Archive for June 27, 2015

40 Nights. 13   1 comment

Part 13

Wesley glanced around the Hyperion lobby as he walked down the steps. “Has Angel come down yet?”

“Yeah. He’s in your office.”

“Where’s Cordelia?”

“She’s still upstairs. She came down for a bit. You should’ve been here. Apparently the vamp isn’t the only one who can throw a hissy fit.”

“What do you mean?”

“Angel’s mystery client stopped by and she is hot. I thought Barbie was gonna throw down when the woman asked Angel to spend the night with her again.”

“The client is a woman.”

Gunn nodded enthusiastically. “That would be a hell yeah.”

“And Cordelia was jealous?”

“I didn’t see any claws but there were green sparks in her eyes.”

Wesley tiredly sank onto the nearest couch. “I was afraid of that.”

“It isn’t magic, is it?”

“No. Lorne confirmed the bond isn’t affecting their emotions.”

Gunn’s gaze alternated between the closed office door and the stairs leading to Angel’s suite. “What are we gonna do?”

“If it was only Angel’s feelings concerned, the solution would be simple but I fear Cordelia’s heart is entangled as well.” He sighed. “This is such a mess.”

“Are you sure we can’t just stake him?”

Wesley paused to consider it but quickly shook the idea off. “We can’t. Perhaps I should talk with Cordelia. I can remind-”

“Hold up. Have you met her? You can’t tell Cordelia what to do.”

“Charles, she’s not the type to do something simply because she’s been told not to. She’s a grown woman, not a child.”

“That’s not what I’m sayin’. You know how she gets. It’s one thing for her to do the insulting, but if someone else does it, she starts defending like a momma-bear. By the time she finishes shooting down all your reminders, Cordy will have convinced herself to take a running jump into their marriage bed and I don’t mean to sleep.”

“Hmm. Perhaps I should speak to Angel instead.”

“Ya think?”

***

“Ah there you are, Angel. Do you have a minute?” Wesley asked as if surprised to find him in his office.

Angel rose from his former chair. “I had to make a few phone calls… to some contacts.”

Wesley’s eyebrow arched but he remained silent.

Angel gathered his notes and moved to the other side of the desk. “I thought it would be easier to use the office.”

“It’s quite all right. Are you working on the case you were dealing with last night?”

“Yeah. There’s a land developer that’s been sending vampires to convince land owners to sell.”

“Demon?”

“It looks like it. I haven’t been able to find out what type yet. Corsair, Inc. is buried in holding companies. Lorne has a friend trying to weed through it to get me a name.”

The fact that Angel’s first instinct wasn’t a trip to Wolfram and Hart was not lost on Wesley. “When Cordelia comes down, she can run a search on the internet.” Wes braced himself as he said, “Speaking of Cordelia, apparently my theory about the bond was incorrect.”

“Oh?” Angel eyed the door, considering escape.

“Yes. Lorne informed me that the bond does not have any direct effect on either party’s emotions. Which leads me to wonder why you allowed me to continue to believe there was?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“Don’t you? I believe you informed me in this very room that it would take magic for you to fall in love with Cordelia. While I found that ludicrous, I did think you were being sincere.”

Angel finally made eye contact. “Look, Wes. I told you what you wanted to hear. It’s none of your business whether or not I have feelings for Cordelia. That’s between her and me.”

“I don’t want Cordelia to get hurt.”

“And you think I do? I know you care about her, but she’s a grown up. It’s not your place to make her decisions. You may be the boss of Angel Investigations but these are our lives we’re talking about. Why can’t you just let us decide what’s best for us?”

“Those are valid arguments but I can’t stand by and watch you hurt Cordelia. Again. Neither can Gunn. You aren’t the right man for her.”

Angel resisted the urge to grab the pompous interfering man by the throat. “You don’t know that! Let me ask you, Wes. Why are you in here talking to me? Why not go tell Cordelia how she feels? I’m sure she’s just waiting for you to instruct her.”

“Sarcasm is hardly going to help the situation.”

“Neither is your interference. I’m in love with her. I want our marriage to work. I don’t want a divorce or annulment or whatever. I want Cordelia in my life, in my heart and in my bed. My soul is secure. My happiness is not a danger to you or to Gunn, so back off.” Angel turned to leave.

“Wait!”

“I’m done discussing this, Wes. The only way to prove you’re wrong is to love Cordelia and to make her happy.”

“Fine!”

That stopped Angel in his tracks. “What?”

“You’re right. It isn’t my place to tell either of you who to love.”

“I agree,” Angel said, warily.

“However-”

“I’m not interested in your buts.”

“Do you really want Gunn and me as your enemy?”

“Are you actually threatening me, Wes? I got to say that’s not smart.”

Wesley took a deep breath and sat down behind his desk. “Let’s calm down.”

“I am calm.”

“Yes I can tell by the death grip you have on the doorknob.”

Angel released the dented metal and moved to sit across from Wesley. He didn’t really want to fight. He valued Gunn and Wesley’s friendship. He wanted his entire family back but not at the expense of losing Cordelia. Angel was finally ready to stop the yo-yo ride and fight for his marriage. “I’m calm.”

Wesley detected a note of warning in his tone. “I realize I’m overstepping myself but Cordelia is very important to me. You don’t know what she’s been through.” He held up his hand to ward off any interruption. “That’s a fact, Angel. It’s not merely my opinion.”

“I will give you that, but I am here now. I’m not suggesting she and I ignore what’s happened. We were best friends and we’ll be that again.”

“Given time, that is entirely possible.”

“I will give her time. I just don’t intend to ignore how we feel about each other while we work through our problems.”

“But do you really believe completing the bond is the way to go about it?”

“…”

“Angel, I can accept that you love Cordelia. Well I can learn to accept it. She’s an amazing woman, but you have no idea what this… marriage means.”

“I love her and that’s not going to change.”

“Perhaps. Angel, you admit you have problems to work through but the course you wish to choose cannot be undone. You’re talking about tying a nineteen year old young woman to a two hundred and fifty year old vampire. Once completed, the bond can never be broken. Can you even begin to comprehend the magnitude of such a decision?”

Angel shifted in his seat. “I will love her forever, Wes.”

“But Cordelia’s forever is not nearly as long as yours. Have you thought about that? The bond requires fidelity, we’ve seen that and according to that priest, the bond cannot even be broken by death. For an immortal demon such as you, that may prove to be a great number of years of magically enforced chastity.”

“Well I—”

“Have you thought about what would happen to Cordelia if you were staked? You have done a lot good but you’ve also committed some truly heinous acts. Neither of us can say what will happen to your soul after you die, but should any torment be involved, do you know if Cordelia will be forced to feel your suffering for eternity? Do you even care what might happen to her once you’re gone?” He felt a twinge of guilt. He may not rival Angelus but Wesley knew exactly which buttons to push in this instance.

“I hadn’t thought about that.”

“You love Cordelia and… maybe you can make her happy. Maybe the two of you can have a truly wonderful relationship but that doesn’t mean you need to be married. After the forty nights have been completed, I won’t try to interfere in your relationship.” He was tempted to cross his fingers. “Cordelia is a grown woman and I will respect her decision… in this matter.”

“I-I suppose we could do that.”

“And in a few years and after considerable research, I will personally track down a qualified priest to perform the ceremony should you and Cordelia decide to marry.” May lightning not strike him dead? Wesley stood and began pacing.

“That seems fair.”

“I mean the two of you haven’t even had a proper date. Marriage seems a bit fast, don’t you think?”

“I guess you’re right.”

Wesley cleared his throat before continuing. “Angel, I know I have no right to ask this but I want you to give Cordelia the next forty days as well.”

“What do you mean?”

“As I said, I won’t interfere in your relationship after the annulment is final; however, I would like to see you give Cordelia a chance to see… to explore the possibility of a normal life or as normal as a seer can have.”

Angel spoke through a clenched jaw, “Meaning?”

“Brian is a-”

“No!”

“Angel, be reasonable.” Wes moved to stand behind his desk. “Brian is a nice normal man, who could possibly make Cordelia a very happy woman. That is what you want, isn’t it? You want her to be happy, don’t you?”

“I will make her happy.”

“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable, after all you did do it for Buffy,” Wesley calmly pointed out. “You know the bond prevents her from becoming too serious with Brian and pursuing a romantic relationship with Cordelia now may prove too strong of a temptation for you right now. Making love would bind her to you for an eternity… and to your demon.”

Angel felt his resolve draining away. How could he ask Cordelia to open herself up to not just him, but to his demon? The priest said they would feel each other’s emotions. Would Cordelia feel his demon? Would she experience all its urges? How could she not become disgusted or worse, afraid?

The pain and anguish reflected in Angel’s eyes hit Wesley like a punch to the gut. He felt like a total bastard. He reminded himself he was only doing what he thought was in Cordelia’s best interest and by extension Angel’s as well. After all, Cordelia’s unhappiness would torture Angel. Still he felt the need to offer some sort of consolation. “It’s only 40 days, Angel. It could give her the chance to go into a relationship with you without regrets. Put the choice where it belongs, with Cordelia.”

Both men turned when the door flew open. The object of their discussion stood in the doorway with fire blazing in her eyes.

“I want to have a word with you, Mr. Thinks-He-Can-Tell-Me-What-To-Do!” She expected a heartfelt apology quickly following by another soul-searing kiss. “Go away, Wes,” she said without taking her gaze from Angel’s.

“I might remind you that this is my office.” Wesley’s bluster melted at one arched eyebrow. “Which you are free to use when needed of course.”

Cordelia waited until the door closed behind Wesley to speak. “What do you mean I will break up with Brian tonight? Who the hell do you think you are? I decide when… I mean if I break up with anyone! Just because… and with the kissing… and the practically non-existent jealousy, which wasn’t even really jealousy, I don’t know why I even mentioned it. Like I would be jealous of that blond tart? What kind of name is Trixie anyway?” She folded her arms and gave him her best belligerent glare. “The point is, Angel, you can’t tell me what to do.”

“You’re right.”

When it didn’t look like he intended to continue, she said, “That’s it? Where’s my apology?”

“I’m sorry. I had no right to tell you to break up with Brian.”

“You bet your ass you didn’t.” Now kiss me, she wanted to demand.

“I realize I was being unreasonable. I admit I was flattered by your jealousy. I-”

“I was not jealous of that… woman.”

“-have feelings for you,” he said, ignoring the interruption. “I have romantic feelings for you that have become increasingly difficult to ignore.”

*Now kiss me*

“Being married has been really confusing for me. A part of me feels like I’ve been handed this wonderful gift and I shouldn’t let it go, ever. Upstairs, I let that part, that small part, get the better of me.”

“Uh huh.” Small, she wanted to ask.

“I shouldn’t have… Cordy, I don’t want you to break up with Brian.”

“What?”

“Nothing can happen between us. We don’t know—”

Cordelia interrupted before he could finish. She couldn’t bear to listen anymore. She cursed herself for being a million kinds of fool. “Exactly. I’m so glad we’re on the same page about this. I mean I get that there are some lusty feelings. Let’s face it. We are a couple of hotties, but that’s not the stuff lasting relationships are made of. I’m so relieved. I thought we were going to have some awkward moments. Phew! Well I have to go. I need to run some errands before I meet Brian at Caritas. Yeah so we talked and we straightened out where we stand and I’m gonna go now. Bye.” She rushed out of the office without meeting his gaze.

Angel stared at the empty doorway. He realized Cordelia misunderstood what he tried to say. An inner-voice raged that he should chase after her, make her understand; make her acknowledge the depth of their mutual feelings. The voice was squelched by reason. Wesley was right. Completing the bond wasn’t fair to Cordelia and he knew without a doubt that the next time he kissed her, he wasn’t going to stop.

***

“So that’s it? One year?”

“Miss Chase, it’s not an exact science. I wish I could-”

“Don’t take it back now. Just give me a straight answer.”

“The cold areas of your brain have increased by nearly 9% since your last test. Given the rate of decline, yes, I would estimate you have a year.”

“Dead. It sounds so… final. I guess it’s supposed to. I wonder who came up with the word. Dead, morte, mortuus, none of them sound all that appealing.”

“You know French and Latin?”

“I know death, Doc.” She rolled her eyes at how melodramatic she sounded.

Doctor Jefferies truly hated this part of his job, hardly surprising. No sane person could enjoy telling a young woman, barely claiming adulthood, she was dying. “Is there someone I can call?”

“No. There isn’t anyone,” Cordelia calmly replied. “Don’t worry, Doc. This doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. I’ve been coming here for months and each time the picture was a little bit worse. It’s like someone’s been drawing on my brain with a crayon. Hearing the words… it’s different, more real, but I’m a whole lot stronger than I look.” She tried to blink back the tears that began to form. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“It’s not medical,” Cordelia qualified.

“That’s all right.”

“I recently starting dating a-a really great guy. He’s pretty much everything I ever thought I wanted in a man. Given time, I think I could learn to love him, but that wouldn’t be fair, would it? I mean he deserves… more.”

Cordelia’s comment about learning to love a man gave him a moment of pause. She deserved “more.” “Miss Chase, Cordelia, I won’t tell you to stop living your life. The rate of decline may grow negligible or even stop altogether.”

“And if it did?”

“Well I… I think I could safely say that could increase your life expectancy by perhaps two or even three years.”

“I think we better stick with the worse case scenario.” I won’t give up my visions, I won’t quit to buy myself a couple of years, she thought.

“Have you given any consideration to confiding in this man?”

“He’s too nice. I won’t have him stay with me out of pity,” Cordelia said. “I couldn’t do that to him. It’s better to end it now, before he-I mean we fall in love, don’t you think?”

“Cordelia, you have a very difficult path ahead of you. I cannot predict how functional you’ll be in the time you have left. As much as we know about the human brain, there’s so much more we don’t understand. You need a support system.”

“I have one. I have… two very supportive friends. They help me a lot. They just don’t always know about it.”

“They should. The pain medication I’ve prescribed is a controlled substance. You’re already prohibited to drive a vehicle.”

“That’s why God invented cabs and the bus system.” She didn’t mention that she still occasionally drove. It wasn’t like she had any problems doing it.

“Yes, but you need someone to confide in, someone to talk to.”

“I have that too. Unfortunately it isn’t possible for him to come here with me.”

“Okay,” he said. “It’s your decision, but to answer your original question, if you wish to be fair, you’ll tell your young man the truth.”

“I’ll think about it, Doc.” Cordelia knew she wouldn’t tell Brian. He would want to take care of her and worse; he’d tell Wesley and Gunn, who’d tell Angel. Angel would probably be so torn up by guilt he’d change his mind. He’d probably claim to be hopelessly in love with her just because he knew it’s what she wanted to hear. He’d only have to humor her for “one year.” She couldn’t bear that. “I guess I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

“Yes.” He signed her paperwork and handed it to her. “Someone at the front desk will schedule your next appointment.”

“Thanks.” Once the door closed behind her well-intentioned doctor, she closed her eyes and said, “One year.”

***

…”Hi honey! I’m home.” Cordelia smiled when a slight breeze caressed her cheek. “I have another picture to add to the collection.” She walked into her bedroom as a plastic tub slid out from under the bed. She slipped the large envelope inside atop the others. A pill bottle floated for a moment. She answered, “Nope. No new drug bottle for that collection.” She rattled the bottle in her purse. “This one still works, so there’s some good news. I mean it seems like I’ve been trying a new med after every visit lately.”

The CAT scan she tucked away lifted slightly.

“That news wasn’t so good, Dennis. Doc Jeffries actually said it today. It was… a little less than I expected. He-umm-he gave me… one year.” Cordelia didn’t realize she was crying until a tissue floated toward her. “Thanks.”

She wiped her eyes as she walked into the living room. “He was a little vague about the quality of life during that “one year.” He reminded me about the no driving thing. He sounded kinda serious too. I guess I won’t be playing designated driver anymore. I’ll have to think of a different excuse for not drinking. I suppose I could remind everyone I’m technically underage. I wonder… I umm wonder if I’ll ever be… It doesn’t matter. Alcohol is totally overrated. I mean it makes total losers look like hotties.”

Dennis tucked a blanket around her trembling shoulders.

“Thanks. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I told the doctor about you today. I mean I left out the phantom part. I just told him it wasn’t possible for you to come with me for my appointments. He-uhh-he thinks I should tell the guys.”

The phone floated toward her.

“No. They can’t do anything. Besides even if I decided my life was more important than all the helpless we’re supposed to help, giving up the visions now wouldn’t save me. Too much damage has been done. It might buy me some time but at what cost. I can’t do that. I won’t. This is my decision. Wesley and Gunn can’t know, at least not yet. I will tell them. I will. I’ll know when the moment’s right. Until then, I still have you.”

A photo of Angel awkwardly standing in front of the painted door of their old office floated out of the drawer she’d stuffed it into.

“I don’t want to talk about Angel.” She smacked the picture away. “He’s the least of my priorities right now. He made his feelings perfectly clear. Besides I need to work on channeling my inner dumbass. Guess who gets to give the “you deserve a normal life” speech tonight?”

The photo dangled in the air again.

“No not Angel. He’s already given that speech to the only woman he’s ever loved. I’m talking about me. I have to break up with Brian tonight. It’s not fair for me to start something there’s no hope for. Brian’s a great guy. He deserves the house in the suburbs with the 2.5 kids. I can’t give that to him. I probably couldn’t even if I wasn’t… dying. I said it. I’m dying, Dennis.” She brushed a lone tear from her cheek. “It’s one thing to pretend I’m okay to the guys, but I can’t do it with Brian. I could love him. I really think I could but I can’t let him love me. I won’t. I won’t put him through that. Wes and Gunn already love me. There’s nothing I can do to stop this from hurting them, but I can help Brian.”

The air vibrated around her.

“Come on, Dennis. Help me pick out the perfect break-up outfit. I haven’t done this in a while.”

TBC…

Dock

 

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 12   1 comment

Part 12

“Unless you’re wearing the leather pants… Wesley? Taking a page out of Angelcakes’ book, are we?”

“I don’t know what you mean. May I come in?”

Lorne stepped aside and let Wesley enter. “What’s on your mind, muffin?” He tightened the belt on his silk robe. “Or you could just hum a tune and save us some time.”

“Is this a bad time?” He glanced down at Lorne’s state of undress. “Am I interrupting something?”

“I was having a wonderful dream about… It doesn’t matter. Your aura is practically shooting off sparks. What’s got you so riled? I’m getting a hazy sense of anger and dread.”

Wesley sat down at the bar. “I’m concerned about… What do you know about the effects of this bond?”

“Does it matter? I thought they were annulling the marriage.”

“They are but in the meantime I’m a little unsure how to deal with their confused emotions.”

“I don’t follow. It really would help if you hummed a few bars.”

“I think Angel is under the misapprehension he’s in love with Cordelia.”

“Misapprehension? What makes you think that?”

“The bond is tricking his emotions. The love isn’t real, at least not a romantic love. I fear he will act on these false feelings and bind Cordelia to him forever.”

“I’m sure that would be a horrible fate for Cordelicious. Whatever will she do being married to a tall, gorgeous—”

“This isn’t a laughing matter Lorne.”

“I’m not trying to be difficult, sugar. What makes you think Angel’s feelings have anything to do with their marriage ceremony?”

“This so-called marriage is obviously affecting both of them. It’s obviously a self-fulfilling ritual. Angel seems to be having more trouble dealing with what he knows to be real and what’s false due to his demon.”

“Wow. Would you like a drink? Taking a leap like that must be exhausting.”

“Lorne, pre-existing effects are a fact. Just the other night Cordelia and Brian attempted to… become more familiar with one another. Both she and Angel became violently ill.”

“Yikes. Where should I send the flowers?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“For Brian, should I send the flowers to the hospital or the funeral home?”

“Neither. She was alone at hotel when we returned from a rather difficult battle.”

“Ouch. I imagine that was a lot of fun. What with your resident vampire out of commission.”

“Quite. Cordelia was rather upset when she learned we were mid-battle at the time. She has been pampering Gunn and me to relieve her guilt.”

“And her husband?”

Wesley narrowed his eyes as the image of Cordelia and Angel locked in each other’s arms flashed in his mind. “I believe they had an argument. Cordelia didn’t explain the details but when Angel didn’t return last night, she feared it was due to their disagreement.”

“So the two lovebirds have to start all over again?”

***

Angel took a deep breath inhaling the sweet scent that was uniquely Cordy. He knew he should feel some guilt at the harsh tone he used with Wesley but he couldn’t. He had his own inner voice reminding him he didn’t deserve Cordelia. He didn’t need Wesley to add to it. It didn’t matter. He was done feeling guilty about loving her. He didn’t ask to get married to Cordelia, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t enjoy it. What was so wrong about staying married?

He tightened his arms pulling her closer. He intended to do anything he had to do to make her happy except give her an annulment. Gently careful not to disturb her, he brushed a kiss across her forehead and closed his eyes. Having to start their forty nights over again would give him plenty of time to convince her they should remain married.

***

Lorne studied the tense man sitting across from him. “Are you sure I can’t interest you in a little tune? How about a nice drink?” he held up a bottle of tequila, “just a little something to loosen the tongue.” A heavy sigh rushed out at Wesley’s glare. “You have to give me something to work with, muffin. I’m sensing you’re not on the Cordy and Angel love train. Care to explain why?”

Wesley hesitated for a moment before answering. “He’s not the right man for her.”

“Ooo-kay. Could you expand upon that? I’m still a little fuzzy. Is this jealousy?”

He rolled his eyes. “No. Cordelia is a beautiful woman, but she and I moved on from romantic interest quite some time ago. I’m not trying to keep her for myself. I’m only trying to protect her from being hurt. Again.”

