The direction of her thoughts renewed Cordelia’s determination. After all, she wasn’t here for that. Who wouldn’t have a hard time forgetting what a guy with 200-plus years of experience could do? A part of her still longed for his touch, but it was overshadowed by hurt and anger at the loss of their friendship along the way.

Whether or not it was Wesley’s constant, gentle coaxing over the past few weeks, she’d decided she was sick of playing the victim. She’d gone as far as opening up the newspaper and circling calls for auditions, but never going. Cordelia knew why. She missed being at the office with the guys and she couldn’t move on to anything new without confronting Angel first.

Now that she was here, Cordelia just wanted to get on with it.

Her impatience came across clearly and Angel reacted hastily to make room for Cordy so she wouldn’t have to brush past him. Though he craved even the slightest physical contact, just wanting to feel the warmth of her skin against his fingertips, he backed away knowing that any deliberate touch might scare her off.

Watching silently as she stepped into the room, he noted the way she looked around at the changes he’d made while trying to keep himself busy, a tactic designed to keep himself from thinking of her. One that rarely worked, Angel admitted as his eyes fell to her hips and the tantalizing way her skirt clung to the curves of her bottom. He thought of filling his hands with those taut curves, his fingers kneading her supple bare flesh.

Angel shut the door with a loud click that caused Cordelia to startle in response. She gasped at the sharp sound and glanced over her shoulder to find him leaning up against the door. Holding her breath for a moment, a frisson of fear shivered her skin. He was blocking the only way out— unless she went through the bedroom.

Then Angel casually stepped away from the door, moving around the room without actually approaching her. Cordelia relaxed a little when she realized that she’d been a little paranoid. Things had changed. Angel was supposedly back to normal again. He wouldn’t hold her here against her will.

“Don’t be scared,” Angel urged softly after watching Cordelia pace back and forth like a caged tigress, trying to sooth frayed nerves. Assuring her, “You’re safe with me.”

Consciously taking an unthreatening stance, Angel stood at the edge of the space she’d taken to work off some of that nervous energy. Seeing hazel eyes flashing with defiance, he knew any fear she felt was suddenly suppressed behind her irritation. He’d rather have her annoyed than fearing him, but now her defenses were up.

“Pfft! I’m not scared,” those defiant eyes trained on him. Only the fact that Cordelia’s absent fiddling with her purse strap gave away the fact that she wasn’t being 100% truthful.

Angel still couldn’t figure out why she’d come. There wasn’t a stake in her hand, so he ruled out her decision to deal with him that way. More than once, he’d pictured her telling him to stand still while she took careful aim at his heart. If dusting him was not on her list, then a tongue-lashing had to be somewhere near the top. He’d been anticipating it for weeks now, wanting to air things out between them. Each day, his hopes of reconciliation diminished.

Today, after Wesley’s return from seeing Cordy, he figured she’d finally made up her mind. Angel felt a rising wave of trepidation as he realized this might be the moment when Cordelia planned to tell him he was an evil bastard who had no place being near her and that she was leaving him and LA behind forever.

Whatever she planned to say, Angel sensed her nervousness. Hope tugged gently at the chains of his guilt when Cordelia raised her chin a notch, telling him, “I came here to talk.”

Talk sounded— promising. He could do that. Wordlessly, Angel motioned toward the couch. Cordelia stared at the couch, gulped and then held up a hand to push away the very idea of it.

“No thanks.” Cordelia took one look at it and knew she wasn’t going to put herself into a vulnerable position during this talk of theirs. “I’ll stand.”

Cordelia caught a hint of sorrow in those puppy dog eyes at her refusal and could tell he was going out of his way to avoid standing too close. She needed that right now. A little distance was what she needed to keep a clear head. Under normal circumstances Angel still had a tendency to crowd her space, but he’d finally succeeded in invading it— not in a good way.

Now she felt anxious, uneasy in his presence. It wasn’t simply about what happened. It was because she couldn’t get past her feelings about him or any of it. At least, not until she stopped hiding in her cave of an apartment and faced him. Cordelia had a million and one things to say, but where to start?

The silence between them was oppressive. Normally, Angel would have simply left it that way, but this was Cordy and silence from her was not normal. She glimpsed over at the door as if contemplating escape. He felt driven to stop her. They hadn’t had a chance to hash this out yet and dammit, he wanted this opportunity.