“Love is a risk.”

“Yes well with Angel it seems to be simply a matter of time.”

“That’s a little harsh.”

“Is it?”

“He’s trying. He went through a rough patch… and acted like a complete ass. I thought you were the driving force behind giving him a chance.”

“I was. I am but in purely professional capacity.”

“I thought you were his friend.”

Wesley flinched slightly. “I…” A rush of air escaped leaving him feeling tired and older than his years. “There was a night not so long ago, one I’ll never forget.” He rubbed his eyes harshly as if he could erase the memory with the stroke of his fingers. “Gunn and I…” He took a deep breath. “I guess I should start with the prior night. Actually it starts a lot sooner than that but…” He shook off his thoughts. “Cordelia had a vision. It hadn’t been her first since Angel fired us but then I guess you remember her first.” Lorne nodded. “It was a rather difficult battle. We managed to kill the demons… but we very nearly died. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration considering we had few wounds to show for it. If Gunn hadn’t deflected when he did or had I not recovered my weapon in time… the battle would have ended very differently. At the time I was rather proud of us. I must admit when we first arrived on the scene there was a part of me that simply wanted to grab the intended victim and just run for our lives. Two human men weren’t much a match against a demon that size and definitely not when there were three of them. Neither Gunn nor I told Cordelia how close we’d come. It was easily avoided since we only had abrasions and cuts but I think she knew. I hadn’t thought much about her expression while she described her vision but in retrospect… her face looked haunted. I’ll never forget the relief in her eyes when we walked into her apartment.” Wesley studied his fingers as if they held the answers he sought. His next words came out in almost a whisper. “There was surprise in her eyes as well.”

Lorne shuddered when pain-filled blue eyes rose and seared right through him.

“She didn’t say much. Cordelia took care of our wounds and sent us home to rest. The next night,” he squeezed his eyes shut for a brief moment. “The next night Gunn and I were working on a case. It was nothing dangerous but before we called it a night we decided to stop by Cordelia’s apartment. We wanted to let her see we were both safe. We didn’t want her to worry. The door opened the moment we approached. It was rather strange. Dennis is rather indifferent towards Gunn and just plain antagonistic towards me. He usually doesn’t answer the door without Cordelia asking him to first.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not entirely sure.” A humorless laugh escaped his lips. “We entered as quietly as possible in case there was something amiss.” Haunted blue eyes connected with red. “Do you know I can count the number of times I’ve seen Cordelia cry on one hand? As many things as that girl has had to endure, she rarely cries. Her eyes will get misty from time to time but she doesn’t cry often and she especially doesn’t do it in front of others.” His gaze drifted to his untouched glass. “We had only taken a few steps into her apartment when we heard her. The sound… She sounded… It was gut-wrenching. I found tears pricking my eyes and I had no idea what had upset her.”

“What upset her?”

“I don’t know. We were both frozen in place. Neither Gunn nor I knew what to do but one of us must have made a sound. She looked up. It took a moment for her red-rimmed eyes to see us. One word escaped her lips. It was filled with hope and raw need.” Wesley slammed his shot of whatever Lorne had poured in one gulp.

When he didn’t continue, Lorne nearly smacked him upside his head. “What!”

Wesley refilled his glass before continuing. “She said Angel.” The next shot disappeared as quickly as the first. “I watched her eyes. Cordelia has the most beautiful eyes. They’re so expressive. I’ve always loved her eyes.” He poured another shot. The glass never touched the bar until it was empty again. “I watched the sparkle in her eyes die that night.”

***

Cordelia reluctantly lifted her head off Angel’s shoulder. The loss of his cool taut flesh against her cheek nearly made her groan in protest. She hadn’t wanted to return to consciousness. She once again enjoyed sleeping in his arms but this time she couldn’t brush it off as a necessary evil.

The sun had already risen. There was no reason they had to share a bed. They chose to sleep in each other’s arms. She chose to sleep in Angel’s arms.

His expression seemed serene, almost child-like. The urge to trace the gentle smile gracing his lips with her fingertips, lips she knew to be soft yet firm when they met hers, forced her to flee their shared bed. This wasn’t real she reminded herself. It was an illusion.

There were no tender feelings beyond friendship. She had a boyfriend and he had a blonde fixation. Cordelia grabbed some fresh clothes and disappeared into the bathroom without looking back at the bed.

***

“She brushed her tears away and said she’d been watching an old black and white movie with Dennis that made her cry. She didn’t acknowledge that she said Angel’s name, a name she normally refused to mention. We told her about our evening and she thanked us for stopping by. Gunn and I stuttered excuses about being tired and asked to stay. She hesitated for a moment but agreed. She told Dennis to get us some blankets and pillows before excusing herself for bed. We listened to her cry all night. I knocked on the door at one point. She answered it with a false smile on her face and said nothing was wrong. I returned to the couch and she began crying again but now the sound was muffled. I don’t think Gunn or I will ever forget that night and we have no idea what truly happened. I doubt we ever will.”

“Cordelia has been through a lot but she’s a survivor.”

“Do you think I don’t know that, Lorne? When I first began to work for Angel, I was on the outside looking in. Angel and Cordelia seemed to belong to a club I couldn’t name let alone join.” The remembrance brought a smile to his lips. “I watched an 18 year old girl stand up for and to a 250 year old vampire. She was so full of life she practically vibrated. Things that would have broken most people her age, Cordelia would laugh off. After that bastard Wilson Christopher used her so abominably, I saw the light in her eyes flicker but it came back stronger than before. I was in awe of her. That was when I suddenly found myself a member of the club. Perhaps not a full member but the bond between Cordelia and Angel didn’t… I never thought anything or anyone would come between them. The expression on Angel’s face while I read the words to break Vocah’s curse is as unforgettable as the expression on Cordelia face before and after the words were spoken. They only had eyes for each other for a moment.”

“I can believe that.”

Wesley stiffened. “We were closer than ever for a time. I translated the scroll.”

“I remember the fall.”

“Yes. We were wrong to keep score. We lost sight of the mission. We focused solely on Angel’s reward.”

“It was a big fall for Angel.”

“I realize that!” Wesley stood so abruptly his stool fell back crashing to the floor. “I realize Angel was going through a difficult time but he had no right to…” He picked up his stool tiredly and sat down again. “I watched what Angel pulling away did to Cordelia. She is one of the strongest, most courageous persons I know, but she was terrified about losing him. She buried her fear in anger.”

“You don’t need to tell me. I listened to brown eyes sing right after the big firing.”

“A lot of her fire died that day.”

“Have you ever considered that since Angel was the one to snuff out the flame he might be the one to reignite it? It may even burn brighter. He may make her happy.”

“As Cordelia would say ‘Pfft’. You do realize that in the hundred years since Angel was first cursed he hasn’t managed to fight the good fight for two consecutive years? He’s either losing his soul or giving up because it’s just too hard. It’s not if he’ll hurt her that concerns me. It’s when.”

“Muffin, you sound awfully bitter. What made you decide to hire the big lug if you don’t believe in him?”

“Because the fight needs him. Gunn and I may be trained fighters but we cannot equal his prowess. I thought welcoming him back was the right thing to do. We needed his help.”

“I thought you were his friend.”

“I am.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “This isn’t easy for me. I know that he has to walk a fine line. I have always wished to support him. The way he so callously tossed us aside hurt me terribly as well. I’ve been fired before.” Wesley poured another shot.

“I can easily forgive him for hurting my feelings. I can easily forgive him for straying from that fine line but hurting Cordelia is another story. She is my family, a concept I don’t think I truly understood until she claimed me as her family.”

“I thought Angel was family too.”

“He was but he decided that wasn’t important to him.”

Lorne finally poured himself a drink. “He knows he was wrong and he regrets that decision. Redemption is about second chances and occasionally third and fourth. Are you really giving up on him?”

“I’ll be more than willing to give him as many chances as he needs as long as he leaves Cordelia’s heart intact. I watched her spark die. I won’t do it again.”

“Maybe he can bring it back.”

“It is already back.” A wistful smile crossed his features. “When I woke up in the hospital after I’d been shot, I watched the light spark back to life. Perhaps it doesn’t burn as bright but given time it has grown stronger.”

“I know you love her, Wesley, but I hope you remember that whatever happens, it is her choice.”

“Her judgment is being clouded by magic. It isn’t her choice to—”

“It is her.” Lorne held Wesley’s gaze. “The bond will not now nor will it ever create false feelings. The fidelity clause kicks in right away and the countdown starts but nothing else. After the bond is completed, the connection will truly be profound but it will not be artificial. If there is no love now, there will be no love then. That’s not to say they couldn’t grow to love one another though.”

“It isn’t… it isn’t magic?”

“No.”

“So Angel’s feelings are genuine?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I need to get back to the hotel. Gunn and I must—”

“Cordelia’s feelings are genuine too. If you truly love her as your family, then you will support her no matter what.”

“But..”

“What about Cordelia makes you think she’ll allow you to make her decisions for her?”

Wesley grimaced at the mental image the question created. He ripped the lid off the bottle and drank directly from it. “I don’t really have a choice here, do I?”

“You can choose to be her friend. You can choose to be Angel’s friend. You can choose not to get your ass kicked by a luscious brunette and I don’t mean the undead one.”

“I only want to protect her. Gunn and I were hurt but… I spent my youth being trained that emotions were a liability. I was taught that a demon should never be trusted.” He smiled apologetically at Lorne.

“Most of my inner walls came down with Angel but not all. Gunn, as much as he came to respect Angel, was still wary about working with a vampire, even one with a soul. Cordelia allowed Angel in completely. As close as she and I have become, even I could never claim that level of friendship with her. I thought Angel coming back would be okay. I thought she would maintain a certain amount of distance. I never expected Angel to suddenly decide he was in love with her.”

“What’s not to love? And what makes you think this was sudden?”

“Don’t!” Confused blue eyes turned to cold steel. “If you tell me he loved her when he tossed her aside like she was nothing, I will stake him with absolutely no remorse.”

Lorne gulped.

“Not everything is love at first sight. What if he didn’t know what he had until he thought he lost it?”

“If he has finally come to realize what he lost and just how much Cordelia truly means to him, I suppose I can be understanding. He wouldn’t be the first man to not know what he had until he lost it.”

“Well said. You had me scared for a moment. I thought I was going to muss my robe. This is silk.”

“I can understand. That doesn’t mean I can accept it.”

“But..”

“However Angel feels, I won’t stand idly by and watch him hurt Cordelia.”

“But..”

“But I will support Cordelia’s decision. It is her life. If she wishes to pursue a relationship with Angel, then I will be there for her.”

“That’s something. Cheers.” Lorne snatched the bottle from Wesley’s hand and took a deep gulp.

“That doesn’t mean I won’t encourage her to pursue her relationship with Brian. He’s a stable normal guy who would be very good to her.”

***

Cordelia was glad Angel was still asleep when she left the bathroom. His small smile had been replaced with a frown as he clutched her pillow. She wondered if he missed holding her or if he was simply having a bad dream. She shook off the strange thought. It was lunchtime and she hadn’t even gone downstairs yet.

As she descended the stairs, she heard music coming from the office. The type of music told her it was Gunn and volume told her Wesley wasn’t in the hotel. She couldn’t help smiling. The last time she caught Gunn listening to music he was dancing while holding one of her magazines. He tossed it away before she could see which actress, singer or model he was looking at.

“Hello?”

Cordelia nearly tripped down the stairs. She hadn’t heard the door open. “Can I help you?”

The woman barely spared Cordelia a glace as her eyes searched the lobby. “I was looking for someone.”

“Who? This is Angel Investigations. We—”

“I know. I was looking for Angel. Is he here?”

Cordelia studied the woman. She had long blonde hair, a deep tan, and big blue eyes. She was fairly pretty if you liked the tall, slender, super model type. “He’s upstairs. I’m afraid he won’t be down for awhile. Can someone else help you?”

“Angel is already working on my case. I wanted to thank him for last night. I don’t know what I would’ve done without him.”

“Angel was with you? You’re the reason he didn’t come home?” She intended to yell but her words came out more like a gasp.

“I needed help. Angel stayed with me all night to keep me safe. He was amazing.”

“I’m sure he was.” Cordelia brushed past the cheap blonde and started walking towards her desk. She had only taken a few steps when she spun around. “I’ll tell him you stopped by. You can give me your check or you can just drop it in the mail. Bye.” Feel free to let the door hit you on your ass on the way out, she silently added.

“My case isn’t over yet. That’s another reason I’m here. I need to ask him what time I should expect him tonight. I knew I should have waited until later to stop by. I mean neither of us got any sleep last night. Well I slept for a few minutes. I felt so safe with my own personal angel to watch over me while I slept.”

Cordelia gritted her teeth and reminded herself she would know if anything had happened between this slut and Angel. “I’m sure Gunn and Wesley will be able to help you tonight. We’re a team around here.”

“Oh that’s okay. I’d rather have Angel.”

*That’s it! This bitch is toast!* “I’m sure you would but I’m afraid my husband is needed at home tonight.”

“Husband?”

She enjoyed the way the tart’s jaw dropped. “Yes. Angel, my husband, is needed at home tonight. He’d tell you that himself but he was still asleep in our bed when I came down. Why don’t I go get Gunn and you can explain your case to him?” She smiled sweetly and turned.

“Hey beautiful.”

Cordelia froze at the sound of Brian’s voice. *Not right now dammit!*

“I’m sorry I’m late.” Brian jogged down the steps and kissed Cordelia on the cheek. “Are you ready to go to lunch, baby?” He finally noticed the other woman. “I’m sorry. Am I interrupting?”

“That’s okay. I’m here to see Angel but his wife just told me he’s asleep.”

“Who? Oh you mean Cordy.”

“She is his wife, isn’t she?”

Brian draped an arm around Cordelia’s shoulders. “They have a rather unique marriage. An understanding you could say.”

Cordelia watched the evil blonde’s eyes light up. “What exactly is your case?”

“I think I’ll just come back later and discuss it with Angel personally.”

“GUNN!” Brian and the slut jumped a bit when she bellowed. “GUNN!”

“Damn girl. I’m not deaf.” Gunn squared his shoulders when he spotted the attractive woman. “Is there a damsel in distress out here? I specialize in that.”

“This… I’m sorry I never caught your name.”

“Patricia Hensley but everyone calls me Trish.”

“Trixie here needs some help. Can you get the details of her case?”

“My name is Trish and as I said Angel is already helping me.”

“And as I’ve told you, Angel is needed here tonight. That’s not up for debate.” She held her hand up when the blonde was about to speak. “Gunn is extremely capable. I have no doubt he’ll be able to help you. Right Gunn?”

“Sure. Why don’t we go into the office and you can tell me what big bad is givin’ you problems?” Gunn spared a sideways glance at Cordelia. She normally was a lot friendlier to paying clients.

“I’m sure Angel will give you all the details. I’ll be back later and…” Trish smiled when she spotted Angel walking down the stairs. He was as handsome as ever, even with a scowl on his face. She followed his gaze. Her smile faded when she realized he was scowling at the man who had his arm around his so-called wife’s shoulders.

Cordelia shrugged off Brian’s arm without thinking and glared at her husband. “Did you sleep well?”

“Not really. The falling asleep was great but the waking up part left a lot to be desired.”

“That’s so sad for you. Your friend Trixie is here to see you.”

“Who?”

“My name is Trish. Your wife seems to have trouble remembering my name. She also doesn’t think you’ll be available to help me tonight. I hope she’s mistaken.”

Angel finally looked at the woman he’d helped. “My wife said what?”

Trish smiled sweetly in triumph. “You will be able to help me again, won’t you?” She stepped closer, blocking Cordelia. “You were so wonderful last night.”

“So that’s where you were. Wes said there was some mystery client. Sorry Trish but Cordelia was right. Angel will be needed here tonight but I’ll be happy to help you. Wes should be back soon. Between the two of us, we got you covered.”

“But Angel is already familiar with my case. Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to help me?”

“Don’t worry, Trish. I’ll bring Wes and Gunn up to speed. I will help tonight too but I can’t stay out all night again.”

“I’m glad you’ll be there. Last night was the first time I felt safe in weeks.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes at the slut’s breathy sigh. “Can I talk to you for a minute, Angel?” She didn’t wait for a response. She grabbed Angel’s hand and began dragging him upstairs.

“What about lunch?”

She smiled apologetically at Brian. She’d forgotten he was there. “Can I get a rain check? I need to talk to Angel and I have an appointment a little later.”

“OK.” He tried to keep the disappointment and confusion from his voice. “Are we still on for Caritas tonight?”

“Absolutely. I’ll..” She stumbled when Angel began dragging her. “I’ll see you there.”

Gunn watched their progress up the stairs with wary eyes. He promised not to do anything until Wesley returned so he returned his attention to their attractive client. “Would you like to discuss your case now or tonight?”

“I guess we can talk.” She was disappointed. Angel hadn’t mentioned being married and he wasn’t wearing a ring. It wasn’t surprising considering his wife seemed to have a boyfriend. She reminded herself she wasn’t in Virginia anymore. Californians seemed like a whole different species. She finally looked at Gunn. He was rather attractive too. “You look pretty capable.”

Gunn winked at her as he led her to the office. “I do all right.”

Brian glanced around the empty lobby. “I guess I’ll grab a bite on my way back to the office.”

***

Angel struggled to keep a smirk off his face. Cordelia was jealous and he loved it. “So what did you want to talk about? I should really get back to my, I mean our client.”

“Who is she? What does she want? And what the hell were you doing with her all night?”

“Her name is Patricia Hensley but I call her Trish.”

“What’s Trixie’s deal?”

“Her name is Trish. Patricia is an Irish name. I knew a few Trishes in my day.”

“Spare me your days of yore crap. What does she want?”

“Besides me? There’s a land developer, probably a demon, who wants a piece of real estate Trish owns. He hired a few vamps to run her off the place after she refused to sell.”

“Why didn’t you just stake the vamps and come home?”

“Because they’re just the lackeys. For every one of them I stake, there is another to take its place. I need to get the guy calling the shots. I didn’t have much time to do anything last night but keep her safe. I intended to come home through the sewers but she’d had them barricaded to keep the vamps out. I had to wait until minutes before the sun rose to make a mad dash for the nearest sewer access. I would have done it sooner but I was afraid to leave her alone until I was sure the vamps had left.”

“It’s not like she would’ve invited them in.” Cordelia turned away from him. She didn’t like the way he kept saying he had to protect another woman even if she knew it was the right thing to do.

“It’s a small apartment building. Vampires might not be able to get into the individual apartments but they move around the common hallways and storage spaces freely. They’ve scared off or killed most of the people who rent the apartments.”

“Are you going back over there tonight?”

Angel stepped closer, his chest almost touching her back. “I’ll be home before sunrise this time. Wes and Gunn will be there to back me up.”

“So you are going to stay with her?” Strong arms snaked around her waist. She struggled half-heartedly for a moment before leaning back against his chest.

“What would you have me do? There were only 5 vampires last night. Tonight there will probably be more. Do you want to leave Gunn and Wesley there without my help?”

“No.” Her hands rested on his arms. “It’s better if we all go.”

Angel spun her around. “You’re not going.”

“Why not? You just said there were going to be a lot of vampires. We’ll need..”

“You’re not going.”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“Don’t you have a date tonight?” He folded his arms and glared down at her.

She refused to morn the loss of his embrace. “So what? Brian knows what I do for a living. He’ll understand if I have to work.”

“Yeah. He’s such a great guy to stand around and let his girlfriend,” his throat tightened at the word, “face danger. What a catch.”

“Shut up. I’m not some helpless blonde who needs a big strong manpire to protect me.”

He grinned down at her. “You’re jealous.”

“What! You’re delusional. I am NOT jealous of some cheap, slutty blonde with big doe eyes.” She tried to walk away but Angel grabbed her arms. His broad smile made her want to knee him in the groin.

“She needed help last night so I helped. She still needs help. We have a mission, remember?”

“I don’t remember having a vision. I think I’d remember the skull-crunching message with pictures.”

“She’s a client. You do remember we accept paying customers so that you can buy nice things like food.”

“Pfft. Since when do you care about our business?”

“I’m going to kiss you.”

“What?” Cordelia looked into Angel’s intense eyes. “You can’t.”

“I’m going to kiss you and you’re going to kiss me back.”

“But you can’t.”

“Yes I can.”

Cordelia knew she should object. She should struggle. She should slap him. She should scream her head off. She should NOT watch his lips slowly descend toward her. She should not under any circumstances allow this kiss to happen. Cordelia rose onto her toes and closed the distance capturing his lips.

Her nails gently scratched the nape of his neck as her tongue traced his lower lip begging entrance.

Angel crushed her body to his. He seized control of the kiss, plundering her mouth.

She was gasping for air by the time the kiss ended.

“You’re not going tonight. You’re going to meet Brian and you’re going to break up with him.” He turned and left their suite before she could respond.

Part 13

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 11   1 comment

Part 11

Despite the hurt feelings and confusion, Cordelia woke up enjoying Angel’s arms holding her against his chest. She studied his expression. It was so hard to determine if a vampire was asleep. Guessing he was, she inspected the wounds she hadn’t seen the night before.

There were still a few scratches on his chest that must have been fairly deep since they were still visible. His stomach was marred by a large bruise that had turned a greenish yellow as it healed.

She wriggled free of his grip and inspected his legs. There were a few faint bruises but nothing that indicated any serious injury. She knew the wound on his back would still be visible. Tears pricked her eyes. She was such an idiot. Her hurt feelings almost resulted in so many deaths. She endangered her family. She watched the still vampire sleep.

“How could I go from being in love with Buffy to falling in love with Cordelia? It had to be magic.”

Angel’s words may have hurt but that didn’t justify her actions. Brian had been so sweet. He took care of her after she got sick. He’d been so understanding. He deserved better than being used. As much as she liked him, their almost-lovemaking hadn’t been about passion.

Her feelings for Brian weren’t the reason she’d been so quick to take the next step in their relationship. It was about Angel.

She stroked her lips remembering their kiss. It had been so intense, his taste so good. She wondered if Wesley’s theory had merit. He was normally right about these things but a small voice kept whispering that her feelings were real. The situation made ignoring her feelings nearly impossible but it had nothing to do with magic, except that it was magic that created the situation.

Even now although she had no idea how he felt or why he’d kissed her, she wanted him. She wanted him to kiss her again and mean it. She wanted him to make love to her.

But did she want to consummate her marriage? She was still unclear what that meant. She now understood the monogamy clause. She wasn’t very sure about sensing each other’s emotions. Would his brooding affect her? Would his vampire instincts affect her? Would her behavior change? Would she crave violence? Blood? Would she suddenly want to sit in a dark room and alphabetize her past sins?

The priest said they wouldn’t read each other’s minds which was a relief. She knew there was a demon residing just beneath the surface of his beautiful exterior. She could accept that but that didn’t mean she wanted to hear his demon’s thoughts, his urges, his impulses, or his delight in inflicting pain. She had always respected him for resisting his demon. If it hadn’t been for his beige period, she probably wouldn’t have feared being his wife.

“Don’t make me move you.”

Now she knew he wasn’t just capable of hurting her, he was willing to. Why should she trust him? The bond may force him to be faithful but it didn’t stop him from hurting her again. Could she survive letting him in only to be rejected again, cast aside as if she were nothing? She survived Xander. She survived her parents. She survived Angel.

Angel woke up to find Cordelia sitting cross-legged staring at him through unseeing eyes. The events of the previous day caught up with him, especially their kiss. He longed to grab her and demand she kiss him, force her to confront her feelings and admit she wasn’t being tricked by magic. Wes couldn’t be right.

“I don’t think this is such a good idea. We don’t even know what this means. The bond, I’m still confused about its effects.”

His expression darkened. She was either being affected by magic, which he refused to believe; she didn’t trust her feelings for him; or she didn’t want to love him. Could he really blame her if the latter proved true? Regardless of the legitimacy of her doubts, he couldn’t help getting angry.

It took getting sick to stop her from being with another man. There’d been no such thing stopping them. She chose to stop. He needed to get away from her before he did something she might make him regret. “I take it the rule doesn’t apply to you?”

She jumped slightly at the sound of his voice. “What rule?”

“You told me if I woke up and the sun was shining I should move to the couch.”

“I…” She didn’t know what to say. His tone was clipped but not exactly angry. He did have a point. She made that rule but that was before the truce… and the kiss. “I’m sorry. I didn’t.. I should get ready. Today’s a working day.” She forced a plastic smile into place.

Angel cursed his stupidity as he watched her leave. “I would’ve been better off kissing her.”

***

“Wes, do you have any idea what the hell is goin’ on now?”

“What do you mean?”

Gunn gestured wildly. “Everything. This morning Barbie wakes me up and brings me coffee and breakfast in bed. She went to that Mom and Pop place I like so much.”

“Really? She brought me tea and a scone from the bakery down the street.” Wesley raked a hand through his hair. “Aren’t those two places in the opposite direction from here?”

“Yeah.”

He sighed. “I imagine she still feels guilty about last night. I hoped I got through to her.”

“I figured the guilt thing out on my own. I told her I don’t blame her but who am I to turn down breakfast in bed? What I can’t figure out is what’s up with her and the vamp? He was hurt worse than we were, granted he heals faster. But he don’t seem to be on the receiving end of any pampering. I watched him wince in pain when he bent to pick something up. Cordy was standing right there and just watched him. I was gettin’ up to grab my video game and she raced over to get for me. How come he’s doin’ his own fetching? Plus one second he’s looking at her like he’s dyin’ to ask her a question and the next he’s lookin’ like he wants to yell at her, which he better not do.”

“Well to be fair, we should look at the situation from his point of view.”

“Why?”

“Gunn, it’s not Angel’s fault his feelings are being manipulated. From his perspective, the woman he loves, his wife in fact, attempted to make love to another man last night. How would you feel if you were in his place? His feelings real or not should be given consideration.”

“I’m starting to have issues with your theory, Wes.”

“How so?”

“Well if they’re both being tricked into thinkin’ they’re in love, why was Cordy trying to get.. frisky with the accountant last night? Shouldn’t she want the vamp instead? What if you’re wrong? What if Angel really does like her?”

“That doesn’t seem possible. Why now?”

“Why not? Not everything is love at first sight. What if he didn’t know what he had until he thought he lost it?”

“Then he should have realized that when he fired us because that’s when he lost her.”

“Yeah but he wasn’t dealing with a full deck back then. He was all messed up, not really thinkin’ about anything but revenge. It wouldn’t surprise me if he thought Cordy would be waitin’ for him on the other side of his dark time. You know if he made it through. If he didn’t then she’d be better off without him.”

“Gunn, that was very well spoken and rather insightful.”

“You don’t have to sound so shocked. I have my moments. So what do we do? Whether his feelings are real or not, Angel ain’t the right guy for Cordy.”

“Very true. Perhaps I should speak to Lorne. He could ascertain whether or not the bond is affecting them and whether or not Angel is intending to make any long term romantic gestures towards Cordelia.”

“Do you think if we dusted him the marriage would be automatically annulled?”

“I hardly think we’re at a point where staking him is necessary. He is still Cordelia’s warrior.”

“You know me, Wes. I’m a proactive type of guy.”

“We can go to Caritas tonight. I think it’s best if we speak to Lorne in person.”

Cordelia walked into the office, oblivious to their conversation. “So are we still on for tonight?”

“What’s tonight?”

“Geez Wes. It was your idea to get together with Brian so you guys can get to know him better. You still want to go, don’t you?”

Gunn smiled a devilish gleam in his eyes. “He must be itchin’ to go out with you again after the wonderful time you showed him last night.”

She could feel her cheeks flush. “Brian was really understanding about last night. He’s a nice guy. I think you’ll like him.”

“I’m in. I gotta get to know a guy who handles his girl barfing on him so well.”

She rolled her eyes. “Wesley?”

“Of course. Gunn and I were planning a night at Caritas but we can do that another night.”

“Why don’t we still go? Aren’t Brian and Lorne friends?”

“Yes.” Cordelia couldn’t face Lorne. Her aura was probably lit up like a billboard, her swirling emotions out there for any nosy green demon to see. “But I’d rather leave the demon world behind tonight.”

“Does that include Angel?” Gunn pointed towards the lobby where the vampire in question was cleaning his broadsword.

“I don’t think he’d want to come.”

“Have you asked him?”

“I don’t need to, Wes. Angel wouldn’t want to come. He has that whole allergy to fun thing going on. I’m sure he’ll find something else to amuse himself.”

***

Angel watched Cordelia, Brian, Wesley and Gunn leave from his place in the shadows. Anger, hurt and jealousy raged through him. He took no comfort in Cordelia’s back-handed invitation to join them.

“Angel, did you want to join us tonight? I want the guys to get to know Brian better. I would’ve invited you sooner but I knew you’d say no. I figured I should at least extend the invitation just in case.”

He couldn’t understand why she was still dating that bastard. She had returned his kiss passionately. Granted she was the one to push him away but there was desire in her eyes, desire for him. She was confused.

He tried to push the hurt away. He wasn’t an easy person to love. It should confuse her. He had to help her confront her feelings. Wesley was wrong. The bond had nothing to do with it.

“There may have been moments where I thought I felt something.”

Wesley was wrong. Cordelia felt something and it was genuine. Angel needed to believe that.

“Hello? Is anyone here? I’m looking for Angel investigations.”

Angel stepped out of the shadows. “I’m Angel. Can I help you?”

***

Wesley wiped the tears from his eyes. “I have heard many tales but I have never heard anyone having that reaction to meeting a demon for the first time.”

“My sister is quite unique. Plus she’s married to a doctor. She had a lot of questions I couldn’t answer. Who better to answer them than the demons at the club? A lot of weird stuff happens in San Francisco so my entire family handled it pretty well.”

“That totally baffles me. My parents along with the rest of Sunnydale do the whole convenient memory thing really well. I mean our guest speaker at my high school graduation ceremony turned into a big snake and ate some of my graduating class as well as the principal and to this day my parents act like demons aren’t real. We had to blow the high school up in order to kill it but they choose to believe the bull the papers printed about a gas leak.”

“You blew your high school up?”

“Technically my high school librarian blew it up, he flipped the switch. Wesley and I were in charge of rescuing the books before it went up. You remember that, don’t you Wes?” She winked at her fidgeting friend. “It was rough ceremony. I framed my singed diploma. That was one of the last things I did before leaving Sunnydale for good. I haven’t been back since.”

“Do your parents visit you here?”

“Oh umm my parents… they umm… we’re more of a keep in touch with the occasional phone call kind of family.”

Brian squeezed her hand in support. He didn’t want to pursue the topic in front of her friends. “The biggest shock at my high school graduation was when Jim Bailey revealed he wasn’t wearing any clothes under his gown.” He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. “You are an amazing woman.”

She shrugged. “I was mainly bait back then. Buffy was the hero.”

“How could I go from being in love with Buffy to falling in love with Cordelia? It had to be magic.”

“Buffy is the slayer.”

“The what?”

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “I think I’ll let Wes explain the wonder that is Buffy Summers.”

Wesley cleared his throat in preparation for his speech. “Buffy is a slayer. She was called when she was sixteen. You see Brian into each generation a slayer is born…”

Cordelia absently pushed her food around on her plate letting her mind drift. She’d heard the speech before. A soft smile crossed her face as she remembered the first time Giles had given her the slayer speech. Xander used to do a pretty good imitation of Giles. Her dorky ex knew it by heart.

She didn’t really hate Buffy. The blond had saved her life more times than she cared to remember. She just hated the power her royal blondness had over Angel. She had nearly called Buffy several times, knowing that if anyone could snap Angel out of his Darla obsession it was the love of his life. Buffy wouldn’t have been tossed aside like Cordelia was.

“I didn’t mean what I said to Wesley. He was being protective of you and I.. I wanted him to think he was right. I wanted him to think I couldn’t have feelings for you. He basically threatened me. Well maybe not aloud but it was definitely implied that my unlife would not be pleasant if I even considered pursuing you romantically.”

What a load of crap. OK. She could believe the implied threat. Wes and Gunn were protective of her. She loved them for it even if it got on her nerves on occasion. What she didn’t believe was Angel not meaning what he’d said. It had taken magic for him to be interested in her. He’d never shown the slightest interest in her until they were married, at least not romantically.

Of course since he is being affected, he probably believed what he was saying was true. He was crazy and crazy people tended to believe their own crazy talk.

She was being affected. It was the only explanation. She’d been in complete control of her slight, practically insignificant attraction for Angel until she’d been forced into his bed. She was a victim dammit!

“Cordelia, are you alright?”

She snapped to attention at the sound of Wesley’s voice. “What?”

“You were off in La La land. What’s up?”

“Sorry. You know me, Gunn. That speech always puts me to sleep.”

“I know what you mean. Actually most of Wes’s speeches put me to sleep.”

“I am a very good speaker. I’ve been told I have great presence.”

“Whatever your mama tells you don’t count, English.”

“I know you did NOT just bring my mother into it.”

Gunn held his hands up in mock surrender. “You know I would never say anything bad about Mama Wyndam-Pryce.” One hand closed in a fist.

Wesley smiled as they shared their special handshake.

“You two realize you just lost like a million cool points and Wes doesn’t have any to spare.” She winked at them, taking the sting from her words.

Brian would have to remember to tell Cordelia later that he now understood why she had laughed at him when he’d expressed some jealousy over her friendship with Wesley and Gunn. It was clear to him that both men truly were her older brothers, except for their occasional comments about her physical beauty but those comments were made without the slightest leer.

He was a little disappointed that Angel chose not to join them. He was interested in watching the vampire with a soul’s interaction with his seer. He’d heard so many conflicting stories. He wanted to believe Cordelia’s assertion that he had nothing to worry about but the few times he’d been around Angel led him to fear otherwise.

“So what’s next on our night off? The night is young and there’s nothing we have to kill.” Gunn smiled at the waiter who’d gone pale. “We’d like the check whenever you get the chance.” He started laughing when the man practically sprinted from the table.

“Geez Gunn. I can’t take you anywhere.”

“Oh really. Does that mean you’re payin’, Barbie?”

“This will be my treat.”

“Brian, that’s very generous of you but it isn’t necessary.”

“It’s my pleasure. Really. You can pick up the tab next time.”

“I got an idea. Me and English go to this bar..”

“Pub.”

“Whatever. We go to this pub to shoot darts. How about we hit that place next? We’ll play teams, Wes and I against you and Cordy.”

“That sounds like fun. Cordy?”

“I’m in. I’ve been waiting for the right time to kick their asses at darts. Tonight is as good as any.”

“Big talk little girl. We’re “both dart-throwing masters of the universe”. Don’t worry. We’ll take it easy on you.”

***

Cordelia groaned for what felt like the millionth time. She offered to be the designated driver. It made sense at the time. She wasn’t allowed to drink and volunteering saved her from having to answer any questions. What she hadn’t counted on was dealing with three intoxicated men.

Wesley and Gunn weren’t nearly as amusing as when she was drunk too. Brian wasn’t an obnoxious drunk. He was an affectionate one.

It shouldn’t have bothered her considering they nearly had sex the night before. His kisses didn’t feel right. Her toes didn’t tingle. She reasoned it was due to the liquor on his breath. Plus in his intoxicated state, he kept trying to use too much tongue.

Tongue just wasn’t appropriate in public, right? There was one thing Cordelia was sure about. The lack of fire in their kisses had absolutely nothing to do with Angel.

“We won again, Cordy. Victory kiss.”

Brian seized her lips before she could say anything. She returned the kiss for a moment before gently pushing him away. She glanced over at the sulking men. “I thought you boys were good at darts.”

“Shut up, Barbie. You never said anything about dating a ringer. You hustled us. That just ain’t right.”

“Ah poor babies. Are you two feeling a little inadequate?”

“Did I forget to mention that my frat brothers and I were dart-playing fiends? And we occasionally had a few beers while we played.”

“Man, what’d I tell you?” He slapped Wesley on the back nearly knocking him down. “She brought a ringer.”

She smiled sweetly. “Don’t be a sore loser, Gunn. We’ll let you guys win the next game. I promise.”

***

Cordelia paced the length of Angel’s suite. She threw a throw pillow at the clock sending it crashing to the floor. “Dammit Angel! Where the hell are you?”

She dialed her missing husband’s cell phone. Again. She hung up when his voice mail picked up. She threw the phone on the couch with disgust and resumed pacing.

She waited five minutes before grabbing the phone again. This time she dialed Wesley’s number.

A groggy voice answered. “Hello.”

“Wesley, it’s me.”

“Cordelia,” his voice became alert. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Angel isn’t home yet.”

“Is that all? He’s probably out patrolling. It’s only… Oh dear. Is that the correct time?”

“If you’re thinking it’s less than an hour before sunrise then yes.”

“Have you tried calling his cell phone?”

“Of course I have. I got his voice mail. I left a message even though I know he has no idea how to check it.”

“Do you have any idea where he may have gone?”

“No. There was no note or anything. We don’t have any pending cases. I called Caritas hours ago. Lorne was busy but the bartender told me Angel hadn’t been there all night. I’m a second away from calling Wolfram and Hart. You don’t think he’s relapsed, do you?”

“No. He hasn’t shown any indication of that. He hasn’t even mentioned the law firm recently.”

“Do you think he.. he went to Sunnydale? Maybe he went there to tell Buffy about his soul. Maybe he’s with her right now.” Making love to her, she silently added.

“He wouldn’t leave LA without telling anyone.”

“Then where the hell is he?”

“I’m sure he’ll be back any minute. He knows you only have until sunrise or you have to start over again.”

“Wes, that’s so not the point right now. What if something happened to him? You’re the answer man. Would..” she swallowed hard. “Would I feel it if he’s been killed?” She furiously blinked back tears. “I’d know, right? The bond is affecting us. I’d feel it, right?”

“I don’t know but I’m sure he’s okay. Angel has survived a very long time. He’ll be fine.” He cleared his throat. “Cordelia, Gunn and I noticed there was some tension between you and Angel today. Did you have a fight?”

“We… He was a little angry.”

“Was he upset about what happened between you and Brian last night?”

“You think he left because of what I did?” Cordelia sank to the floor.

“No of course not. It wouldn’t make sense. Leaving would ensure the bond’s completion. I am quite sure he’ll return at any moment. I only meant he may have gone to work off some tension. As long as he’s in bed with you by sunrise, everything will be fine. If he was still angry, he may want to wait until the last moment.”

“Oh. That makes sense. When we first started this 40 nights’ thing, I was tempted to wait but I was tired. He’s got the whole creature of the night thing going for him. He used to be up most of the night. I guess I’ve gotten used to meeting in the middle, we stay up later and he goes to sleep earlier.”

“Would you like me to come to the hotel and wait with you?”

“No. You’re probably right. He’ll be back any second. I’ll yell at him for making me worry and waking you up. Then we’ll go to bed. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’ll be fine. Good night.”

“Good night.”

She tossed the phone aside and hugged her knees. “He said he wouldn’t leave. He promised.” She began rocking back and forth. “He promised.” She reached for the phone and dialed Sunnydale. She hung up before it even rang once. If he was there, she’d rather not know.

***

Angel crept into his suite careful not to wake Cordelia. He froze the moment he spotted Cordelia rocking herself on the floor by the couch, her face buried in her knees. “Cordy?”

Her head popped up. “Angel?”

“Yes.” He knew she had to be mad. The sun had risen almost thirty minutes ago. “I..” He grunted as he was nearly tackled to the floor by a surprisingly strong brunette blur. His arms instantly wrapped around her trembling form.

“You’re okay. You came back.” She stepped out of his arms. Her hands immediately began searching his body for any sign of injury.

His body hardened as her hands spread fire across his skin. “What.. what are you doing?”

“I’m looking for wounds.”

Angel bit back a moan of pleasure. “I’m not hurt.” He never saw her fist fly but he felt it. “Ow! What the hell was that for?”

“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been up all night worried sick.”

“You have?” He couldn’t stop a smile from forming. This time he blocked her next blow.

“Don’t flatter yourself. In case you haven’t noticed, the sun is shining. Now we have to start all over. What the hell were you thinking? Why didn’t you call? Did you even bring your cell phone? Why the hell did we get you one if you’re not going to carry it? I can’t believe you pulled this shit. Is this because of what happened last night? You went to Sunnydale, didn’t you? Are you just going to stand there looking stupid or are you going to answer my questions?”

“I was waiting for you to take a breath. You need to breathe, don’t you?”

“Shut up and talk.”

“You do know that made no sense, right?”

“Do you really think now is the time to be funny?”

Angel studied his wife. Her hands were planted firmly on her hips, her eyes were puffy from crying but the hazel sparked with anger, and her foot was tapping furiously. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“Late? LATE? This goes way beyond late!” She gestured wildly at the window, sunlight peaking around the edges of the curtain. “The sun is freakin’ shining happily in the sky and I haven’t slept all freakin’ night because somebody couldn’t freakin’ use his damn cell phone!” Her eyes shined with unshed tears. “Did you go to Sunnydale?” her voice sounded small and defeated.

“No.” He cradled her face in his hands. “After you left tonight, someone came in looking for help. I was out all night working. I would’ve called but,” he pulled his smashed cell phone out of his pocket. “This got destroyed.”

“You know they have these wonderful things called payphones.”

“I couldn’t leave to use the phone and one of the vampires cut the phone lines to the building we were in.”

Cordelia blew out a frustrated breath. “I guess saving innocent lives is a fairly good excuse.” Her back straightened. “I’m not apologizing for hitting you. You made me worry. You could’ve left a note. I had no idea where you were. I called Caritas and Wesley. I dialed Sunnydale but I hung up.” She rested her cheek against his chest. The leather of his coat cooled her flushed skin. “I thought maybe you were still mad at me and left.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” He held her close, savoring her warmth. “I promise. I’m never leaving you again.”

They stood there for several moments wrapped in each other’s arms, their eyes closed.

He heard her gentle yawn. “Let’s go to bed.”

She bolted out of his arms. “What?”

Angel resisted the urge to pull her back to him. “I only meant we should get some sleep. I’m exhausted and you said you were up all night worrying.”

“But the sun is already up. It doesn’t count.”

“So? We still need to sleep.”

Cordelia nibbled on her bottom lip. “That’s true.” She followed Angel into his bedroom. Her pulse began to race as she watched him undress.

He stripped down to his boxers. He could hear her wild heartbeat, enjoying the effect he had on her. He didn’t want to scare her away but he wanted her to face how she felt about him. He slipped into bed, pulling the covers up to his waist. “Are you coming to bed?”

She had switched to nibbling on her thumb the moment his pants hit the floor. “I… um”

“You’re tired. I’m tired. Come to bed.”

“I am pretty exhausted thanks to you.” She moved towards the bed but paused when he pulled the covers back in invitation causing her heart to skip a beat. This felt more intimate. It didn’t count towards their annulment. There was a perfectly good couch in the next room. The room she slept in on occasion was just down the hall. There was no reason she had to sleep with Angel.

She debated internally for half a second before climbing into bed beside him. She justified her decision by reasoning it was her sheets and her blanket on the bed. If anyone should leave, it should be him. To further make it completely impersonal, she rolled onto her side with her back to Angel. They weren’t really sleeping together. He just happened to be in the same bed.