No, he needed it. “Cordy, I—”

“Wes told me—” Cordelia glared at him for interrupting her train of thought, but her eyes softened as she let out a nervous little laugh.

Angel’s muttered, “Go ahead,” prompted her to continue.

Without a hitch, Cordelia continued on. “Wes told me about the drugs. Basically, it was all a set up by Toady Central.” She made a face at the mention of their constant nemesis, Wolfram & Hart. “It figures they’d have their evil fingerprints all over this.”

A snort sounded, one Angel couldn’t quite translate as giving him a clean slate. That would be far too easy. He narrowed his gaze and watched her pace back and forth in front of the couch, tensely expecting her to get to the part where he was a low-down scum of the undead who’d seduced his seer.

“They’ve stuck their noses into our business too many times,” Cordelia huffed loudly as she paused nearby, tousling her damp hair with her fingers.

Angel held completely still as he noticed she’d said ‘our business’. Maybe it was just a slip. It might have meant nothing to her, but it gave him hope that Cordelia was here for something more than just a venting session. He allowed himself a brief hint of a smug smile. “I think they got the message.”

She looked puzzled. Wes had obviously not given her the whole story on their recent takedown of the W&H operation at the pier. He wondered what they did talk about as Wes was usually closed-mouthed about the details.

“Um, good,” Cordelia muttered, a little startled by the comment and more so by the smile. It disappeared so quickly that it might have been her imagination. Angel’s mouth was drawn into a straight line, the lips that had kissed her with such heated passion now as immobile as the rest of him.

She’d been talking about the technical stuff, deliberately avoiding the personal angle. Sticking to the facts— hmm, maybe that was why Wes was so into facts— helped her to suppress some of her anxiety. Thinking of Wes gave her another fact to latch onto. “Hey, I heard that Wes’ spell worked. Your soul’s here to stay.”

Angel was quick to point out, “Lorne confirmed it.” He wanted Cordelia to know that it wasn’t just Wes’ opinion alone.

“I know,” Cordelia grinned because she couldn’t stop her smile from spreading at the rush of happiness she felt on Angel’s behalf. “That’s fantastic, really.”

If Cordelia wasn’t around, Angel figured that avoiding perfect happiness wouldn’t be much of an issue. So permanent or not, it really didn’t matter.

“Yeah,” his half-hearted agreement caused her smile to vanish. Things got instantly awkward.

Any confidence Cordelia had picked up during the early part of the conversation took a downward spin when she realized they’d covered all of the non-personal stuff. An awkward, tense silence billowed up like a gigantic bubble waiting to be popped.

She dropped her gaze to her fingertips, taking a suddenly avid interest in the color of her nail polish, feverishly trying to think of something to kick start her tongue and begin the difficult and truly uncomfortable task of tackling the more intimate issues left between them.

The most tempting idea was avoiding it all together by brushing it all under a convenient rug. Her eyes lit up at the idea as she peeked up at Angel whose slumped shoulders and dipped head suggested he wasn’t as thrilled as he should be about his permanent soul. That made no sense.

All she wanted to do was clear up things between them, but her conflicted thoughts and Angel’s strange attitude caused Cordelia’s anxiety to skyrocket again.

Thinking more or less the same thing, Angel wanted not only to clear things up, but to fix them. For the past weeks, he’d thought deeply about it and come to the conclusion that he would be unable to just ignore everything that had happened between them, what it had meant, what it revealed to him and most of all, how he did not want to avoid or attempt to forget how he felt about her— and how he yearned to explore the possibilities.

So he’d spent a lot of time mentally rehearsing what he’d say if and when Cordelia finally decided to give him a chance. Angel knew this was going to be his one and only opportunity, yet he sensed her standoffishness and the awkwardness between them.

Risking her enmity, Angel broke the heavy silence. “Cordy, I never meant to hurt you.”

Cordelia’s head jerked up, fake nail interest lost as she was swallowed up by his stare. His eyes, darkened and tortured, matched the world of pain and regret revealed in that one sentence. Overwhelmed at the stark intensity there, Cordelia’s thoughts roiled at the realization there would be no more delays.

Their matched gazes held for a moment longer as they shared a look of pure intensity. Then both glanced away. Cordelia, unable to bear Angel’s tortured expression, felt a conflicting wave of concern and satisfaction. After everything he’d put her through— she sighed deeply until she felt the pull of his renewed attention.