Angel refused to be ignored so easily. He waited for her settle before pressing his stomach to her back and draping an arm around her waist. He braced himself for another flying fist or an angry word. There was no pretending to be asleep this time.

She should pull away. This was wrong. She had a boyfriend. This was wrong. She entwined her fingers with his and wrapped his arm more securely around her waist. Sleep-deprived people weren’t supposed to be rational.

Angel buried his face in the crook of her neck and relaxed, letting sleep claim his tired body.

***

Wesley quietly entered Angel’s suite when he received no response to his knock. The shades were drawn casting shadows across the room. Instead of calling out for either Angel or Cordelia, he crossed the room and carefully opened the French doors. He knew they were likely to be still asleep and didn’t wish to disturb them.

If he’d had any preconceived notions about what he might find, it bared no resemblance to the sight he found. Angel slept on his back while Cordelia used his shoulder as her pillow. A long feminine leg was draped over his, entwining them. Her hand rested on his chest. It was intimate. It was the image of a husband and wife happily sharing their bed. It scared the hell out of him.

“Get out.”

Angel’s husky voice caused Wesley to jump slightly. Hostile brown eyes trained on him forcing him into speech. “I was just making sure you returned home safely. Cordelia called me last night rather worried. When I didn’t hear from her again, I assumed you must have returned as I assured her you would.”

“I’m back. Go away. Cordy was up all night worrying. It’s too soon for her to get up.”

“Of course. I’ll just be going.” Wesley remained in place.

“Is there something else?”

“Did you return before dawn?”

“No. We’ll have to start over again.”

“I see. Is there a reason you were out all night?”

“Yes.”

When he didn’t continue, Wesley prodded. “And that reason would be?”

“A walk-in client. I’ll tell you about it later.” Cordelia began to stir in his arms, grumbling unhappily. Angel lowered his voice so Wesley wouldn’t hear him. “Shh baby. Just sleep.” Her grumbling stopped, replaced by a small smile. “Go away, Wes. We’re sleeping.”

“Very well but I’d like to speak to you as soon as you wake.”

“OK.”

Wesley still remained in place. “Gunn and I are just downstairs if you need anything.”

Angel’s only response was to close his eyes.

“I will see you both later.” He reluctantly closed the door and slowly left the suite.

The moment he heard the outer door close, Angel whispered, “I have everything I need right here.” He gently pressed a kiss to Cordelia’s forehead.

***

Gunn watched Wesley slowly walk down the stairs. The Englishman looked as if his mind was a million miles away. “Is the vamp still missing?”

“What?”

“Angel, is he missing?”

“Oh. No. He’s upstairs.”

“Cool. I didn’t really want to run around the city looking for clues to where his ass was hiding out.”

“They’re sleeping.” Wesley sunk onto the red couch.

“O-kay. What’s up with you? You’re acting a little strange, even for you.”

“They’re sleeping.”

“You said that already.”

“Yes but they’re sleeping together.”

“You mean…” Gunn walked over to the weapon’s cabinet and grabbed a stake. “I’ll be right back.”

“Put the stake away. I didn’t mean it like that. They’re both dressed, well Angel is merely wearing boxers but they weren’t…”

“Don’t do that!” Gunn tossed the stake back in the cabinet. “So what’s the big deal? I thought the whole point was for them to sleep together without doing the freaky freak.”

Wesley rolled his eyes at the euphemism. “Angel didn’t return before the sun rose.”

“So? Oh. OH. That means they have to start over, don’t they?”

“Yes but that’s not my point. Why were they sleeping together?”

“Huh?”

“Charles, they officially missed a night. Yes they have to begin again but it won’t count until tonight. There is no reason for them to be sharing a bed right now. It doesn’t count.”

Gunn walked back to the weapon’s cabinet and grabbed the same stake. “I think I need to have a talk with the vamp. He needs to keep his hands off Cordy.”

“Don’t. Not yet.”

“Wes, I’m not gonna stand by and watch him finally destroy that girl. Don’t tell me you forgot about that night?”

“Of course I haven’t. They’re both confused right now. They’re being affected by magic.”

“I don’t care. I’m sure dusting him will settle the confusion.”

“No.” Wesley stood his stature weary. “Will you hold down the fort?”

“Where are you going at a time like this?”

“I need to speak to Lorne. I want him to read Angel. We need to know once and for all what is happening.”

Gunn tossed the stake back in the cabinet. “OK. I can be calm for now.”

“Good. I’ll be back soon.”

Part 12

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 10   1 comment

Part 10

“Cordelia, I intended to speak with you privately as well.” Wesley fidgeted in his chair. He had no desire to incur the young woman’s wrath.

“I simply thought it in the best interests of those involved to discuss the effects of the bond individually. I didn’t want there to be any embarrassment or discord. Your emotions are being affected against your will.”

She stamped down her hurt and smiled. “It’s okay.” Getting angry was pointless. Angel said everything that needed to be said. Except the part about her being a complete and total idiot. “It’s actually kind of a relief.”

“It is?”

“Yeah.” She gripped the frame of the door, her knuckles white. “It explains why Angel has been crowding me lately.”

“I see. Have you been experiencing any effects?”

“There may have been moments where I thought I felt something.” She could feel her stomach churning. “It was definitely freak worthy but I guess it was no big deal. I should’ve known.”

“Then I am glad I spoke up.”

Anger began to overpower the pain. “I am too. I wouldn’t want to ruin my chances with Brian because some ritual from hell decided to mess with my emotions.”

“He seems very nice.”

“He’s wonderful. He took really good care of me last night. I guess my luck is finally changing. I found a nice successful totally hot guy that knows about demons.”

“You deserve to be happy.”

“I agree.” She managed to grin. “I should go call him. I thought we might do something special tonight to make up for last night.”

“I would like to speak to you later.”

“Don’t worry, Wes. Now that I know where I stand, you’ve got nothing to be concerned about. This pathetic excuse for a marriage will be over soon and we can just forget all about this nightmare. If you’ll excuse me, my dream guy is waiting for my call.” Cordelia nearly collapsed before making it to her desk.

“How could I go from being in love with Buffy to falling in love with Cordelia? It had to be magic.”

She should have known there were no deeper feelings on his part.

“Just try to remember that except for your feelings of friendship, everything else isn’t real.”

She only wished that were true. Wesley’s theory was only part right. Until her marriage, she’d been able to ignore her feelings for Angel. It was easy to dismiss every thought beyond friendship. It was merely a matter of reminding herself about the curse.

After he fired her and her anger was more than enough to squash every loving impulse. Now she had no choice but to admit the plain truth. It was never the curse that stood in her way. It was Buffy. It was always Buffy. Cordelia simply didn’t measure up.

Angel had a type and she wasn’t it. Apparently only whiny blondes can capture his eye, as Darla clearly demonstrated.

It took magic for her to be noticed.

***

“Are you alright, Angel? You look a little paler than normal.”

Angel couldn’t move. He’d managed to screw everything up. It was as if one curse was lifted only to be replaced with another. A moment of perfect happiness would never again cost him his soul but the new curse made sure he’d never actually experience another moment of perfect happiness.

How could he be so stupid? How did he not hear her approach? Why did Cordelia choose that moment to appear? He wasn’t in love with Buffy anymore. She had to know that. He hadn’t returned to Sunnydale even though his soul was secure.

“How could I go from being in love with Buffy to falling in love with Cordelia? It had to be magic.”

He hadn’t actually said he was still in love with Buffy. He said it would take magic for Cordelia to be the next woman he fell in love with.

*I wonder if Wesley would stake me if I asked him too.* He glanced up at his new boss.

*I bet he’d do it if I told him I’m in love with Cordelia and I have every intention of winning her heart.* Realization dawned. *This was entirely Wesley’s fault. I only said that to throw him off track.*

“Angel?”

“If either Gunn or I thought you were truly in love with her, we’d… That’s neither here nor there. There’s no point in any unpleasantness.”

*What the hell is so wrong with me being in love with Cordelia?* He needed to get away from Wesley before things turned violent. *This is all his fault!* “I’m fine.”

Wesley watched the tense vampire leave with some trepidation. Angel’s comment was out of line. Cordelia was an extraordinary woman. He couldn’t help being concerned over the lack of anger on her part. And if Angel was still in love with Buffy, why hadn’t he returned to Sunnydale?

Why was being accepted back into his family more important than being with Buffy? His soul had been secure before the marriage even took place.

“Hey Wes. What’s up?”

“Gunn, I’m glad you’re here. I just spoke to Angel.”

“How did it go?”

“I’m not entirely sure. Cordelia interrupted.”

“Damn. I’m not sorry I missed that. You know how she hates being discussed.”

“Actually she was rather calm about it.”

“Then why did I have to say hello five times before I received a response, if you call nodding a response?”

Wesley rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “If she were upset, she’d say something. Cordelia has never been one to hold back.”

“I guess. What did the vamp say about last night?”

“Well we never really got a chance to discuss it in detail.”

“Is that your way of sayin’ I won’t get to fight next time either?”

“He’s been made aware of the situation. I’m sure he’ll handle her next vision differently.” Wes removed his glasses and began polishing them. “Angel insinuated that it would require magic for Cordelia to replace Buffy in his heart.”

“Damn.”

“And Cordelia overheard him.”

“Double damn!” Gunn began searching the floor.

“What are you looking for?”

“For the pile of dust Barbie reduced the vamp into. He actually said that?”

“Yes.”

“And he isn’t dust?”

“No.”

Gunn rubbed his bald head. “Am I the only one who finds that strange?”

“No. There was no angry response from Cordelia. Angel never even acknowledged her presence. If the bond was affecting him, why wasn’t he stuttering an apology? If she was being affected, why wasn’t she angry? That comment was rather harsh. Cordelia is an extraordinary woman.”

“What do your books say? How bad are the effects supposed to be?”

“Well actually,” he cleared his throat, “I haven’t found any documentation about any emotional side effects that begin before the bond is completed.”

“But you said..”

“It was a theory. It makes perfect sense considering their recent behavior, more so on Angel’s part. Before… the estrangement, he was protective of her but not to the extent he is now. If anything it was Cordelia who was fiercer in her protectiveness but that was due to the curse. A woman in Angel’s life could have disastrous results. She lived through Angelus’s last reign of terror. Her behavior back then was completely understandable.”

“What about after the vamp came crawling back? He was pretty desperate for her friendship and that was before the big wedding.”

“Yes but he was after her friendship. There have never been any romantic gestures on either side.”

Gunn began rubbing his head again. “Have I missed something? I don’t remember any romantic gestures now.”

“Angel’s possessiveness is actually a romantic gesture on a basic vampire level. Perhaps romantic isn’t the right word but you get my meaning. Cordelia did mention that Angel has been crowding her lately. On her part, it was the truce that had me concerned. She was the one that didn’t want to sweep everything under the rug. She was so angry with him for abandoning us and the mission. Then out of the blue she declared bygones and demanded we be nice as well.”

“Yeah that kinda shocked me too.”

“Plus I didn’t want what was happening to ruin her new relationship.”

“Brian seems cool.”

“I’m sure my theory is correct. It makes sense.”

“Whatever. The brains are your department.”

Wesley nodded to himself. “I’m sure I’m right.”

***

Angel slammed his fist into the punching bag. His whole morning kept replaying in his head. Waking up with Cordelia in his arms, Wesley interrupting his brooding session, Wesley’s stupid theory, Cordelia overhearing their conversation, and last but certainly not least every word she uttered about the wonderfulness of Brian, it was like some nightmarish joke.

“The bond is affecting you both. I had hoped this wouldn’t be the case and the bond would have no side effects unless it was completed. Apparently I was wrong. The effects for you are amplified by you being a vampire. Your possessiveness is in response to the artificial feelings that the bond has created. I suspect it’s a built-in clause, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The bond is trying to force you to complete it.”

The chain the bag hung on squeaked under the barrage of powerful blows. Doubt began to creep into his heart. There was a possibility that Wesley was right. The bond may be affecting them. Angel knew his feelings were just that, his feelings.

The bond hadn’t created them. If anything, it was the appearance of another man that forced him to admit his feelings, at least to himself. What if the bond was affecting him only its effects were negligible because he was already in love with her? What if the only one truly being affected was Cordelia?

“It’s actually kind of a relief.”

What if all their close moments were due to the bond affecting her?

“It explains why Angel has been crowding me lately.”

“Have you been experiencing any effects?”

“There may have been moments where I thought I felt something. It was definitely freak worthy but I guess it was no big deal. I should’ve known.”

What if she meant everything she said?

“Don’t worry, Wes. Now that I know where I stand, you’ve got nothing to be concerned about. This pathetic excuse for a marriage will be over soon and we can just forget all about this nightmare. If you’ll excuse me, my dream guy is waiting for my call.”

What if she was really falling for Brian? What if after their annulment was final he never got to hold Cordelia in his arms again? What if he never got to tell her how he felt?

“How could I go from being in love with Buffy to falling in love with Cordelia? It had to be magic.”

What if the small sliver of a chance he might have had with her was gone because he is the stupidest vampire ever to walk the earth?

The chain snapped sending the bag crashing into the far wall. “What if I lose her?” Angel dropped to his knees, panting for breath he didn’t need. “What if I’ve already lost her?”

***

Cordelia was exhausted and it was only 5 o’clock. She’d spent the day avoiding Angel, acting normal around Wes and Gunn, lecturing herself on how stupid she was, and attempting to comfort herself by blaming the bond for her feelings. Except for the last part, she’d been successful.

Much to her relief, Wesley hadn’t followed through with his threat. He hadn’t brought the subject of her marriage up again. She hated lying to him. Fortunately Gunn followed Wesley’s lead. It was hard enough lying to Wesley. She knew she’d never be able to face both of them and lie. They were her family. Wesley and Gunn had gotten her through some of the toughest times of her life and for her that was saying a lot.

There had been a time she would have said asking Russell Winters what he wanted her to do was the lowest point of her life, lower than finding Xander locked in a passionate embrace with Willow, lower than the IRS seizing her family’s assets, lower than stealing sandwiches from parties so she could eat, lower than being impregnated by a human acting as a demon surrogate, and lower than being trapped in a never-ending vision.

Angel’s beige period showed her one new all-time low after another, one night in particular standing out. Wesley and Gunn had helped her through each and every low point. Lying to them made her heart ache even more.

“How could I go from being in love with Buffy to falling in love with Cordelia? It had to be magic.”

“Stop thinking about Angel. C’mon Cor. You don’t need him anymore. Keep your promise.” She grabbed her most recent splurge, a matching bra and panty set from Victoria’s Secret. The delicate lace and satin felt good against her skin. Brian wasn’t gonna know what hit him.

***

Gunn’s sharp whistle echoed through the lobby. “You look hot.”

“You do look quite beautiful.”

Cordelia twirled for them once she reached the bottom of the stairs. “Do you think Brian will like it?” Her hands smoothed down the low-cut fire engine red dress. She hadn’t worn it in ages, not since Doyle had warned her she’d attract every vampire in a twenty mile radius.

“Unless he’s gone blind, he’ll love it.” Gunn slowly circled her, inspecting the way it hugged her body. “Maybe you should put something overtop of it? It may get chilly later. A sweater would be a good idea. What do you think, Wes?”

“Excellent suggestion. An ankle length coat wouldn’t be amiss either.” The soft material barely kissed her knees. “We wouldn’t want your legs to get cold. I do believe there is a bug going around.”

“I heard the same thing. You shouldn’t go out without socks on.” He looked down at her feet. “Socks might not look right with those strappy things. You know what would look great? Sneakers.”

“Gunn, don’t be silly. She couldn’t possibly wear sneakers with that dress. Now if she wore sweats instead, then sneakers would be an appropriate choice.”

“You’re right. I always thought she looked pretty fine in her gray sweats.”

“You mean the one with the hooded sweatshirt?”

“Yeah. You should change into that. There’s nothing sexier than a woman who’s comfortable.”

“Right you are, Gunn.”

“Are you two idiots finished?” She tried to glare but the smile wouldn’t leave her face.

“I don’t think she’s goin’ for it, Wes.”

“So it would appear.”

“Can’t blame a guy for tryin’. Where is the accountant takin’ you tonight?”

“Tonight is my treat. I wanted to make up for last night.” And forget about Angel, she silently added.

“I hardly think Brian feels you have anything to make up for. It’s not as if you purposely had a vision to get out of dancing.”

“I know. He pretty much said the same thing over the phone but I can’t help feeling like I’ve been holding us back.”

“You’ve only known him a short while. There’s no time table when it comes to relationships.”

She rolled her eyes. “Tell me something I don’t know, Wes.” She began pacing. “I think I’ve been overly cautious with him. Maybe not overly, I mean with my track record caution is a necessity, but Brian… he was really wonderful last night. He is exactly what I need in a guy and with Lorne’s stamp of approval; I think I’m in the clear.”

“In the clear?”

“Yes.” She met Wesley’s inquisitive gaze. “It’s okay to let some of my walls down.” Brian won’t hurt me like Angel will, she silently cried.

“If you’re becoming serious, perhaps Gunn and I should join this evening. I’d like to get to know him in a more relaxed setting. Our first meeting..”

“You mean inquisition.”

“Yes well I suppose we were rather…”

“Harsh?”

“I think overzealous is a more fitting word. So about tonight..’

“Not gonna happen. At least not tonight. I’ll mention it. Maybe we can all go out tomorrow.”

Wes nodded in approval. “So what time is the lucky man picking you up?”

“He’s not. I told you tonight is my treat.”

“Woah. If he’s not pickin’ you up, you better put on a jacket before you leave the hotel.”

She rolled her eyes. “The sun hasn’t even set yet and..”

“Cordelia, there are dangers out there that have nothing to do with vampires.”

“Geez. I know what’s out there.” She walked around the counter and grabbed the coat hanging on the back of her chair. “I was planning to wear a coat. Brian’s the only guy I want admiring my dress.” I don’t even care that Angel’s not around to see me, she silently added. “I already called for a cab.” She glanced down at her watch. “Which should be here any second.”

As if on cue, a horn blared signaling the cab’s arrival

Cordelia grabbed her purse. “Brian will drive me back so no worrying. I’ll be back before dawn.” She disappeared out the door with a wave.

“I knew you were worryin’ over nothing, English. She’s fine.”

“Me? You were the one who was watching her like a hawk all day.”

“The way she was avoiding the vamp made me nervous.”

“I’m sure she was just feeling a little embarrassed. She admitted to being affected. Admitting her feelings, even false ones, has never been easy for Cordelia.”

“That’s not what you said before. You were worried too.”

“Well I was slightly concerned about her lack of reaction to Angel’s comment. It was very unlike her.”

“What’s the big deal about that Buffy girl anyway?”

“Buffy and Cordelia’s friendship had sort of a competitive nature to it. I’m not entirely sure what it was based on. I do know that Buffy was the first girl that ever made Cordelia feel inferior.”

“I repeat, what’s the big deal about that Buffy girl anyway?”

Angel disappeared back down the stairs to hang the punching bag up for the sixth time. Each time it fell, he went upstairs to speak to Cordelia, intending to set the record straight. He had no idea how she felt but he needed her to know he hadn’t meant what she’d overheard. As soon as he set foot in the lobby, she would avoid him by going into the bathroom or into the office and he would return to the basement.

After the bag hit the wall again, he decided to try one more time. He froze the moment he reached the lobby. The sight of Cordelia held him mesmerized but it was her words that stopped him from making his presence known.

“I think I’ve been overly cautious with him. Maybe not overly, I mean with my track record caution is a necessity, but Brian… he was really wonderful last night. He is exactly what I need in a guy and with Lorne’s stamp of approval; I think I’m in the clear.”

“In the clear?”

“Yes. It’s okay to let some of my walls down.”

Angel picked up the bag for the seventh time.

***

“I’m sorry. Dennis promised he’d be good.”

Brian rubbed his head. “That’s okay. My sister hates it when I ask questions during a movie too. She usually throws popcorn at me instead of a pillow.”

“His aim isn’t very good with popcorn.” Cordelia leaned in and kissed the spot where the pillow struck, pushing her thoughts of Angel away. “Better?”

His head turned slightly, their lips only inches apart. “Much better.”

She closed the distance and captured his lips. Her tongue swept in the moment his lips parted.

Brian slid his hand to the base of her neck and took control of the kiss. His groan was lost in the cavern of her mouth as she shifted to straddle his lap.

She took his free hand and placed it on her thigh.

He broke the kiss. His darkened eyes locked with hers. “Maybe we should slow down.”

“I have a better idea.” She stood and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s get more comfortable.” Cordelia gripped his hands tighter as she walked backwards towards her bedroom.

“There’s no rush.” He’d been a little surprised by how affectionate she’d been since he arrived, not that he was complaining. “Dinner was wonderful.”

She grinned. “I know my takeout.”

“Tonight has been great. I don’t want you to do anything you’re not ready for. I’m not going anywhere.”

“That’s good to know.” She unzipped her dress and let it fall to the floor. “I wouldn’t want you to do anything you’re not ready for either.”

Brian wondered if he’d swallowed his tongue. Tempting flawless golden skin barely concealed by red lace and satin drew him in. The urge to touch, taste, explore, to worship her beauty robbed him of his thoughts. “What were we talking about?”

Her arms snaked around his neck, pressing her breasts to his chest. “I believe you were trying to tell me you don’t want me.” Through hooded eyes, she gazed into his, her lips curled in a pout.

“You must be mistaken. I can’t imagine saying something as insane as that.”

Cordelia pressed her hips to his. “Does this mean you do want me?”

“You have no idea how much.”

“Then show me.”