Angel’s gaze hadn’t traveled far. His eyes caressed every luscious curve remembering the way she responded to his touch. He knew that he’d never be able to make up for what he’d done. Though he wanted things to be uncomplicated the way they used to be, Angel knew he was lying to himself. They’d never been that uncomplicated even before this fiasco.

Now he held out a tiny bit of hope for the possibility of more. No longer content to remain still and silent Angel took a step forward and then another until he was close enough to reach out and touch her, though he kept his hands at his side. “I should’ve realized something was up,” Angel knew it wasn’t really an excuse for his behavior, “but I didn’t. Darla—”

At the mention of his sire’s name, Cordelia backed up, raising a staying hand. A look of distaste showed on her face. “I didn’t come here to talk about her.” She frowned, adding, “She’s dust. Let’s just forget about it.” There was a no softness to her words and she made no attempt to hide it.

Angel faltered a bit. While he didn’t really want to talk about Darla, her involvement in this whole scheme was important to his defense. Seeing Cordy’s reaction to the mere mention of it, Angel suddenly realized that tactic was a mistake. He could clearly picture Cordy snapping, “I don’t care about your lame Darla-made-me-do-it defense.”

Deep and meaningful discourse was hardly his forte. Gathering his thoughts, Angel found the thread he was searching for. “You’re right. Darla has little to do with what happened between us.”

Only Cordelia was too busy barreling along, her words cutting across his, to notice that his held a deeper meaning. “Our lives are full of risks, Angel. I just,” she blew out a breath, “never thought you could be one. Angelus, yeah, but not you.”

The intensity in her voice told him it was obviously something that was playing on her mind. The accusation cut into him and for a moment he was at a lost of what to say. So far, his ‘speech’ was going to hell in a hand basket. There was only one way he could answer.

“It was the drugs,” he reminded her firmly. “Without the effects of the drugs, it would never have happened. Not that way,” Angel tagged on.

Cordelia hugged her arms across her chest as she thought about it for a few seconds before finally conceding that Angel was right. With her lips pressed closed, she gave him a slow nod.

Then he added, “We got lucky.”

Instantly, Cordelia picked up on his ‘not that way’ because it sounded like Angel was suggesting something more intimate could have happened between them without the influence of the drugs. That led to his statement about luck, which was something she had told herself a thousand time, but wasn’t sure if he meant it the same way.

The sensitive subject of his lack of soul lossage still stung, even though she’d long ago quashed down that irrational feeling of insecurity. Now it came surging back with a force that almost knocked her off center. Realization of her strong reaction jolted enough that Cordelia made a conscious effort to relax her features into something less revealing as she asked, “What do you mean, lucky?”

How else would he mean it? Angel wondered staring back until the proverbial penny dropped. His first instinct was to touch her, to reel her in for a hug that provided some silent reassurance that his feelings for her ran deep. Angel got no further than a hand on her suddenly flaming cheek as he reacted to the panic in her eyes even though she didn’t budge from her spot.

Deliberately, he kept his hand there, his touch gentle. “It’s a given that I would’ve lost my soul if Wes hadn’t intervened when he did.” Angel watched Cordy closely for her reaction. He held such an unwavering belief that it would’ve happened that her incredulity surprised him. “My feelings run too deep to doubt that.”

Cordelia didn’t disappoint him. A flash of stunned relief showed before her lashes shield her expression and for a second Angel was overwhelmed with optimism. He felt her relax under his touch as she released a soft breath of air against his wrist. Sensing it was time to give her a little more space again, he let his fingers trail across her soft cheek before dropping his hand to his side.

The loss of Angel’s touch was felt instantly, but Cordelia was already caught up by the fact that he’d just told he had feelings for her. She was pretty sure he could tell that her heart was pounding and she instinctively pressed an open hand to her chest as if that would muffle the sound. Totally unprepared for him to be so direct with her, she felt flustered, her defenses going back up, her eyes unable to meet his.

Considering Cordelia’s reaction, Angel was starting to feel a little euphoric. The way she seemed surprised about something that was so obvious to him made Angel realize Cordelia believed his behavior simply came out of left field. That it wasn’t based on existing feelings. How was it possible that she was so damn clueless?

He decided to keep going before he lost his nerve. “Did Wes tell you how the drug worked?”

“The whole playing with your head and turning you into obssess-o-vamp thing?” she replied almost vaguely, making a swirly gesture next to her temple.