“You’re so beautiful.”

***

“Angel, behind you!”

Angel barely managed to dodge the crushing blow. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Gunn turned to Wesley, who was attempting to herd a group of people cowering in the corner further away from the battle. “English, I think you forgot to ask a few important questions.” He rested his weight on the handle of his axe, exhausted.

“I got as much information as I could before we were cut off.” He glanced over at the vampire struggling to fend off the large demon covered in scales. The scales seem to act like body armor. “The man on the phone didn’t mention the scales or the large spiked club. He only said there was a big monster in his restaurant. He gave me the address and hung up. Getting here quickly seemed more important than looking up the phone number to call back for more information.”

“If we make it out of this alive, I’m gonna find that guy and kick his ass. We could have called my crew for some extra help if we’d known this thing was so… scaly. My axe keeps bouncing off.”

Before he could respond, Gunn charged back in. Wesley couldn’t get the people to safety. The demon blocked the main exit. The rear exit was blocked by a balcony that had collapsed before they arrived. He got them as far away from the fight as possible before joining in. He remained at a distance, using his crossbow. The bolts continued to bounce off the demon’s hard exterior.

Without warning Angel doubled over in pain, vomiting blood. The demon took advantage of his weakened state. His club connected with Angel’s back, one of the spikes tearing a deep gash in his back.

“Wes!” Gunn did his best to draw the demon’s attention away from the fallen vampire.

Wesley grabbed Angel’s sword and charged in.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” He could hear Angel groaning in between throwing up.

“I don’t know.” Wesley was struck in his chest with an incredibly strong arm. He flew through the air and landed on a table. The wood splintered beneath him. With no time to focus on the pain, he climbed to his feet and charged again.

***

Cordelia paced the lobby. She’d never been so embarrassed or so angry. The priest said the bond required monogamy, but he’d definitely insinuated that it didn’t apply until after it was completed. She needed answers. “Where the hell is Wes? Doesn’t anybody answer their cell phone anymore?”

“Did you have a pleasant evening?”

“Don’t start with me? I have never…” Her words trailed off as her breath was rushed out in a gasp.

“My night wasn’t that great.” Angel tossed his broadsword on the floor, too angry to care about the weapon.

“What happened?”

“The funniest thing happened while I was battling a nine-foot demon. I doubled over and began vomiting blood. I don’t normally do that.” It had only taken him seconds to figure out why he’d gotten sick. He just knew what Cordelia had done or at least attempted to do. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

Her anger sparked at the flash of yellow in his eyes. “It’s not my fault. That priest never said the monogamy thing started right away. How was I supposed to know what would happen?” As far as she was concerned Angel shared the blame. If she hadn’t been so determined to rid her thoughts of his touch, she would never have rushed into that level intimacy.

Well tried to anyway. “You’re still alive or should I say still dead and walking?”

Anger, hurt, jealousy and possessiveness warred within him. “Next time you have the overwhelming urge to get laid; could you give me a little warning?”

“That’s none of your business!”

“Fine! If you don’t give a damn about me, then do it for Wes and Gunn. They were almost killed tonight because you couldn’t keep your legs together!” He refused to feel remorse at her flinch.

“If you can’t control your selfishness for them either, then do it for the innocent people who could have died tonight. You remember the helpless, don’t you? Or do they not matter now that you found your dream guy?” He slowly began to climb the stairs to his room, ignoring the crying woman in the lobby.

“Where are Gunn and Wes?” her words came out in a frightened whisper.

“Your concern is touching.” He turned the corner and disappeared from sight.

Cordelia was about to follow when a bruised, battered and bleeding Wesley and Gunn walked through the doors.

Wesley immediately noticed the distraught brunette. “Cordy, are you alright? What happened?”

She rushed into his arms sobbing. “I’m..I’m so.. so sorry.” She clutched him as if he might disappear.

He staggered under her weight, his legs still a little shaky. “Shh. It’s okay. We’re both fine.”

“Yeah Barbie. English and I kicked some demon ass tonight.” He winced as he tried to move his arm. “If I ever complain about Angel not sharing the fighting again, hit me.”

“This is all my fault.” She stepped out of Wesley’s embrace and helped them to the red couch.

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is, Wes. You don’t know what I did.”

“I think I can hazard a guess. I was under the impression that particular clause wouldn’t go into effect until after the bond was completed or I would have advised you against such intimacies, not that I expected you to…” His words trailed off as her tears began flowing again. “That wasn’t a judgement.”

“I was reckless. I should have known the risk and acted responsibly.”

Gunn reached out and squeezed her hand. “We don’t expect you to call to give us a play by play.”

“You could’ve been killed.” She hurried to get the first aid kit.

“You didn’t know, Cordelia. None of us expected this.”

Cordelia methodically began treating their wounds. None were life threatening but she knew if they were this banged up, the fight had been bad. Had it only been a few hours since she was thinking about how important the two injured men were to her. She wasn’t sure she could have gotten through the past year without them.

They were her family. They were her strength when she felt weak. They were more important to her than her own life, her happiness. She could have gotten them killed. The realization kept repeating itself in her head.

“So did you get sick during or after?”

She was startled by Wesley’s blunt question. The curious former watcher deserved an answer considering he’d almost died as a result of her actions. “We barely got passed the… petting stage when I threw up on him.”

Gunn bit his bottom lip to stop himself from laughing. “You threw up on him?”

“Yeah. It was so embarrassing.”

“What did he do?” The corners of Wesley’s mouth twitched up.

“Once I stopped vomiting, I explained the situation. He and Dennis helped to clean me up. I was pretty weak for a while afterwards.” A pang of guilt shot through her knowing Angel experienced the same thing. “He dropped me off here a little while ago.”

“Wow. He cleaned you up and he drove you here? He’s a keeper.” No longer able to suppress his laughter, Gunn burst out laughing.

Wesley quickly followed suit.

“It’s not funny. You guys could have been killed.” She couldn’t believe they were laughing.

“You’re right. It’s not funny.” Wesley’s laughter only got louder.

***

“You should take a look at Angel’s wounds as well.” Wesley allowed Cordelia to help him into bed. His room in the Hyperion was sparsely decorated but he rarely stayed in it.

“I don’t think he wants me anywhere near him right now.”

“I’m sure he’s calmed down. His mind is a little clouded by the bond’s effects. He feels betrayed, even though deep down he knows he has no reason to feel so. I’m sure logic and reason have returned. You’ve dressed my wounds as well as Gunn’s, who was probably sound asleep before you even shut his door.”

“He was snoring before I turned off the lights.”

“Most of Angel’s injuries have probably closed but there was one in particular that was rather deep.”

“If it needs a bandage, he’s probably already done it.”

“I doubt he was able to reach it. Just take a look at it before getting some sleep yourself.”

“OK.” She leaned down and placed a kiss on his forehead. “G’night.”

Wesley looked up into her sad eyes. “Stop blaming yourself. You had no idea what would happen and you most certainly had no idea that we’d been called out on a case. This isn’t your fault.” He squeezed her trembling hand. “Please believe that.”

She nodded halfheartedly. “I’ll check on you in the morning.” Cordelia managed to hold in her tears until she reached the hallway. She gasped for breath as the events of the day began to overwhelm her. She almost got Wesley and Gunn killed. She almost got innocent people slaughtered. She almost got Angel killed.

Her knees buckled sending her crashing to the floor. The three most important people in her life almost died because she was trying to erase Angel’s hold on her heart. She hadn’t even given a second thought to the possible consequences. Even after she’d gotten sick, she only thought of her embarrassment and her anger that Wesley hadn’t warned her.

She hugged her knees and tried to stop her tears. Crying wasn’t going to change anything. She’d been selfish and Wesley, Gunn and Angel paid the price for it. “Get a grip, Cor. Wes and Gunn have been bandaged and put into bed. Go check on Angel. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. That’s what got them hurt in the first place.” She rose to her feet with grim determination. Angel still needed tending.

***

Angel didn’t open his eyes at the sound of the door opening. He didn’t acknowledge Cordelia’s presence as she moved around the room. He didn’t move when her hands touched his back. He didn’t breathe in her scent for fear of what he might detect. His demon was too close to the surface, demanding she be shown to whom she belongs.

Cordelia tried to focus on the task at hand. She refused to think about how close the wound was to his heart or how deep it was. She refused to think about how still he was beneath her fingertips. He normally forced his lungs to breathe when they were alone together in his room, not that she was or had ever thought about it.

Once the bandage was taped into place, her fingertips began searching for more wounds. She pulled the sheet down revealing her husband clad only in his boxers. He was covered in bruises that would be gone by morning.

He inhaled a sharp intake of air despite his intentions not to. Her scent caused a deep growl to rumble through his chest. She was covered in another man’s scent far greater than ever before. The fact she hadn’t actually had sex was no comfort to his rage. She only stopped because she’d gotten sick.

She snatched her hands away as if she’d been burned. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

“Yes.” He stopped himself from saying how deeply.

“I.. I didn’t mean to.” She could feel tears prick her eyes. “I’m so sorry. Please I..”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I..”

“If you’re so sorry, take a shower before coming to bed. Your smell only makes things worse. I guess now I know why you dressed like that.”

Her gaze dropped to her dress, worn to seduce another man. “I.. I’ll go shower.” She fled into the bathroom. She stripped out the wretched dress and tossed it in the trash. “I’ll get clean.”

Angel listened to the running water. He tried to calm himself but it hurt. It hurt so much. She tried to make love to another man. Another man’s hands had been touching her. A growl ripped through the air. He dismissed the small voice reminding him of his night with Darla. It wasn’t the same. He hadn’t realized he was in love with Cordelia yet. Now he knew.

His anger turned inward. This was his fault. He pushed her away with his thoughtless comment intended only for Wesley’s benefit. He hadn’t cleared up the misunderstanding like he knew he should have done. He had no idea if that had played a part in Cordelia’s actions. Was it just yesterday he’d gone into the bathroom? Was it just yesterday that they nearly kissed? Was it just last night that he held her in his arms? He’d lost her, without ever having known if he’d had her to begin with.

***

Cordelia quietly slipped into bed. Her skin was raw from the hot water and scrubbing. It had taken nearly thirty minutes before she felt clean. It made sense that the king of brood could smell a person’s guilt. She could hardly blame him for being disgusted with her. She nearly got the people she claimed to care about killed.

She tried to stifle her sobs with her fist. Her family was all she had in the world. They were more important to her than anything.

He couldn’t block out her pain any longer. He knew he wasn’t being fair to her. She hadn’t known. She hadn’t betrayed him. She hadn’t been unfaithful. He had no claim on her. She didn’t owe him anything. His hand began to slide up and down her bare arm soothing the tremors. “Shh. It’s okay.”

She spun around and buried her face in his chest. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m not the spoiled selfish girl I once was. I’m not. I didn’t know.”

“Of course you’re not.” He rubbed circles on her back. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. You didn’t do anything wrong. None of us knew that would happen. Shh.”

“No. I was stupid. I didn’t even want to do it. I was so mad.”

“What?” He pushed her away slightly so he could see her eyes. “Did Brian try to hurt you?” The thought that she hadn’t been willing had never occurred to him.

“No. He was wonderful and understanding.” She couldn’t meet his penetrating stare. “I wasn’t mad at Brian.”

His fears confirmed; she was mad at him. “I didn’t mean what I said to Wesley. He was being protective of you and I.. I wanted him to think he was right. I wanted him to think I couldn’t have feelings for you.” Angel wasn’t ready to confess the complete truth yet. Everything was still so muddled. “He basically threatened me. Well maybe not aloud but it was definitely implied that my unlife would not be pleasant if I even considered pursuing you romantically.”

“Wesley said that?”

“Not in so many words but he made it clear that he and Gunn did not think me worthy of you. I can’t say that I blame them. I’m not worthy. Look how I treated you tonight. I’m sorry.” He wiped her tears away with his thumb.

“No. I’m sorry. I was stupid. I could’ve gotten you killed. Wesley and Gunn were hurt because of me.”

“Actually they were hurt because of the demon we were fighting. Who’s to say they wouldn’t have been just as hurt had I not collapsed.”

She clutched the strong hands cradling her face. “I’m sorry.”

“No more apologies.” He dropped a kiss on each eye. “No more tears.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “No more guilt.” He kissed her chin. “No more recriminations.”

Her heart began to race faster with each kiss.

He felt her panting whisper across his face. He hungered to rescue the plump lower lip trapped by her teeth. His thumb traced the edge of that tempting lip, so tempting. Before logic could stop him, his mouth brushed against hers, barely touching. The almost kiss sent electric shocks through his system only serving to make him hungrier.

He captured her lips with a groan, his tongue plunging in, demanding in its exploration. With one taste, he became addicted. He needed to know, to possess every inch of her. He rolled her onto her back, pressing her pliant form to the mattress. Both hands held her head in place as he ravaged her mouth.

Air would soon become an issue but the thought of ending the kiss was too unbearable to think of. Her hands began to explore her long-awaited captor, letting her mind shut down in sweet surrender.

He hissed in pain as her hands clutched his wounded back, breaking the kiss. He stared into her eyes, almost black with desire.

“I’m sorry.”

“You are?” Fear crept up his spine.

She looked up in confusion. “I forgot about your back.”

“Oh right.” Her kiss-swollen lips begged to be kissed longer, harder. “You’re so beautiful.” He captured her lips again.

Had it only been an hour since Brian had said the very same words, since Brian had followed those words with his kisses? Was she really about to finish what she’d been unable to finish with another man? What did that say about her? What about the bond? Was she really ready to bind her life to Angel for an eternity? Did she even know how Angel truly felt?

She pushed against his chest. “Stop.”

“What’s the matter? Did I do something wrong?”

“No.” She bit her lip. “I don’t think this is such a good idea. We don’t even know what this means. The bond, I’m still confused about its effects.” Being bound for eternity meant what exactly, she wondered.

Angel reared back like he’d been struck. She still wasn’t sure if her feelings were simply being caused by magic or they were real. “Fine.” He rolled onto his side with his back to her. “Good night.”

“Angel, I..”

“We can talk in the morning. I’m tired.”

“But..”

“Let’s just forget it. I don’t understand the magic affecting us any better than you.”

His angry words stung. “Fine!” She turned away.

They both closed their eyes and willed sleep to come. Neither knowing what had stopped the other.

***

Part 11

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 9   1 comment

Part 9

Cordelia groaned into her pillow. The throbbing in her head hadn’t eased. Her pills, her real pain killers, were stashed in a drawer. They would dull the pain and make it bearable but Brian’s presence made taking them complicated.

There would be questions. Questions she wouldn’t answer, couldn’t answer. The jackhammers inside her skull and trying to figure out how to take her pills without Brian seeing did serve to distract her from the weirdness of having Brian in Angel’s suite.

It was kind of sweet having someone fuss over her after a vision, someone corporeal. Dennis was great too but he didn’t have arms to carry her. She didn’t have to pick herself up off the floor after Wesley, Gunn and Angel left.

It also had its disadvantages, aside from the pills. She needed that short period of time when she could let her mask fall and not hide the pain. She didn’t have to be strong for Dennis. She let him see what the visions were slowly doing to her. Angel, Wesley and Gunn couldn’t know. Now she had to be strong for Brian too.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do for you?” He couldn’t stand to see her in pain. He hadn’t known Cordelia for very long but the look in her eyes when he picked her up was gut-wrenching.

He understood why her friends were so protective. He would do almost anything to take her pain away. The overwhelming need to make her eyes sparkle again shot through him. “Would you like something to eat?”

Her stomach lurched at the thought. “No thank you.” An idea finally came to her. “Could you go downstairs and get me a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and a couple of aspirin?”

“It’s only been 15 minutes since you took some. You have to give it time to kick in.”

She rolled her eyes. He was sweet but he needed to leave her alone for a few minutes. “I’ve been having visions for awhile. I can handle a couple more aspirin. Please?”

“Of course.”

“The bottle is behind the counter.”

“I’ll be right back.”

She waited until the outer door closed before rolling off the bed. She resisted the urge to crawl and stood on shaky legs. “Those PTB’s totally suck.” She shook the bottle. Two large white pills rested in her palm. She popped them in her mouth and swallowed them dry.

Once the bottle was back in its hiding place, she shuffled back to bed. The mask could fall until Brian returned with the aspirin she didn’t need.

***

Murder, carnage, bloodshed, pain, rage… jealousy, a storm of emotions and ideas swept through him. Another man, an intruder, a thief was sitting on the edge of HIS bed while HIS WIFE lie sleeping in HIS bed.

Angel stilled. Every instinct demanded a different action. The trespass could NOT be ignored. No one could possibly expect him NOT to react to this.

“How is she?”

Angel looked at Wesley like he’d just been stabbed in the back. The former watcher was completely calm except for the slight concern in his tone. His voice remained soft so as not to wake Cordelia. She needed to be woken up. He wanted answers. He wanted to know by what fucking right Brian was in THEIR bedroom.

“She just fell asleep.” Brian carefully stood, careful not to shake the bed. “Now that you’re back I guess I’ll be going.”

“Thank you for looking after her. We hate leaving her here alone but the mission requires it.”

“Plus I’d kick your asses if you didn’t go save the stupid teenagers.” Cordelia sat up startling the men. “What? Do I have bed hair?” She grinned as her eyes scanned her returning warriors for any signs of injury.

Her gaze stopped on Angel. “You’re hurt. Wes, can you go get the first aid kit? I think it’s behind the counter. You,” she pointed at the injured vampire, “sit down and show me where it hurts.”

“Cordelia, you should be resting.”

She waved away Brian’s concerns. “I’m fine.”

Brian couldn’t believe the transformation. Gone was the pained expression she wore in her sleep. If he hadn’t seen her cry out in vision pain, he would think there was nothing wrong with her.

Cordelia planted her hands on her hips. “Why are you still standing?” She was shocked by the look in Angel’s eyes. He looked angry. “Angel?” Fear crept up her spine. Being seriously hurt usually made him angry. She quickly crossed the room, her hands reaching to check his body for gaping wounds.

He stepped back. “I’m fine.”

“You are not. Stop being such a dumbass and sit.” She smirked. “Unless it’s your backside that’s injured. You’re not embarrassed to show me where it hurts, are you?”

“My backside is fine, as is the rest of me.” Angel winced when he tried to remove his jacket.

“Sure you are.” She turned to Gunn for some answers. “What happened? What’s the dork’s problem?” Her eyes widened. “None of the teenagers were hurt, were they? You guys stopped the ritual? You killed the demon? What aren’t you telling me?”

“Damn Barbie. You gotta take a breath. Give a brother a chance to answer.”

“Sorry.”

“We didn’t stop the ritual because some vamp that will go unnamed didn’t put much effort into stopping it. Once the demon was summoned, the teens ran while Wes and I stood there and watched supervamp tear the thing to shreds. I didn’t even get to take one swing at it. It’s just not right.” He shook his head in Angel’s direction.

“You know now that your soul is permanent you might want to think about getting laid. It might relieve some of that tension you got goin’ on. At least then I’d get to fight.”

Cordelia folded her arms defensively. “You look tired, Gunn. Go home.”

“Yeah I just wanted to see if you were okay before I called it a night.” He observed her hostile glare. “And I see you’re fine, so I’ll be going.” He passed Wes in the doorway. “Later.”

“Goodnight Charles.”

“Angel, sit your ass down right now.” She nearly shrieked when he finally moved to obey. “Not there! You’ll get blood on my blankets. Go sit on the couch… and don’t sit on any of my throw pillows!”

Angel grumbled under his breath as he walked into the outer room and sat down on the couch. The fact that Cordelia had barely acknowledged Brian’s presence in their room helped to soothe his anger.

“You’re such a baby.” She accepted the first aid kit from Wesley. “Thanks. You should go home and get some rest. No more research for you tonight, mister.”

“I must admit standing around watching Angel fight was rather exhausting.” He frowned at vampire on the couch. “I would like to discuss your behavior this evening.”

Cordelia stepped between them. “It can wait until morning.”

“Cordelia, I’d like to remind you that I am the boss. If I want to..”

“Wes, don’t even pull that shit with me tonight. I have a headache. The vision has been handled. Our working day has officially ended. Go home. Get some sleep. You can yell at him in the morning.”

There was no point in arguing with her. He never won. “Very well. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight Boss.” She smiled sweetly.

“You stole the words right out of my mouth.” Wesley gave a parting smile before closing the door behind him.

Cordelia walked over to Angel. “Let’s get the coat off.” She gently pushed the leather off his shoulders. “Quit whining. You’re such a baby.”

“It hurts.”

“What happened to “I’m fine”?” She dropped to her knees and began unbuttoning his shirt. She could see the spots where his black shirt looked wet, knowing it was blood soaked. She bit her lip.

Angel hooked a finger under her chin and raised it. “I’m fine.”

She nodded slightly.

Brian finally snapped out of the haze he’d been in. He felt like he was intruding. “I guess I should go too.” His voice sounded so loud and out of place, even to his own ears.

Cordelia spun around. She’d forgotten he was still there. “I’m sorry. These guys come back from a vision and I go into my nurse mode.” She tried to lighten the mood. “Normally I change into a nurse outfit complete with a little white hat but I fell asleep.”

His eyes widened in shock. “I’m kidding. You know me, quirky sense of humor girl.” She braced her hands on Angel’s knees and stood, ignoring his grunt of pain at the pressure. “Thank you for taking care of me tonight.”

She hooked her arm with Brian’s and began walking him to the door. “It saved me from having to crawl up the stairs which is hell on my knees.” Her smile faded at his horrified expression. “There I go again, making with the funnies. Goodnight Brian.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek but his head turned slightly to capture her lips. She sighed into the kiss. He really was a good kisser.