That casual response stung, leaving Angel wondering if Cordelia really understood what he was saying or, far worse, if she didn’t care that he actually felt something for her “It wasn’t some random drug, Cordy” he stressed only to be cut off.

“I know that, geez,” Cordelia flailed and moved away again, “enough with the chemistry class. Do we have to go through that again?” she snapped defensively as she came to a stop near a pair of leather chairs sitting at a perpendicular angle to each other.

Tossing her purse down on the chair, she kept her back to him, needing a minute to think before facing him again. A small statue of some strange native design on the coffee table randomly caught her attention. She picked it up and stared into its beady hand-carved eyes only set it back down when she realized that Angel was actually trying to open up to her and she was doing everything possible to avoid hearing it. Slowly, she turned around to see the hurt now masking his face that he ineffectively tried to hide from her.

Angel’s head dipped down, his hands propped on his hips where his low-slung sweats held on. If she wanted to know whether he was capable of being his brooding former self again, Cordelia got her answer, though she had mixed feelings about that, too. Now she felt like a bitch for snapping at him when he obviously wanted to tell her something important to him.

Before she could tell him to get on with it, Angel’s head lifted up, his eyes meeting hers again with a look of such determination that her breath caught in her throat.

“The drugs don’t act randomly,” Angel pointed out, holding his ground despite the fact that he wanted to be up close and in her space. “Feelings— desires have to exist beforehand.”

Cordelia’s mouth formed a circle as his meaning sunk in and Angel knew he finally had her attention. He licked his lips, shifted his stance and rubbed at the back of his neck all the while realizing that he needed to get over his nerves and just tell Cordy what she deserved to hear from him even if it meant rejection. As he heard himself speak her name, Angel knew he had to try to salvage any scrap of their friendship he could manage.

Starting cautiously, “You have to know how much I value your friendship.” Moving forward with the same kind of hesitation, he judged her reaction to every word and each step. “And your sacrifices,” he added, “for me.”

Expecting a snarky rejoinder, Angel wasn’t sure what to make of her silence. She looked a little stunned, pleased and confused all at the same time. So he pressed on with what he had to say, gulping at the knot in his throat this time, “There’s more to it than that.”

“Oh?” Cordelia tried to sound casual, shrugging one shoulder as she propped a hand on her hip.

After a long pause, Angel blurted, “You’re so damn beautiful and somehow you crept in under my skin until I— I miss you, Cordy. Nothing is the same around here without you.”

Gaping like a goldfish, Cordelia blinked and held up a hand to stop him from rattling on. After the first few words, it was all a blur. She wanted to hear it again just to be sure she’d heard it right. “What was that again?”

“I miss you,” Angel repeated. “Nothing is—”

Cordelia huffed, interrupting, “No, dumbass, the other part.”

It took a moment for Angel to realize what she was talking about. He was trying to figure out a way to tell her that he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him without sounding like an obsessed nutcase when Cordy waved a hand and prompted, “Y’know, the beautiful creeping part.”

Angel was just pleased that she didn’t seem repelled by the fact that he’d said it. Though he wasn’t quite sure why she needed to hear him say something that was so obvious. A hint of a smile tugged at her lips in obvious anticipation of what he had to say, hazel eyes sparkling. He certainly owed her that much.

“Everything about you is beautiful to me.” Angel hoped that didn’t come out quite as corny as it sounded in his head because he meant every word of it. He shifted his stance again, nervous about where this conversation was going because he knew that after everything that had happened, he didn’t deserve more than a compulsory grunt of acknowledgement.

Her smile blew him away as he stood there dazzled by its intensity knowing that finally he’d said something right.

Hot and flushed, Cordelia couldn’t believe Angel had said that. He’d been capable of saying anything while under the influence of the drugs and told her more than once how beautiful and sexy she was to him. That could be explained away as the effects of the hallucinations. Now Angel was admitting that those feelings were there before.

“So I get under your skin, huh,” she teased, pursing her lips into a pout, adding, “like some kind of irritant?”

Angel’s gaze focused on her lush lips. “Only the best kind,” he muttered as he dipped his head toward her mouth.

Jerking back a step, Cordelia bumped into the edge of the chair cushion, losing her balance and plopping down with a yelp. “Angel, I don’t—”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have—,” Angel quickly attempted an apology, but stopped at the sound of the husky chortles caught in her throat. Damning himself for moving too fast, he rubbed a hand over his mouth as if to stop any further spontaneous idiotic ideas from springing forth.

Turning, he sank down into the chair opposite to hers, trying to relax into it, but his body was taut with tension. “We don’t have to..,” he faltered and started again. “I want our friendship back. Just tell me what I need to do to make it happen.”

Cordelia sighed, her lashes dropping down to shadow her eyes. He made it sound as if she could hand him a list of tasks he could tick off one by one. Maybe the fact that Angel thought she was hot gave her a needed ego boost, but it could not erase everything that happened between them. That was impossible to forget and there was no way she could push it aside.

“It’s not that simple,” Cordelia shook her head, leaning forward with her elbows together on her knees. Hands clasped together, she pressed them against her mouth searching for a way to put her feelings into words.

Cordy found herself staring at the carpet and the way Angel’s foot subtly ground into it almost undetectably. She skipped up the length of his legs distracted from her thoughts by the hand resting atop his thickly muscled thigh noting the strong fingers pale against the dark fabric of his sweats.

The image hit a memory chord calling upon flashes of those same fingers and how they contrasted against her tanned skin, the gentle way he threaded them through her hair, the way they’d cupped firmly around her breast or sought out her most intimate places. Then his fingers flexed against the fabric, stretching it in intriguing ways causing her to swallow hard.

Flushing hotly, Cordelia’s eyes jerked up connecting instantly with dark brown. For a second, she couldn’t look away. Then, clearing her throat, finally dragged her gaze away and leaned back in her seat uncomfortably.

Angel had a pleasant shock. He’d drifted out of his thoughts and looked towards Cordelia seeing the distracted look on her face– and strangely heated eyes. He’d followed her gaze almost compulsively and when he realized she was staring at his hand, his fingers automatically flexed as he felt an instant responding heaviness in his groin. Eyes lifting rapidly towards her again, Angel caught her almost guilty gaze and felt certain that he wasn’t imagining the confused arousal in her dilated eyes.

Cordelia sat back in her seat after breaking eye contact when realizing he was looking right at her. She crossed her legs, nervously smoothing the soft fabric of her knee length skirt. Sitting down had caused it to ride halfway up her thighs. The actions drew Angel’s eyes to the golden length of her legs. He knew they felt like fine velvet-satin after running his hands from ankles to thighs that night, also recalling the feel of them as they hugged his naked hips tightly. A shiver ran down his spine and it brought him back to the present with a jolt. Blinking away the vision, Angel pulled himself together before his body betrayed his thoughts.

He chanced a look her way and again their eyes connected for a stunned second. He read her awareness and his gut clenched.

They both looked away that time.

Reeling, Cordelia knew there was no way she could mistake the heated desire seen blatantly in his dark eyes as they traveled the length of her legs. She’d chanced another look in his direction after smoothing her skirt and now wondered whether she should regret that or just enjoy the flare of pleased shock that ran through her.

When she’d first got there, uppermost in her mind was the badness of it all and how she would react to seeing him, but when finally confronting him all she could feel and recall were the gentle moments, the passionate moments. Any earlier thoughts she’d had of leaving had completely vanished.

Cordelia realized that she didn’t really want to. True there was still a fission of ‘oh god, what the hell am I doing here’ fear running through her, but the cautious anticipation was running a very close second. Mostly though, she had come to the conclusion that she wanted desperately what they once had. It was just like Angel said. She wanted their friendship back and just needed someone to tell her how to make it happen.

There had to be a way to work their issues out and maybe, just maybe…

Needing to break the cloying silence, Cordy cleared her throat audibly and leveled her gaze back on Angel, and was thankful to find his expression had returned to calm waters. She could handle that.

“How are you feeling now?” she asked sticking to small talk, clearing her throat once more to rid the annoying tinge of husk.

“About you?” Angel asked without thinking, still a little bit in the moment.

“Huh?” Cordy’s eyes widened, startled before blinking rapidly. She’d been asking about his health. “Obviously, the weather would’ve been a safer choice.”

Angel freaked inwardly, but didn’t move a muscle. God, he’d been planning to say something more about his feelings for her. It was on his meticulously developed list of things they needed to discuss. As usual, planning and Cordelia didn’t really mix well. Trust her to take their conversation on some random track forcing him to keep up.