“I’ll call you tomorrow. We can discuss that rain check.”

She smiled. “I’d like that.”

“Goodnight Cordelia.” He glanced over her shoulder. “Bye Angel.” He didn’t wait for a response.

Cordelia closed the door. “Do you think I should’ve walked him to the front door?”

“…”

She turned. “Angel?” She was startled by his expression. The anger was back making her fear return. “If you’re seriously hurt, you are so in for an ass kicking.” She crossed the room, Brian and her headache forgotten. She finished unbuttoning his shirt.

He kept fidgeting, still angry about the kiss. “I said I was fine.”

She finally managed to get him undressed from the waist up. There were four long gashes along his torso but none were very deep. They had already begun to heal. “You’re whining about these.. scratches? You’re such a baby.” She opened the kit and set to work.

“You call these scratches? They’re at least eight inches long and..”

“Pfft. They barely broke the skin.” She gently applied the ointment that only worked on living flesh.

“Excuse me? Did you see all the blood? They were deep. You were just so busy sucking face that they’ve already begun to heal.” Hazel eyes full of hurt looked up at him. He tried to hold on to his anger but he couldn’t stand seeing her hurt, especially by him. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little cranky tonight.”

She concentrated on bandaging his wounds and not the smooth firm chest her fingers were touching. “Is that because you didn’t stop the ritual before it happened?”

“Umm.” Angel hadn’t actually made the conscious decision to wait for the demon to be summoned. However an argument could be made that the ritual may have been stopped if he’d tried a little harder. He’d been itching for a fight and beating up the teenagers wasn’t the kind of scare Wesley had in mind for them.

It wasn’t Angel’s fault though. He wasn’t the one who summoned the demon and he did rip it to shreds once it arrived. No one but him even got close enough to the demon to get hurt. “Yes?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?” She taped the last bandage into place. “Is that it?”

“…”

“Where else?”

He was grateful vampires couldn’t blush. “It’s nothing.”

“Let’s see this nothing.”

He struggled over what to do but he knew she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Seeing her flustered could make his possible embarrassment well worth it.

Cordelia leaned back on her heels as he stood. She swallowed the planet-sized lump that formed when he unbuckled his pants and let them fall to the floor.

He pointed to the long red slash that almost ran the whole length of his right thigh. It was practically healed already. “I told you it was nothing.” He bit his lip and begged his body not to respond as her fingertips hesitantly inspected the wound.

She could feel the heat rising to her cheeks, all questions about the fight flew out of her mind. She shook off her embarrassment. She was being ridiculous. This was hardly the first time she’d seen him in this state of undress. She’d bandaged his leg wounds before. There was no reason for her hands to keep shaking.

He abruptly sat down when his body would no longer not react to her touch. “It’s not even bleeding anymore. I don’t think it will need a bandage.” His hands twitched with the urge to pull her onto his lap.

He needed to distract himself or he’d throw caution to the wind and just take her. He bent to remove his boots. The gashes on his torso reminded him why bending was a very bad idea. Pain, pain was a good distraction.

“Let me do that.” Keeping her hands busy would prevent her from staring. She removed his boots, allowing his pants to slide free. She took off his socks leaving him clad only in his boxers. The sight did nothing to prevent staring.

The urge to slap herself bubbled up. She was being ridiculous. What happened in the bathroom was an aberration. There was nothing going on between her and Angel. There was no sexual tension. It was all in her imagination. “Let’s go to bed.” She hated blushing. She was not a blushy person. So what the hell was wrong with her lately?

“That sounded a lot different in my head.”

Angel hoped his pained expression resembled a smile. It was as if some higher power decided he hadn’t been tortured enough lately. He nearly groaned. He had so many new things to be punished for. He had to pay the price for his so-called beige period, but he couldn’t think about that now. Cordelia didn’t know.

She couldn’t know. “How’s your head?” Walking away from their current position was not an option. Silk boxers did nothing to cover his erection. He concentrated on Cordelia’s changing expression, keeping his hands folded in his lap. He had to break eye contact when the urge to hold her started to overwhelm him again.

“It’s fine. The vision has been taken care of and the aspirin I took are finally kicking in. Taking a short nap helped too.”

“Brian took good care of you?” He forced the words out.

“He tried. I think seeing a vision kind of freaked him out. You know when Doyle had the visions there was brief concern. With me, it’s like everyone goes into overprotective mode, especially lately. I miss the days when Wesley nagged me about having them more often. Do you think it’s because I’m a girl? You know having breasts doesn’t mean I’m not tough. I’m tough. I can totally kick.. Wesley’s ass; which I know isn’t saying much.” She gave him a cheeky grin.

He cradled her face in both hands. “I..We don’t like leaving you here to pick yourself up off the floor.”

Cordelia covered his hands with hers. “Now that you’re around to catch me, I won’t have to.” She was amazed the words came out without a trace of bitterness in them.

His gaze dropped to her lips, perfect lips curled into a beautiful smile. He watched as her tongue darted out to wet them, fascinated by the tempting pink tongue. “I won’t let you fall.” He slowly dipped his head as if he was being pulled by some invisible force.

You’re too late, she silently thought as her eyes drifted shut. Her unspoken words sent terror straight to her heart making her jerk her head back.

Angel’s hands instinctively reached out to pull her back to him but he forced them to stop.

“Do you need some blood?” she spoke cheerily, as if they hadn’t almost kissed. The truth would have shaken her to her knees if she hadn’t already been on them. “I can heat some up for you.”

“No thanks.” Her rejection had sufficiently killed his arousal allowing him to stand. “Some sleep is all I’ll need to heal.”

She watched him walk into the bedroom, closing the glass doors behind him. She cursed herself as she put the first aid kit back together. Her night seemed to get more confusing with each passing minute. First there was the backrub in the tub then they shared a moment outside the restaurant and now she nearly kissed him.

It was insane. She was insane. There was NO way she was in love with Angel.

The very idea was crazy, laughable really. She would never be stupid enough to fall in love with Angel. She wouldn’t do that to herself. Tragic love did NOT appeal to her. She was willing to admit that she was attracted to him. Who wouldn’t be? Angel was a total hottie but love was so not happening. Yeah she loved him but she loved him like she loved Wes and Gunn.

“So is Angel like a brother too?”

“Eww no. That’d be gross.”

Maybe her feelings for Angel weren’t exactly like they were for Wes and Gunn, but that didn’t mean she was IN love with him. Her relationship with Angel was just complicated. Being married only it made it more confusing. She just needed to make it through the whole 40 nights and everything would be fine. She would have her space back. Things would become clearer. She would never again wake up in Angel’s arms.

Her comforting thoughts failed to comfort her. She stood. The throbbing in her head helped to distract her from her comforting thoughts. She glanced down realizing she was still wearing the outfit Angel had bought her. The idea of burning it was dismissed as quickly as it occurred to her. She opened the doors and went straight to the dresser, refusing to look at the bed. She gathered a change of clothes and went into the bathroom.

Angel opened his eyes the moment the door closed. He felt like a yoyo. One minute he was ready to fight for her and the next he was willing to let her go. One minute he felt like she wanted him as much as he wanted her and the next she looked like she knew that she deserved better than him. One minute he was ready to follow Lorne’s advice and the next he remembered he wasn’t the better man for her.

One minute he was trying to be happy for her and Brian and the next he wanted to tear the bastard limb from limb. He remembered love being painful but he didn’t remember it being so confusing. Back then he knew what was right and what was wrong. It was only a matter of choosing.

Now he had no idea what was right. As much as he wanted to believe telling Cordelia he loved her was the right thing to do, he couldn’t be sure. He didn’t deserve her. He would never deserve her. As much as he thought standing aside and letting Cordelia be with a normal guy was the right thing to do, he couldn’t seem to accept it.

If that bastard was the right guy for her then why did she look at him with desire? Granted those occasions were rare but they existed. He hadn’t imagined them. How could giving up without a fight be the right thing to do?

He closed his eyes when he heard the door start to open. He listened to Cordelia move around the room and eventually settle in beside him. Pretending to be asleep was an easy feat for a vampire. Plus it enabled him to avoid a confrontation while still getting to hold her in his arms.

He rolled onto his side facing her back. After a few moments hesitation, he draped his arm around her waist. Her heart began to race but she didn’t move it or try to wake him up. Once her pulse began to slow, he pulled her back against his chest and buried his nose in her hair.

*I really am a bastard.*

***

Angel woke up spooned around Cordelia’s body. Her rhythmic breathing confirmed she was still asleep. Pretending to be asleep so he could hold her was definitely dishonest bordering on pathetic but then again he’d already been dishonest about more important matters.

The sobering thought forced him from the comfort of her body. He had no right to enjoy her warmth. He wearily headed into the bathroom.

He removed the bandages revealing flawless skin. Cordelia took care of him like no one else ever had. The remembrance of telling a dream Darla that she took care of him flashed through his mind. His sire had taken care of him in a sick twisted sort of way, but she was never what he needed. He wished he could turn back time.

If he hadn’t pushed Cordelia away, he might be able to believe he was good for her. He’d never believe he was good enough for her but he would have been capable of making her happy. Now one lie, one truth being revealed could shatter his world. “I really hate being a yoyo.”

***

Wesley turned the light in his office on. He was startled by the presence of a brooding vampire in his chair. “Angel, what are you doing in the dark?”

“Thinking.”

“About last night perhaps?” He placed a book he’d brought from home on his desk. “I would like to discuss your behavior but first I’d like you to remove yourself from my chair.”

Angel stood. “Old habits die hard.” He walked around the desk and sat down.

Wesley needed to be in boss mode if he was going to follow through with his decision. There were times when he really didn’t want to be the boss. It would be so much simpler to sit on the other side of the desk. He sat down in the boss’s chair before continuing.

“Angel, the ritual could have been stopped last night had you shown your vampire features as I asked. Those teenagers didn’t believe demons existed. They didn’t truly believe the ritual would work. One look at your fangs would have sent them screaming into the night, thereby stopping the ritual from being completed.”

“…”

“Because of your hesitation, the demon was summoned.”

“And I killed it, danger averted.”

“Yes. I’d like to discuss that as well.”

“The demon rose and I killed it. What more is there to say?”

“How about the method in which you killed it? I actually felt sorry for that demon last night. You tore it apart.”

“I had to kill it. That’s why we were there.”

“Yes but you didn’t go for the kill. You had ample opportunities. You purposely dragged that fight out.”

“I..”

“Gunn and I watched you since we had little else to do. I saw you smile, Angel.” Wesley removed his glasses and began polishing them furiously. “Is there anything I should be aware of?”

“I may have gone overboard in the fight but I’m not evil or beige.”

“I noticed your reaction upon our return as well.”

“…”

“Brian’s presence bothered you. I imagine leaving him here to care for Cordelia is the reason behind your need to dismember something.”

“…”

“I’m not blind, Angel. I’m not stupid either. I’ve tried to remain silent about your recent behavior towards Cordelia. I was confident you wouldn’t allow the situation to cloud your judgment too badly. Perhaps I was wrong.”

“…”

“I realize you’re in a difficult position. Your instincts as a vampire only serve to exacerbate the existing problem. Cordelia is precious to us. I know you don’t want to see her hurt. Brian could potentially be the right man for her. She deserves the chance to figure that out on her own.”

“…”

“This isn’t about blame. You didn’t create this situation. You’re as much a victim as Cordelia is.”

Angel had gone from angry to defensive to resigned to hopelessly confused. “I am?”

“Of course. The bond is affecting you both. I had hoped this wouldn’t be the case and the bond would have no side effects unless it was completed. Apparently I was wrong. The effects for you are amplified by you being a vampire. Your possessiveness is in response to the artificial feelings that the bond has created. I suspect it’s a built-in clause, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The bond is trying to force you to complete it.”

“So you’re saying that you don’t blame me?”

“No I don’t. As an impartial observer, I can see what you can’t. Your eagerness to regain her friendship only further clouded your judgment. Now that I’ve pointed out to you what’s happening, I’m counting on you to act more rationally.”

“And being in love with Cordelia would be completely irrational?”

“For you, yes. You’re hardly an appropriate choice for Cordelia. If either Gunn or I thought you were truly in love with her, we’d… That’s neither here nor there. There’s no point in any unpleasantness.”

Angel knew Wesley’s theory was complete and total crap. Lorne would have told him if the bond was affecting his emotions. Besides now that he admitted to himself that he was in love with Cordelia, he was also willing to admit it was a long time coming. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment he’d started falling in love with her.

It’d been too easy to mask his feelings with words like family and friendship. Although those words applied to their relationship too, his feelings for Cordelia were unlike anything he’d ever experienced. No familial title seemed appropriate except wife, which is why none had ever been assigned even in his thoughts. He’d do almost anything for a friend.

He’d had so few in his long life but he’d never venture into the ninth circle of hell otherwise known as the mall for any friend other than Cordelia.

Maybe if the friend was already at the mall and he had a reason to believe they were in mortal danger, he would go in that extreme case but there would be absolutely no shopping done on his part. He was in love with Cordelia and the bond had nothing to do with it. Being in love with her was no longer what scared him, figuring out what to do about it was.

“If either Gunn or I thought you were truly in love with her, we’d… That’s neither here nor there. There’s no point in any unpleasantness.”

Of course there was no reason Wesley needed to know that just yet. Angel was still in yoyo phase. Figuring out how Cordelia felt would be a lot easier if Wesley remained in the dark. “That explains a lot, Wes. I should’ve known my attraction towards Cordelia was because of the bond.”

“Just try to remember that except for your feelings of friendship, everything else isn’t real.”

He could barely form the words but he needed Wesley to be convinced his theory was right. “You bet. How could I go from being in love with Buffy to falling in love with Cordelia? It had to be magic.”

“Well I hardly think…” Wesley froze.

“Don’t let me interrupt. Please continue.”

Angel squeezed his eyes shut. If he didn’t turn around, if he didn’t look at Cordelia, she wouldn’t really be there; she could NOT have heard him say that.

This wasn’t the lie he feared might shatter his world.

Part 10

 

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 8   1 comment

Part 8

Once Cordelia reached Angel’s suite, away from prying eyes, she took a real pain killer. It had been days since her last vision but the harsh glare of the sun aggravated the headache that never quite left her anymore. She slowly stripped out of her clothes.

Her aching back reminding her why she should never go rollerblading again, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d been capable of standing upright with skates on. It hadn’t sounded complicated when Brian first suggested it. After all, it was the kind of activity people her age did all the time.

Her hand dipped into the hot foamy water, testing its temperature. “Mmm perfect.” She stepped into the tub and eased into it with a hiss. She rested her head against the steamy tile, letting her eyes drift.

It wasn’t as comfortable as her bath tub and there was no Dennis to add just the right amount of bubble bath, but it would do. She adjusted her position, wishing she’d remembered to bring her bath pillow in with her. Dennis would have gotten it for her.

“Cordelia?”

“Yes?”

“Would you like to go out tonight? I mean umm go out with all of us?”

“I told you I’ll be fine. I AM going dancing with Brian.”

“I meant out to dinner. We thought you might like to try that French restaurant.”

“Really?”

“Yes”

“Who’s buying?”

“I am.”

Cordelia sat up. “What have you done wrong now?”

“I haven’t done anything. I thought it might be nice if we all did something together. You know since the male bonding didn’t go so well.”

“Oh. OK. We can go as soon as the sun sets.”

“Great.”

“Angel?”

“Yes”

“Can you bring me my bath pillow?”

“Your what?”

“My bath pillow, it’s in my red suitcase under the bed.”

“You want me to bring it in there?”

“No. I want you to stand on the other side of the door and just hold it. Yes I want you to bring it in here.”

“But aren’t you… naked?”

She lowered her body under the water and rearranged the bubbles, making sure she was covered. “It’s okay. I’m taking a bubble bath.” Her eyebrow arched at what sounded like a groan. “Did you find it?”

“I’ll go get.”

She waited impatiently. She knew it was the only thing still left in her bag. Everything else had been unpacked. He couldn’t possibly miss it. “Angel?” The water sloshed at her jump as the door suddenly creaked open.

“I thought you got lost.” She reached out for the pillow. Her skin flushed pink from more than just the heat of the water. Angel’s intense gaze sent shivers down her spine. Her voice came out almost as a whisper. “Can I have my pillow?”

Angel knew he was staring but was unable to stop. Soft sun-kissed skin peeked out at him. Only her knees, one arm and everything above her shoulders were visible and it was the most erotic sight imaginable. His hands itched to slip beneath the bubbly surface to discover the beauty so temptingly hidden.

“You’re letting all the hot air out.” She meant her voice to sound annoyed but it came out husky instead.

He kicked the door shut behind him, shutting out logic and reason. All he was aware of was Cordelia lying naked in a bubble bath only two feet away from him.

Cordelia felt so vulnerable. It was almost as frightening as it was exhilarating, but neither emotion was something she was prepared to acknowledge. “You can hand me my pillow any time now.” The amusement of their situation finally catching up with her, “Or aren’t you finished staring yet?”

“Not yet.” He shook his head. “I mean I…” He saw the laughter dancing behind her eyes. Angel wanted the darkened desire he’d seen a flash of only moments ago back. He stepped closer and dropped to his knees. He watched in satisfaction as her eyes darkened and her tongue sensuously licked her lips. “Lift your head.”

She gulped. Unable to speak, she lifted her head.

Angel slipped the pillow into place. “There you go.” He tucked a lock of damp hair behind her ear. “Are you feeling any better?”

Still unable to speak, she slowly nodded, her eyes glued to his.

His gaze dropped to study the disappearing bubbles. “How’s the water.” He heard the sharp intake of air when he dipped his hand into the tub. “It’s nice and hot. That should help loosen up your muscles.”

“Uh huh.” His index finger traced a shiver up her arm, causing her breath to deepen and her pulse to race faster. “Angel?”

“Hmm?”

Strong fingers began massaging her shoulder. Cordelia found her body moving, twisting so her back was against the side of the tub. His other hand joined its twin in turning her into a trembling mass of quivering flesh. Her mind couldn’t quite catch up with what was happening. She should object. She should tell him to get out.

The situation went beyond a friendly gesture. This was intimate. Hints of what might follow whispered in her ear. He urged her forward, pressing her chest to her knees, as his hands kneaded lower.

Angel couldn’t make his hands stop even if he wanted to. The sight of his shirt sleeves disappearing beneath the surface of the water didn’t upset him. Rolling them up meant stopping, something he could not do. He felt corded muscles loosen and grow smooth under his fingertips.

She bit back a groan of disappointment when his hands stopped their gradual descent. A soft moan did escape as the muscles of her lower back turned supple. The image of a lump of clay being molded by expert hands into something beautiful flashed through her mind.

Angel’s eyes tracked the winding path a drop of water took as it rolled down her back, desperately wanting to retrace it with his tongue. His hands moved up. He savored the way she arched into his touch. His fingers wrapped around her ribcage so close to the plump flesh of her breasts as his thumbs worked their magic along her spine. Her back arched further and a low moan escaped her lips sending sparks straight to his groin.

“How.. how is your back now?” Eyes almost black with desire peeked over her shoulder at him.

“All better.” Her hungry gaze dropped to his lips. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

He smiled, despite how tight his pants had become. “A husband should take care of his wife.”

Husband. The word hit her like a bucket of ice water. Who he was, who she was, their situation, their past together and separate came flooding back, and it forced her to remember why nothing could happen. Casual sex would cement their bond forever. A small voice whispered it meant more to her but the voice was promptly squashed silencing it.

“I think you better leave now. I have to finish my bath and my bubbles are disappearing.”

“Cor..”

She averted her eyes. “Please?”

He didn’t want to leave but he wouldn’t refuse her pleading tone. “OK.”

She waited until the door closed to uncurl and lie back in the tub. She tried to block out her speeding thoughts and the aching need humming through her veins. This was Angel, Buffy’s Angel, Darla’s Angel, the world’s champion.

He was NOT hers, never hers. It was simply a sexy situation devoid of any real emotion. It’d been a very long time since a man touched her in such an intimate way. It had been even longer for Angel. His soul was permanent now but as far as she knew, he hadn’t taken advantage of his non-eunuch status yet. The raw hunger she’d seen in his eyes wasn’t really about her.

It was about him. For some unknown reason the realization failed to comfort her.

Angel paced in front of the closed bathroom door. Kicking the door open, picking up a wet naked Cordelia and throwing her on the bed would NOT be a good idea. Wesley advised him not to push Cordelia too fast, although he was sure this wasn’t the type of situation the new boss of Angel Investigations had been referring to.

Lorne advised him to show Cordelia why he was the better man for her. Neither of his advisors would approve of his instinct. He gripped the doorframe, his knuckles turning white. He would NOT do anything stupid. He would NOT do anything that might ruin their truce. Forcing his dead lungs to take in air, he willed his tense muscles to relax, all of them.

Cordelia tried to regain control of her thoughts without much success. Images of Angel breaking down the door to get to her, to take her, to devour her.. in a non-vampire way floated through her mind. Her pulse refused to slow. Her breathing only grew deeper as the images changed. Angel tossing her on the bed, filling her, thrusting wildly while whispering words in her ear, beautiful, need, feel, good, hard, hot… and love.

She shook her head willing the unwanted thoughts away. She had a nice guy in her life. Brian was perfect for her. She enjoyed his company. Hell she had gone rollerblading to make him happy. Brian was who she wanted to be with. He was the one who should be throwing her down on the bed, not Angel.

Her hand slipped beneath the water, fingers parting slick folds. A gasp caught in the back of her throat. Her imagined lover’s hand teased the engorged nub, stroking and pinching. The water rippled, waves gently lapping against porcelain.