Taking a moment to pull his wits together, Angel was glad when Cordelia seemed to recover first and continue talking. “Wes told me a little about the Wolfram & Hart thing, so I suppose you’re obviously feeling better if you’re up to kicking some ass.”

Nodding, Angel responded quietly, “I wanted to make sure you’d be safe.”

Cordy shifted in her seat then decided to take the moment to bring up the mission. “I haven’t had a vision in a few days, maybe a week, but knowing the PTB, I doubt it’ll last long.” She glanced toward the ceiling and made a face at it.

Responding hesitantly, Angel wondered where she was taking this. “Yeah, I heard that you plan to call them in, which is okay, if—”

“Actually,” Cordelia broke in, “I’ve been thinking about maybe coming back…’cos it would be easier. And I think I’m needed here,” hastily adding, “at the office,” when it occurred to her that ‘here’ sounded a little too intimate, considering where they were right now.

Cordy’s correction went over Angel’s head. He was too busy letting the rest of her words sink in.

Eying the silent vampire and feeling a little disconcerted at the length of time he took to respond, Cordy tagged on, “If you’re okay with that?”

That got his attention. Angel’s surprise sounded clearly, “You’d do that?”

“If you want me,” Cordelia replied, and then realized how he might take it. “Well, duh! Vision Girl!” For a moment both were transported back to a time when everything was okay between them.

“Of course I…” Angel was glad she’d interrupted before he made a fool of himself, thankfully leaving the ‘want you’ part off. He doubted she would have appreciated such a blatant reply. “I… we need you here. It isn’t the same without you,” he added wholeheartedly and she smiled.

“Pfft! I bet you guys loved not having a girl around to keep you in line.” Hearing Cordy tease brought a lump to Angel’s throat and he was glad when she went on to matter-of-factly tell him she’d need help hauling her stuff back to the office.

Angel started to offer, nodding in agreement, but then his expression became hesitant, his mouth half opened before snapping shut. Reading him like a well- loved book, Cordy made it easy for him.

“I could do with the help- that is, if you don’t mind?” she asked with a lift of a finely arched brow.

The lump in Angel’s throat grew larger until he had to swallow hard to get rid of it. The subtle hint that the uninvited would no longer be a problem hit home. That was a BIG step for the both of them – and one that said a lot to him.

“Of course I don’t mind.” He paused before adding,” I could bring Gunn with me to help.”

The suggestion hung in the air between them. Then her face softened for a moment at his offer: an understanding and willingness to compromise so she wasn’t alone with him.

“How much stuff do you think I have?” Cordelia raised a brow and dared him to comment. “I didn’t take the kitchen sink with me, so if it’s missing, you are looking at the wrong suspect,” she retorted lightly and gulped a little when her comment brought a hint of a smile to his face before smoothing into seriousness.

Leaning forward in his seat, forearms resting on his spread thighs, his fingers steepled, Angel asked somberly, “Are things gonna be okay between us, Cordy?”

His whole body tightened as he geared up to ask the ultimate question. “I need to know, so I’m going to just ask: do we pick up where we left off?” It was out in the open and he found himself holding a reflexive breath as he watched the play of emotions that ran across her face.

Cordy thought about it before answering wondering exactly what he asking her. A frown marred her brow as she looked at him closely. Surely he didn’t mean that on a romantic level? For the moment, her mind instinctively rebelled against that idea. She’d be lying if she denied that her head was still screwed up enough by past events and a big part of her just wanted to go back to the beginning, before this whole mess had almost ruined everything between them.

There was still a part of her that wasn’t fully sure of her feelings towards Angel. Fair enough, if asked now, she would most likely say the feelings were returned, but how much of those feelings were just an echo of what happened between them?

The way she saw it was that she agreed to come back to work. That was difficult enough without clouding the issues by thinking of more. Cordelia rose to her feet no longer able to remain seated. Gazing down at Angel, she finally asked, “You mean start over?” and felt equal amounts of relief and sadness on seeing a slight slump to his broad shoulders.

“Okay,” Angel finally agreed after a long pause shaking off the disappointment even as he berated himself for even considering Cordy would be ready for more, “we’ll start over.”

A new start taking it from the beginning, he could do that. Angel figured it was better than nothing- and to be totally honest with himself, so much more than he thought he’d have before Cordy had turned up to talk. “From the beginning,” he replied more strongly, rising to his feet to stand beside her, glad that he’d said it when the fine tension he’d noted minutes earlier seemed to drain from her.