Her lover increased his sweet torment. Imaginary yet insistent fingers were replaced by lips and a skilled tongue. Her legs trembled and shook, water splashing. The cruel teasing mouth was soon replaced by something wonderfully hard and thick. Her back arched, lungs gasping.

“Oh god! Angel!” Eyes flew open as she sat up, the water sloshing at the sudden movement. Panting, “oh god. No. Please no.” She glanced at the door, silently praying Angel wasn’t out there, secretly praying he was.

Angel lifted his forehead off the wooden barrier. Instead of doing what every fiber of his being was screaming at him to do, he stiffly fled his suite. He hurried to another room, quickly stripped from his clothes, stepped into the shower and turned the cold water on full blast.

He stood under the frigid spray groaning. He couldn’t allow himself to grab Cordelia and throw her down on the bed. She was better than that. She was better than Darla.

He could no longer deny the truth. His jealousy, his need for her was fueled by more than just his fear of losing her. He was in love with Cordelia Chase, his seer, his best friend, his wife. Lorne was right. Childish comments and a petulant attitude would not win her heart. Pushing down his feelings of inadequacy, he decided to fight for her. His fist slammed into the shower wall.

“Cordelia will be mine.” He knew she desired him at the very least. That knowledge boosted his confidence somewhat.

“Oh god. No. Please no.”

She may desire him but he also knew that she wasn’t happy about it. He had a hard road ahead of him. His gaze lowering, he groaned, “Very hard.”

***

Cordelia was pretty proud of herself. She managed not to turn beet red when Angel returned. Her hands nervously smoothed out imaginary wrinkles in her new outfit. Realization struck. She was wearing Angel’s bribery clothes. She could feel her cheeks start to burn.

“You look beautiful.”

Her face burned brighter. “Thank you.” She forced herself to make eye contact. “Why is your hair wet?”

His hand unconsciously flew to his head. “Oh. I uh I took a shower in one of the other rooms. I umm didn’t want to rush you.”

She knew her face must have gone past red and turned purple. “Well I’ll give you some privacy so you can change.”

He glanced down at his clothes. He’d been in too great of a rush to remember to bring a change of clothes. “Thanks.”

Her hand paused on the handle of the French door, happy for the distraction. “What happened to the old set of doors?”

His stomach clenched. “What?”

“These doors are almost identical. I didn’t even notice they were different at first. When did you replace them? What happened to the other set?”

The memory of his night with Darla replayed in his head. He sat down on the bed, the same bed he shared with Darla, the same bed he now shared with Cordelia. “I… The night… I threw someone, someone evil, through the glass doors. I took those from another suite.”

“I take it this fight happened during the I’m-an-asshole phase?”

He couldn’t quite meet her eyes. “Yes.”

“It wasn’t a lawyer, was it?”

“No.”

“Someone non-human?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I take it you won since you’re, you know, sitting there and all.”

“I… I learned a valuable lesson that night.”

“What..”

“I really should get dressed if we’re going out to dinner.”

She forced a plastic smile onto her face. “Yeah we have to get back before Brian comes to pick me up.”

His self-loathing surged through him, his lies still fresh on his tongue challenging his new resolve. “You could invite him to join us.”

“Really? You wouldn’t mind?” Words that should have pleased her made her plastic smile even more brittle.

“You seem to like him. Maybe it’s time we got to know him.” His heart ached but without a doubt she deserved better than a lying worthless vampire.

“Thanks but I think we’ll save that particular joy for another time. Besides it will be nice for the four of us to do something together. I’ll go check on Wes and Gunn. They’re probably fighting over who gets to sit shotgun.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes to help referee.”

“There’s no need. I can settle it in one sentence. They’re both sitting in the backseat.”

Angel watched her walk through the French doors, through the outer room and out the door. “I really am a bastard.”

***

Angel’s gaze kept straying from the road. He kept glancing over at Cordelia. The sound of Wesley and Gunn’s bickering drifted forward from the backseat.

“That doesn’t count. I was much too intoxicated for that game to be considered a proper rematch.”

“You’re only sayin’ that because you lost.”

“If you hadn’t cheated by encouraging me to drink, I would have won. Again.”

“Cheated? I don’t think so, English. I don’t remember pourin’ beer down your throat. I don’t remember forcing you to slam shots either.”

“Will you two shut up already? You’re both dart-throwing masters of the universe, okay?”

Gunn nudged Wesley. “Barbie called me master of the universe.”

“I believe her comment referred to both of us.”

“Yeah but she..”

“Shut up!” She turned in her seat, pinning them with her glare. “Don’t make me tell Angel to pull this car over.” She grinned at their muttered apologies. “That’s better. If you’re really good tonight, you may both have dessert.”

“What did you have in mind?” Gunn leered at her.

“You’re such a perv.” Her smile widened, belying her words.

Angel gripped the steering wheel tighter. Knowing if the conversation going on around him continued, he might have to replace another cracked steering wheel. “If all of you are finished, we’re here.” He parked along the street.

The four filed out of the car. “Wes, as the boss, it’s your job to go find the owner and get us a table.”

“It looks rather crowded.”

“Be firm. We saved the guy’s daughter.”

“I realize that, Cordelia. Might I remind you, he paid us for that.”

“Pfft. We’re not asking for a free dinner. We just want a table. Now scoot.”

“Very well.”

“I’ll go with ya, English. I’ll stand there and look menacing.”

The duo went into the restaurant leaving an awkward silence behind.

Angel’s gaze kept being drawn to her nearly bare shoulders. He cursed himself for his choices. The long skirt had a slit that went up about mid-thigh and the matching top had thin straps that crisscrossed in the back. It left her arms, shoulders and a large portion of her back uncovered. His lips and fingers itched to worship the exposed skin. He noticed goosebumps suddenly prickled her soft smooth skin.

“You’re staring,” came out in a whisper. She turned her back to him.

“Are you cold?”

Cool hands rested on bare arms, sliding up and down to create friction. Heat rose but not in the way he intended. Slowly she leaned back against his chest, her eyes closing. “I’m fine.” Lips whispered at her ear.

“Are you sure?”

Head slowly turning, eyes locking on soft lips slightly curled into a smile, she swallowed hard. She needed to run, escape, scream. The strange day she’d been having only seemed to be getting more confusing. His behavior made no sense. Was it all an elaborate scheme to get her forgiveness? She declared a truce. It wasn’t necessary to play with her heart.

This wasn’t love. It couldn’t be. He would never have hurt her so badly if he loved her. He wouldn’t have pushed her away, fired her, abandoned her, abandoned their mission. The remembrance sparked her fury. She shrugged his hands off and stepped away. “I said I’m fine. Are you suffering from some forgetful bug? What’s with the lack of personal bubble today?”

He reared back at her cold tone like he’d been slapped. “I’m sorry. I thought…”

“You thought what? If I was cold, I would have waited inside the restaurant.”

Angel wasn’t sure what to say. The anger in her voice was increasing with each word. Her posture became more defensive, arms folded across her chest. He wanted the warmth back. He wanted her soft and willing in his arms, desire laden eyes staring hungrily at his lips. The spell had been broken and he had no idea what he’d done wrong.

“Our table is ready,” Wesley stated quite proudly, oblivious to the tense atmosphere. “Mr. Fareaux was very pleased we decided to try his restaurant.”

They silently followed him in. Cordelia sat beside Gunn. Angel started towards the chair next to her but Wesley beat him to. He silently sat across from her. Her eyes looked everywhere but at him.

“This place is quite nice. So many restaurants in LA situate their tables too close together. I tend to feel like I’m dining with strangers.”

“Did you take a look at the menu? What freaky ass person eats snails?”

“They’re a delicacy, Gunn.”

“They’re snails, Wes.”

Cordelia studied her menu with unseeing eyes. She should have had dinner with Brian. Everything was much less confusing with him. He was so sweet and nice. Being in his arms didn’t terrify her. She didn’t have to guard her walls at all times when near him.

“Cordelia, are you alright?”

“Hmm?”

“I asked if you’re alright.” Wesley smiled apologetically at the waiter. “I was ordering a bottle a wine for our table. Do you have a preference?”

“Oh. Don’t mind me. Water is fine with me.” Her doctor strictly forbade her from mixing alcohol with her pain medication but she couldn’t tell them that. “I’m still going out with Brian later. I don’t want to be tipsy.”

“That’s very sensible of you.” Wesley waved the waiter away.

“Yeah. I’ve seen you drunk. We’d have to tag along on your date just to make sure the accountant didn’t get any ideas.”

“Hey! I’m not that bad.”

“Girl, every time you came back from the bar you ended up sitting on some demon’s lap because you “forgot where your chair was”.” Gunn added finger quotes to emphasize his point.

“That only happened one night.” She continued at his skeptical expression. “OK. It happened four times that one night.”

“You’re just lucky Lorne managed to sneak us out while his bouncer got us a taxi. The whole violence free thing only exists inside the club and you had to go and pick the most dangerous demons in the club to get revved up.”

“I wasn’t… It was NOT my fault.” The doctor didn’t tell me I had to wait at least 24 hours after taking any pills before drinking, she silently added, as if being underage made the warning unnecessary. Now with her new medication she wasn’t allowed any alcohol at all. “It was your idea to go out drinking in the first place. You said you would be the big manly man and protect me.”

“I didn’t expect you to be such a lightweight. You didn’t act like that any other time we went out and you had a lot less to drink that night too.”

“How often did you take her drinking? And why in the hell would you let her get that drunk in a demon bar? Do you have any idea the way demons talk about her? It was reckless, stupid and dangerous. She is underage in case you forgot.”

“She does have a name and SHE is sitting right here. Don’t yell at Gunn. I am responsible for my own actions. If you’d been around…” Cordelia glanced around at the nearby tables, catching the eyes of those staring at their display. “Let’s not do this right now. Nothing happened. I haven’t had any alcohol since that night, okay?”

Angel forced his fists to unclench. “OK.” Beating Gunn to a bloody pulp wouldn’t change anything. Cordelia hadn’t been hurt. Their story did however shed some light on the fight he’d had with a pair of demons.

Now he knew why the two were arguing which of them Cordelia had wanted more. Both had acknowledged before the end of the night that she had no interest in either of them therefore they needn’t go near her EVER. If he hadn’t come across them…

The waiter returned with their wine, pouring only three glasses. He quickly took their orders. He was leery of the man in the black leather coat. He could almost hear the man grinding his teeth. The woman seemed to be the only other person to notice the man’s anger or the tense atmosphere. He rushed off to kitchen, wishing he hadn’t decided to work a double shift.

With no menu to hide behind, Cordelia took a gulp of water. “So what did you guys do today while I was in the park?”

“I continued to research the marriage ceremony. I discovered another couple who attempted to annul their marriage. It seems they were tricked into it, not totally dissimilar to what happened to you. They believed they were attending a friend’s wedding only to discover themselves married instead.”

“You said they attempted an annulment.”

“Yes.” Wesley blushed. “It seems they had secretly been in love with each other all along. The text included a few private journal entries from before and after the ceremony. They only lasted ten days in the same bed before they.. umm… At any rate, there was nothing useful to your situation.”

“Why were they tricked?” Angel fidgeted when all eyes turned to him. “I was just wondering why their friends tricked them into marriage.”

“This took place quite some time ago in Europe. It seems the young woman’s father was about to grant his daughter’s hand in marriage to another. She refused to disobey her father’s wishes so her friends did it for her. The demon clan she belonged to was nomadic in nature but the man she’d fallen in love with belonged to a different clan, one that had settled in a mountainous region away from humans. Staying married to him meant she might never see her family again. It was quite the epic tale.”

“You’re such a softy, Wes.” Cordelia winked at him making his blush deepen.

“As I was saying, there wasn’t any useful information I’m afraid. I must admit though. This annulment process has benefited your relationship. It’s brought you closer.”

It was her turn to blush. Everywhere Angel’s hands had touched her tingled in remembrance.

“I knew Cordelia would do what was best for the mission but I never expected her to declare a truce so soon. I would say you’re well on your way to becoming good friends again.”

He tried to smile. Wesley had no idea Angel had somehow managed to screw things up with Cordelia. He suspected his waffling may have had something to do with it. He’d decided to fight for her only to be reminded that their tentative reconciliation was based on a lie. She would never want him if she knew what he’d done, what he’d risked.

Gunn glanced around the table. He didn’t like how quiet Cordelia was. Silence on her part was never a good thing. “Are you still mad about last night? I apologized to the vam.. to Angel for acting like an ass at the bar. So did Wes. You would’ve been proud.”

Cordelia reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “I’m glad.” She smiled at Wesley as well. “We’re acting like someone died. We came here to have some fun so that’s what we’re going to do.” Her eyes locked with Angel’s. “Agreed?”

He nodded. Her smile widened easing the ache in his heart. Slightly.

***

The four members of Angel Investigations walked into the Hyperion laughing. They managed to reminisce about the past without recriminations.

Cordelia collapsed on the red couch. She rested her head on Angel’s shoulder the moment he sat down beside her.

Wesley glanced at the clock. “Brian should be here shortly to pick you up. Are you sure you’re up for dancing?”

“My back is fine. I’m twenty not eighty.”

“Yes but you look tired.”

“Thanks a lot, you big jerk,” she grumbled.

“You look beautiful as you always do but you also look tired.”

She lifted her head off Angel’s shoulder and straightened her back in defiance. “I don’t know what you mean. I’m raring to go. I used to go dancing all the time. I’d be out until three or four in the morning.”

“How could I possibly forget? I had the pleasure of dealing with your grumpy self in the morning.”

“Pfft. I’m always pleasant.” She glared at the three snickering men. “I am! I can show you grumpy if you want me to.”

The men were spared their response by Brian’s entrance. Cordelia crossed the room to greet him.

Angel clenched his hands into fists at the sight of his wife kissing another man.

“You look absolutely beautiful, Cordy.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you ready to go?”

“I just need to run upstairs for a moment then I’ll be ready.” She made it halfway up the stairs when the familiar blinding pain struck. “Arhhhhh!”

Angel moved with preternatural speed and caught her. He gathered her flailing arms, holding her tight against him while whispering soothing gibberish in her ear.

Wesley and Gunn moved quickly, knowing their duties all too well. They waited for the vision to pass, Wesley holding pain killers and Gunn holding a bottle of water.

Brian stood in mute horror, not knowing what was happening yet unable to ask.

Angel’s harsh glare silenced Wesley before he could speak. He tried to soothe the amazing woman in his arms. He desperately wanted to spare her the pain and the horror, but he was powerless.

“So much for going dancing.” A shaky hand reached for the pills she knew wouldn’t help and the cold water that made her teeth ache. She swallowed both with a grimace but offered a small smile to the two hovering men in gratitude. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the vision, blocking out the cool hands still trying to soothe her.

“A group of teenagers decided it would be cool to summon a demon. The thing was big but nothing you three couldn’t handle. Watch its tail, it has spikes. If you leave now, you may be able to stop the ritual. They’re under the freeway by that factory that burned down a couple of weeks ago. You know the one on..”

“I know which one you mean.” Gunn rushed to the weapons’ cabinet, Wesley close behind. “Teenagers today. They won’t listen to nobody and you can’t kill ’em.”

Cordelia met Angel’s concerned gaze. “You need to hurry.”

“But what about you?” It wasn’t right that he was expected to leave her when she was in so much pain.

Brian finally managed to move. He rushed to Cordelia’s side. “I’ll take care of her.” He was too busy studying her trembling form to notice the flash of yellow in Angel’s eyes. “So that was a vision?”

“Yeah. They’re a lot less fun than they look.” She managed a weak smile. “Sorry about tonight.”

“I’ll take a rain check.” Brian finally looked at Angel, who still held Cordelia in his arms. “Shouldn’t you be leaving to save those kids?”

“He should. Go Angel.” Cordelia weakly shoved him. “Go!”

He reluctantly released her and accepted a broadsword from Wesley. “I’ll be back soon.” The last thing he saw before leaving was Brian lifting Cordelia in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder. The urge to kill surged through him.

The thought of stopping the ritual before the demon was summoned no longer appealed to him. He had to kill something. If he couldn’t kill Brian, a demon would do.

Part 9

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 7   1 comment

Part 7

“Angel, what are you doing here? I thought you were bonding with the guys.”

The brooding vampire fidgeted in the hallway. “We were.”

Cordelia noticed the dark cloud hovering over his head. “What happened?”

“Well let’s just say when Wesley and Gunn start drinking, the gloves come off.”

“Huh?”

“They both had a lot to say to me.” He shrugged. “I deserved it.”

“Oh. I didn’t even think about that. I guess the drunken night of male bonding didn’t work out as planned.”

“Not really. It seemed best to leave before things got out of hand. I took Gunn’s keys and gave them cab fare. Gunn wasn’t too happy about that but he wasn’t quick enough to stop me. I don’t think he was planning to drive but he seemed convinced I might try to drive his “baby”, like I would leave my Plymouth in that neighborhood overnight.”

She shook her head, “Men and their cars or trucks. I’m sorry tonight didn’t work out for you. I thought my whole truce talk would help.”

“It did help. It means a lot to me.”

His smile was contagious. “So what are you doing here?”

“I thought I’d give you a lift back to the hotel.” Angel’s smile faded when the door abruptly slammed in his face. He could hear Cordelia’s voice on the other side.

“Dennis!” She opened the door. “Sorry about that.”

“That’s okay. I guess you haven’t mentioned the truce to Dennis yet.”

“No I did.” She shrugged. “We just started the second movie. He’s not ready for me to leave yet.”

“Oh. OK. I can wait.. or I can come back. You could call me when you’re ready.”

She smiled. “Angel, would you like to watch a movie with me and Dennis?”

“Sure I..” An invisible barrier prevented Angel from crossing the threshold. “I forgot that I was uninvited. Maybe I should..”

“Don’t be like that. You were acting crazy and you fired me. I was mad. You were all beige and Darla obsessed. You know what I always say. It’s better to be safe than dead.”

“That makes sense.”

“Stop looking like I just ran over your puppy and come inside already. Geez. It’s not like I gave away your clothes or anything.”

Angel slowly walked into her apartment. “I said I was sorry about that. I did give them to the needy and you finally accepted the replacement clothes I bought you, even though you threw them in my face when I gave them to you.”

“Don’t give me that needy crap. You only went to Anne’s shelter because of Wolfram and Hart. I know all about it. Anne is a friend of Gunn’s.”

“Oh”

“And you shouldn’t have tried to buy my forgiveness.”

“I wasn’t..”

“But the clothes were beautiful.” She gave him a small smile. “They are beautiful. I haven’t had new clothes in a long time.”

“I’m glad you like them.”

The lights flickered on and off.

“OK Dennis. Come on Angel.” She grabbed his arm and dragged him to the couch.

“Go ahead and hit play. Oh wait. Do you want anything to drink, Angel?” She bit her bottom lip. “I don’t have any blood. I stopped keeping that here. There’s that look again. I’m staying at the hotel so it’s not like it’s a good idea to keep blood here right now anyway. I have water and soda. I think there are a few bottles of beer. Gunn keeps some in my fridge.”

Angel bit back a growl. “You and Gunn seem close. I never expected you… He and Wesley have a special handshake.”

“I know. They really bonded. When Wes got shot…” She swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. “Wes got a glimpse of Gunn’s life and Gunn saw the kind of man Wesley really is. It brought them together.”

“And you?”

“What about me?”

“When did you and Gunn get so close?”

“It was gradual I guess. It first started when I had that vision of Gunn being in danger. I knew it was my job to help him. After… He and Wesley became my protectors. We took care of each other.”

The soft smile on her face made his stomach clench. He wasn’t a part of that bond. He was on the outside looking in and he had no one to blame but himself.

Cordelia was brought out of her reverie by flickering lights. “OK. OK. I’m sorry, Dennis. No more talking. Angel knows where the kitchen is if he wants a drink. You can hit play.” She snuggled into the couch, bare feet tucked under her.

“What are we watching?” A pillow collided with his head. “Hey!”

“Dennis, be nice. It’s Austin Powers. It’s a comedy. The one guy kinda reminds me of Oz.”

Angel watched silently for a few minutes. He glanced over at Cordelia who was laughing hysterically. “That was gross.”

“So says the bloodsucker. It’s supposed to be gross. That’s what’s so funny about it.”

“If you say so.”

“Don’t be such a stick in the mud. I know you’re older than dirt but you don’t have to act like it.”

“I am not older than dirt.”

She laughed at the pouting vampire beside her. “Aww did I hurt your itty bitty feewings?” She ran her fingers through his hair. “Poor baby.”

“Hey! No touching the hair.” He tried to sound serious but it didn’t quite work.

Cordelia rose to her knees. Both hands went to his head and mercilessly raked through his hair.

He wrestled with her, eventually capturing her hands. He twisted her around and brought them to her sides. Without realizing it, he had maneuvered her into his lap. “Are you going to behave?”

“Nope. I enjoyed hearing you shriek like a girly man too much.”

“I did not shriek like a girly man,” Angel sputtered.

“Yeah you did. The old Wesley would be so proud.”

He stilled her squirming by wrapping her arms and his by necessity, around her waist. Her hair tickled his nose, the scent of her shampoo, so familiar, made him smile. “I’ve missed this. I’ve missed you.”

Instead of calming, her heart started racing faster. “I.. We should pay attention to the movie or Dennis will hit you with another pillow.”

“OK.” His arms felt empty the moment she moved. He was comforted by the change in her positioning. She leaned against the arm of the sofa and stretched her legs across his lap. He rested his hands on her calves.

Cordelia tried to focus on the movie but wasn’t having much success. Angel had begun massaging her calves and she was struggling not to moan aloud. Her eyes drifted shut. All the tension in her body melted away as one strong hand began massaging one foot and then the other.