Cordy nodded, relieved, a smile slowly forming and her tone upbeat as she spoke, “And you can start by—.” The familiar aura of lights flashed behind her eyes signaling the oncoming vision. “Oh crap!”

Reacting instantly, Angel caught Cordelia before she fell against the coffee table, pulling her close. It was as if the PTB decided to mark their reconciliation with a big bang. He cursed vehemently as the vision tore through her. This bit he didn’t miss, and never would: the pain that was so apparent in her face wracking through her fragile mind and body without respite.

As she calmed, Cordelia heard the soft sound of Angel’s soothing whispers noting the gentle strength of his arms as he held her against him. Feeling his hard still chest pressed against the side of her face, and a large cool hand cradling her nape, she breathed in deeply and for a long moment enjoyed the scent of him as well as the closeness.

How had it even crossed her mind that this was something she could easily give up? Her fingers curled into the soft fabric of his muscle shirt and the instant flex of hard muscle against her cheek had her loosening her hold and pulling back enough to tilt her head up. She opened her eyes to find that familiar concern painted across his handsome face and realizing that being in Angel’s arms wasn’t awkward at all. In fact…, she shivered slightly, it felt entirely too good for where her head was right now.

Angel, too, became aware of their closeness. One moment, he was focused only on her wellbeing, but as the vision ended and she opened her eyes, he caught a glimpse of the trust that once existed between them. His hands moved as she pulled back, dropping to curl around her waist. As he felt her shiver in his arms, another speck of hope was added to the slowly growing pile.

Crouched together on the carpet in the tight space between the table and the chairs, they held still, both afraid to move and end the moment. Finally, Cordy took a deep breath and eased back a little. “There’s a big stinky green demon with a bad attitude planning to take out a bunch of tourists at the WB studio. I’d better go tell the others.”

Angel’s hands were still resting on the curve of her waist. When Cordy glanced down, he took it as his cue to release her. Slowly, he helped her to her feet and reluctantly dropped his hold. The heat of her body still imprinted on his own lingered even when she slipped around him and walked towards the door. Unsure what to do or say next, he just stood there, watching her get further away.

Already feeling the loss of his touch, Cordelia cleared her throat and moved away until she got to the door. Pausing after she opened it, she glanced over her shoulder, asking expectantly, “You coming?”

He looked at her, and hesitated. It seemed so long since this familiar scenario had played out. Until now Angel never thought it would happen again and a gamut of emotions hit, keeping him pinned to the spot.

Seeing the play of emotions that darkened Angel’s eyes and tightened his face caused something to stir deep inside Cordelia. Realizing this wasn’t the time, and probably wouldn’t be for a while at least, she shoved down her answering feelings and pulled herself together. Mouth softening into an encouraging smile she instead teased him gently. “Got some major kick-assing to do. Tempted?”

A slow smile appeared as Angel nodded. Glancing down at his clothes, he tugged at the muscle shirt and grimaced. “Do I have time to change?” Sweat stains were slowly forming and although he knew there would be more to worry about than sweat by the end of the night, the need to be clean at the onset weighed heavily on his mind.

The smile on Cordelia’s face widened. Typical Angel and his fastidiousness. “We got time. See ya downstairs then.”

Angel felt a surge warmth run through him at the sparkle he hadn’t seen in a long time lighten her eyes. As Cordelia closed the door softly behind her, he stared at the wooden barrier for a moment thinking that today had turned out much differently than expected.

Stripping down, Angel took a quick shower and tried to keep his mind on the fight ahead instead of Cordy, but it was a losing battle. He headed for his closet after drying off, selecting something suitable for a fight. Dressed and ready, he headed for the door, pausing in thought as his hand connected with the brass knob.

Starting over with Cordy was far more than he expected and deserved. Patience was something he could deal with if that’s what she needed. Feeling hopeful, with an edge of anticipation, he opened the door and left his doubts behind him.


What are your thoughts about ‘Splintered‘?
Writing Team: C/Aphrodisiac (Califi & Lysa)

Kudos and Critiques are Appreciated.

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    • Glad you enjoyed Splintered. It’s one of my two collaborations with Califi. Writing fan fiction is hard enough, but trying to mesh ideas and writing styles with another person is quite a challenge. It’s fun, too!


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