Movies had changed a lot over the years. He couldn’t believe some of the things the actors on the screen were saying. He was starting to feel his age.

“Cordy, do…” His words drifted off when he noticed her eyes were closed. He blocked out the sounds coming from the television and focused on the beautiful brunette. Her rhythmic breathing confirmed it. Cordelia was asleep, a gentle smile gracing her features.

His hands stilled. Her smile disappeared almost immediately and she grumbled under her breath. His hands resumed the massage. He watched her still and a soft smile bloom on her face. He returned his attention to the movie. He didn’t want to think about how happy it made him that she enjoyed his touch, even if it was in an innocent way.

***

At the end of the movie, Dennis turned the TV and VCR off. Angel glanced down at his sleeping beauty. Her low snore brought a smile to his face. He shifted her legs off his lap so he could stand.

Cordelia jerked up. “I’m awake!”

“Well then you do a pretty good imitation of someone who’s asleep.”

“Why did you turn the TV off? I was enjoying the movie.”

“Dennis did it… after the movie ended.”

“Oh.” A sheepish grin on her face, “I guess I fell asleep.” She stretched her arms out and yawned. “We should probably get going.”

“Why don’t we sleep here tonight?”

A smile light up her face. “Really?”

“Sure. We’re here and you’re tired.”

“Great.” A thought struck. “Damn. My comforter is on your bed right now.”

The closet door flew open. An extra blanket and sheets floated out.

“I think Dennis would like you to stay.”

“Isn’t he the bestest ghost in the whole wide world?” Cordelia started to stand.

“I’ll do it. I’m sure Dennis will help.”

“Thanks.” She stretched out on the couch. “You’re pretty wonderful too.” She was asleep before he even left the room.

Once the bed was made, Angel returned to the living room. Instead of waking her, he cradled her in his arms. She shifted a little and instinctively wrapped her arms around his neck. Dennis pulled the covers back as Angel gently placed Cordelia on the bed. He tried to stand but she whimpered and refused to release him.

“Shh. It’s okay.” He gently peeled her arms off him. After some mental deliberation, he took off his shirt and pants. Sleeping in his undershirt and boxers was practically the same as sleeping in the pajama set he bought. He walked around the bed and got in on the other side. Cordelia rolled towards him and rested her head on his shoulder. “Good night, Cordy.”

“Mmmm”

***

“Where have you been?”

“We slept at my place last night, Mr. Doesn’t-practice-what-he-preaches. Angel should be here soon. He had to go through the sewer.”

“I’m sorry. What did you call me?”

“Don’t give me that innocent face, mister. You and your cohort over there were mean to Angel last night. You were supposed to be bonding in a male-death-before-we-talk-about-our-emotions sort of way.”

“The vamp is nothing but a snitch.”

“I thought we declared a truce.”

“That was you, Barbie. You declared a truce.”

“That’s right I did.” She loomed over Gunn’s position on the red couch, hands firmly planted on her hips. “And I decided for all of us. Do you have a problem with that? ‘Cuz I say bring it on, buddy. I can take you.” She poked the fidgeting bald man squarely on his chest. “So you got something to say to me?”

“OK. OK. Stop with the poking already. I’ll be good. Last night wasn’t even my fault. Once English had a few beers in him, he started spoutin’ off. I just followed his lead.”

Cordelia zeroed in on Wesley.

“Don’t look at me like that. You both were given the chance to unburden yourselves. I had to be the mature one. It’s only fair that I..”

“Get a chance to act like an ass?”

“I hardly…” Wesley cleared his throat. “What exactly did Angel tell you?”

“Don’t worry. He didn’t give me the gory details but he didn’t need to. I’ve seen you guys drunk. I know it’s not a pretty sight.”

“Oh and that doesn’t work both ways? You’re not exactly..”

Her eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. “Do you really want to finish that sentence, Wes?”

“Perhaps I did go overboard last night. I’m a little curious though. What brought on this new found sense of matur… err.. I meant empathy. What brought on this new found sense of empathy?”

She gave them a sugary sweet smile. “It is my wifely duty to defend my husband.” She plopped down next to Gunn. “Besides I’m the one that had to deal with the kicked-puppy face last night.”

“I’m sure it pales in comparison to the expressions I’ve had to contend with when it was you doing the kicking.”

“That’s totally different.”

“How so?”

“Angel deserved it and you’ve got that British reserved thing going for you.”

“The way your mind works never ceases to amaze me.”

“I’m a complex woman.”

Gunn bumped her with his shoulder. “That’s not what I’d call you.”

An elegant eyebrow arched in his direction. “What would you call me then?”

“Girl, you’re all kinds of scary. That eyebrow thing should be classified as a weapon.” She smiled. “That too. You’re gonna make me apologize, aren’t you?”

“Make you? Of course not. I mean just because it’s the right thing to do and it would make me very happy, is no reason for you to do something against your will.”

“Damn.”

Gunn, I know accepting a vampire was really hard for you to do. Angel taking that acceptance and chucking it out the window didn’t exactly inspire warm fuzzies but we’re rebuilding our family now. It’s something we will all have to work at. Being angry isn’t going to get it done. I dropped my bitchiness. Please try.”

“I suppose it wouldn’t kill me to be nice… but if he drove my baby last night, all bets are off.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes. She pulled his keys out of her pocket. “Here.”

“Woah. Don’t even tell me you..”

“Shut up. I drove Angel’s car here. He gave me your keys to give to you.”

“The vam.. Angel let you drive his car?”

“What is with you men? You guys act like I borrowed your penis or something. It’s a car. I’m a perfectly good driver.”

“Who’s borrowing whose penis?” Angel growled.

“Dammit! You so need a bell.”

He glared at the men, still waiting for an answer.

“Barbie borrowed your penis and I have to say I’m a little surprised. I didn’t think you’d trust her with it.”

“I.. What.. When..” Vivid images assaulted his brain.

“We’re talking about your car so you can stop the whole stuttering thing. You look like you’re about to bust something. Gunn was acting like a big baby man over his stupid truck.”

“Don’t call my baby stupid. She saved my life and the lives of my crew.”

“Shouldn’t you be picking up your “baby” right about now? You never know what might be happening to “her” as we speak.”

“C’mon English. Give me a lift?”

“Sure.”

“Don’t forget to wear a helmet. Pink is so your color, Gunn.” Cordelia winked at him.

“I spray painted it black after the last time he made me wear it.”

“Aww. Was the bright pink color a threat to your masculinity? Maybe you should paint a big penis on the side of it too.”

“Girl, what’s with you today? Feeling a little frustrated maybe? You got penises on the brain. Being a married woman and still not gettin’ any startin’ to get to you or what?”

“Shut up.” She could feel the heat rise in her cheeks.

I think I hit a nerve. You know I’d be happy to…”

“Weren’t you leaving, Gunn.” Angel crossed his arms and glared.

“Yeah. Let’s go Wes.”

Cordelia cast a glance in Angel’s direction. He appeared lost in thought. “Gunn is such a dumbass.”

“…”

“I don’t know what he was talking about.”

“…”

“Your car is fine by the way. The scratch is barely noticeable.”

“What?”

“Well that got your attention.”

“You scratched my car? My classic car? My beautifully restored Plymouth?”

“Your car is fine. I was only kidding.”

“You shouldn’t joke about a man’s vehicle.”

“Let’s not get into the whole penis thing again please.”

“I didn’t… I wasn’t… You..”

“Geez Angel. Someone as old as you shouldn’t be so squeamish about the word penis. It’s not a bad word. I didn’t ask to borrow it.” Blood rushed to her face. “I didn’t… I wasn’t… I should get to work.” She hurried to her desk leaving a speechless vampire behind.

***

“This afternoon has been wonderful. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I went rollerblading?” Cordelia glanced around the park, bustling with life.

“This wasn’t your first time?”

She gave him a sheepish grin. “I thought I was doing a pretty good job of faking it.”

Brian pointed to the death grip she had on the park bench. “There were a few telltale signs. Do you want to take a break?”

“Yes please.” She collapsed on the bench, happy to watch people speed by her on the bike path. “I feel old.”

“You’re only twenty. Now that I said that aloud, I feel old.”

“You’re not so old. I mean you’re what? Thirty something?” She laughed at his indignant expression.

“I’m twenty-six.”

“I was only teasing.” She rested her head against his shoulder. “I’m not used to outdoor activities that don’t include cemeteries, demon slime or disposing of demon remains. The gym doesn’t have a machine that simulates rollerblading.” Thank god, she added silently. Her feet and back were aching, and the harsh glare of the sun was giving her a headache.

“You’ve led an interesting life, Cordelia.”

“My life is rarely boring.”

“How about we go back to my car? We can change into our shoes and get the picnic basket.”

“But you went through all the trouble of borrowing a pair of skates for me. I can keep going.”

“Spending time getting to know you is what I wanted. What we do doesn’t matter.” Brian stood and offered her his hand.

She slipped her hand into his, twining their fingers. “Are you sure you’re not evil?”

“What?”

“Sorry. It’s just guys who seem like they’re too good to be true usually turned out to be evil.”

“I’ve been told I’m a nice guy. I’m not aware of any evil tendencies. Wait. I have lost my temper with telemarketers who’ve called too early on weekends. I like to sleep in a little.”

She squeezed his hand. “I think I can handle that level of evilness in a man.”

Brian helped her to her feet. “That’s good to hear. So are you ready?”

“Sure. I’ve been living on borrowed time as it is.” She spotted a child who couldn’t be more than 8, race by them. “OK. Now I feel inadequate.”

“I’m sure that little girl is a lot older than she looks.”

“Thanks. That’s really comforting in way that’s really not. At all.”

“Sorry.”

She noticed he wasn’t smiling anymore. “I was only kidding. That’s just my sarcastic sense of humor.” His smile returned. “Lead on. I’ll do my best to keep up.”

He tightened his grip on her hand. “How about I don’t let go?”

A glorious smile light up her face. “That sounds good to me.”

***

“I’m sorry. Did you just say that you live with a ghost?”

“Yes”

“A real ghost?”

“Yes”

“Is that why you’re always at the hotel instead of your apartment? I would think exorcising a ghost would be all in a day’s work for Angel Investigations.”

“Don’t even joke about that. No one messes with my ghost and lives to tell the tale.”

“Is that your sarcastic sense of humor again?”

“No. Well yes. I wouldn’t actually kill a human. If a demon or some thing tried to hurt Dennis, they’d definitely end up a puddle of slime.”

“Who’s Dennis?”

“That’s my ghost. His name is Dennis.”

Brian rubbed his forehead. “You never cease to amaze me.”

“I am Cordelia Chase.” She gave him a cheeky grin. “Not all ghosts are like Dennis. His mother tried to kill me. She’s also the one who put him in the wall, right before she died.”

“How did she do that? Magic?”

“No with bricks and cement. Dennis was still alive at the time.”

“What a horrible way to die.”

“I know. He’s a very well adjusted ghost considering. He really wants to meet you. I told him all about you last night.”

“You did?”

“Yeah I went home to watch some movies with him and ended up spending the night.”

“I thought it was your place. Where else would you sleep?”

She bit her lip. “Yeah about that. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. You know how I said Angel and I are annulling our marriage?”

“Yes”

“It’s kinda funny when you think about it. These wacky rituals tend to have really strange out clauses. In a way I’m lucky. A lot of cures and such involve drinking really foul liquids or killing something while chanting. I don’t have to do anything like that.”

“I’m happy for you?”

“Thanks. You see I only havetoshareabedwithAngelfor40nights.” She took a small bite of her sandwich. “You make a really good sandwich. It has just the right amount of mayo.”

“Did you just say you’re sleeping with your vampire boss, the one who demons believe you’ve belonged to for quite some time?”

“Sleep yes. Sleeping with no. Well yes but no.”

“That clears it up for me.”

“I mean we are sleeping together as in just sleeping. We aren’t you know making with the sex. It’s all completely..”

“Insane?”

“Such is my life. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Until recently he’s been known as a eunuch.”

“Is that because of the curse you told me about?”

“Yes”

“But you said his soul is permanent now, which means he’s not much of a eunuch anymore.”

“Technically that’s true but it’s still not an issue. I’m not even blond.”

“Huh?”

“Angel is obsessed with blondes. He never even notices me like that.” The truth of her words sent a pang through her heart.

“I find that hard to believe. You’re very beautiful and extremely desirable. Angel is very protective of you.”

“I suppose but so are Wesley and Gunn.”

“I’m sorry. Was that supposed to be comforting?”

She giggled at his sour expression. “I told you. They’re like my brothers.”

“Except for Angel.”

Cordelia edged closer to him, her hand smoothing out the blanket. “Listen to me. Angel is NOT interested in me like that. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.” She leaned in for a quick kiss. “Let’s not ruin our day.”

He chose to let the subject drop even though he wished she had worded her assurances differently. “I think if I could get one more kiss, I would feel much better.”

“I think I can arrange that.”

This time it was Brian who closed the distance, his lips capturing hers. He pressed in, deepening the kiss with a soft moan.

***

Cordelia floated down the lobby steps, smiling.

“You look happy.” Angel was proud that he managed to say it without growling.

“I am. We went rollerblading and the whole eating on the ground thing was better than I expected.”

“Cordelia, aren’t you the one who said rollerbladers should be banned from the park?”

“Shut up, Wes. That was so last year. I had fun.” Her feet and back still ached, but they didn’t need to know that.

“I’m sure you’ll be feeling it in the morning.” Wesley tossed her a bottle of aspirin they kept behind the counter. “You should take a couple of those now.”

“What are you my mother?”

“I was only trying to be helpful. Virginia took me rollerblading once and I cannot stress the word once enough. My back and feet were aching for several days after that.”

“That’s because you’re old. I’m young and..” A shooting pain shot up her spine when she tried to sit. “Ow ow ow.” She rubbed the effected area without success in stopping the pain. “Don’t just stand there like a fish, Angel. I’m in pain.” Cool strong hands massaged her lower back. “Being married to you isn’t that bad.” She smiled at him over her shoulder.

“You were saying something about my being old. Please continue.”

“Nobody likes a smartass.”

“But we all like you.”

“You are so asking for butt-kicking, Wes. I am young but sitting on the ground after hunching over for a half an hour while trying to balance myself on wheels took a toll.” Her eyes drifted shut as Angel’s hands continued to work their magic.

“Don’t fall asleep on me again.”

“I won’t. Just don’t stop.”

“Cordelia, you forgot your purse in…” Brian froze as his eyes landed on the intimate way Cordelia and Angel were sitting on the couch together.

She managed to open her eyes. “Thank you.” Cordelia rose stiffly from the couch. “I’m not usually so forgetful.” She ignored Gunn’s bullshit cough.

“Oh that’s okay. It gave me an excuse to see you again.” His eyes drifted over to the annoyed vampire. “Are we still on for later tonight?”

“Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it.”

“I think you’ll really like the club.”

Wesley adjusted his glasses as he focused on Cordelia. “You’re going dancing tonight?”

She shot a glare over her shoulder. “Yes we are.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea, Barbie?”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea hence the looking forward to it.” She smiled sweetly at Brian and took her purse. “Thanks again.”

“It was no trouble. I’d barely gone a few blocks when I noticed it. Are you sure you don’t want to have dinner before we go dancing?”

“No. I really should get some work done.”

“But it’s Saturday?”

“We don’t work normal hours around here.” Plus I need more time for the pain killers to kick in, she silently added. “I’ll see you around ten o’clock.” She gave him a quick kiss on his cheek. “Bye.”

“I’ll see you later.”

As soon as Brian left, Cordelia pasted on a happy smile and faced the others. “I think I’m going to soak in a hot bath for awhile. I’ll see you boys later.”

Gunn blocked her path, his arms folded. “I thought you were in pain.”

“I was and now it’s gone. What can I say? Angel gives a really good backrub.”

The vamp in question silently came up behind her and pressed lightly on her hip.

“OW! What the hell was that for?”

“To prove a point.”

“It’s not that big of a deal. You guys are acting like I need to be in traction. I have a backache. I’ll take some aspirin and soak in a hot bath. I’ll be fine by tonight. Now get out of my way, Gunn.”

“Cordelia, you’re probably right but why didn’t you just tell Brian that you weren’t up for dancing tonight. I’m sure he would have been glad to do something else with you.”

“I’d already bagged out of rollerblading long before he intended on stopping, Wes. Then I was the one who wanted to end the whole eating on the ground thing too.” She glanced at her watch. “We were only gone for a little over two hours. I’m not supposed to be the stick in the mud. That’s Angel’s job.”

“No one is suggesting you’re out of shape. You’re in excellent condition but that doesn’t mean you’re up for any activity. As I said, I was sore for days.”

“That makes me feel so much better.” She noticed his flash of hurt. “I’m sorry, Wes. I’m just a little grouchy. If I don’t feel better by tonight, I promise to say something to Brian.”

“That’s all we needed to hear.”

Angel was far from satisfied but chose to remain silent. He followed Cordelia up the stairs with his eyes. Her steps were slow and deliberate. For the first time, he noticed that much of her vitality was missing. He wondered if there was more to it then she was letting on. “Do you think she’s okay?”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine. She isn’t used to that type of activity. It’s hardly surprising that she ended up with a few aches and pains.”

“I suppose you’re right.” A thought occurred to him. “What did she have against rollerblading in the park?”

“Shortly after I came onboard, we were having coffee in the park. A rather inexperienced rollerblader crashed into her. She ended up with a few bruises and some grass stains. That man was on the receiving end of a severe tongue-lashing that only Cordelia Chase could give.” Wesley laughed at the remembrance. “She did feel bad about it later on. Making a grown man cry wasn’t something she took much pride in anymore.”

“Barbie does have a way about her. There are few women who scare me and I’m not ashamed to say she’s one of them. One arch of an eyebrow has me gulping.”

“I know what you mean.”

“It’s nothing compared to her telling you that you hurt her feelings. It’s more effective than any weapon.” Angel stared up the stairs. “Since she’s not going out to dinner with that guy, how about we take her out? She mentioned wanting to try that French place.”

“Well we did rescue the owner’s daughter from a vampire. Giving us a table without a reservation hardly seems unreasonable. Gunn?”

“If the vam.. Angel’s paying, I’m there.”

“It did look rather pricey.”

“It’s where she wants to go.” Angel shrugged. “I’ll buy.” He pointed up the stairs. “I’ll go tell her.”

“Woah. Cordy won’t be needin’ any backrubs or visits while she’s in the bathtub.”

“My bathroom door isn’t soundproof. I don’t need to go in to tell her.” *If I was asleep, she’d invite me in.* He shook off the thought. “Isn’t ten o’clock a little late to start a date?”

Part 8

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 6   1 comment

Part 6

Angel finally felt like life was good again. He hadn’t even been disappointed when he woke up alone. He may have been a little disappointed. The feeling disappeared the moment Cordelia smiled at him and said good morning as he entered the lobby. It was shaping up to be a pretty great day.

“That’s it! What the hell is going on with the two of you? Yesterday you weren’t speaking and before that there was only insults from you and begging from you. I cannot take the not knowing anymore! Why are you both behaving so chipper today?”

“Geez Wes. You’re the one who asked me to be nicer.”

“That’s very true but… Are you under some kind of spell? Angel, what did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything. She forgave me all on her own.”

“Woah. Where did you get the idea that I forgave you? I did no such thing.”

“But last night, we.. and you..”

“Y’all did what last night?” Gunn stood up with a menacing expression on his face. He crossed his arms and glared at the confused vampire.

“We.. You mean you haven’t forgiven me?”

“Why should I? Have you given me a reason to?”

“Then…”

“Angel, we declared a truce, without actually you know saying it aloud.”

“A truce?”

“Yes. Being angry at you was too time consuming.”

Hope filled his eyes. “So you’re not angry with me anymore?”

“Well… Forgiveness will take time. You need to show all of us you intend to stick by us no matter what, that you won’t run off on some stupid beigey madness again. You could say I figured out that being angry wasn’t helping the situation.”

Angel wasn’t entirely sure he understood but he was afraid to push her. “Uh huh. Are we friends?”

“Umm I’m gonna go with yes. I still don’t know if I can trust you but I’ve decided to give you the chance to earn it.”

“I can handle that. I won’t let you down again.”

“That’s all well and good but we still seem to be missing..”

“The what in the hell happened last night?”

“Yes. Thank you. You took the words right out of my mouth.” Wesley crossed his arms and stood next to Gunn.

“The ice kinda broke when Angel hit me last night.” Cordelia bit her cheek to keep from laughing.

“WHAT?” Wesley handed Gunn a stake.

“She hit me first.” Angel was too busy glaring at Cordelia to notice the danger.

“So? I never gave you permission to defend yourself. You’re the five year old that resorted to tickling.”

“You know what they say about people in glass houses.”

“They shouldn’t live next to a brick factory?”

“No they shouldn’t bite people.”

Cordelia snorted out a laugh. “That so didn’t any make sense. You’re such a dumbass and you totally deserved that bite. You shouldn’t have stolen my pillow.”

“I didn’t steal it. I confiscated your weapon.”

“Pfft. Like the big bad vampire got hurt because little ole me hit him with a pillow.”

“You swing a pretty mean pillow.”

“You’re such a baby.” She rolled her eyes. “It was still no reason to hit me back.”

“A pillow fight isn’t meant to be one-sided.”

“Like you would know, when were you ever in a pillow fight before?” She doubled over in laughter. “Oh my god…” She struggled for a breath. “I just got a mental image of you, Drusilla and Spike having pillow fights in the mansion.” She wiped a tear away. “That was a disturbing image.”

Gunn and Wesley just watched the scene unfold. Neither knew what to make of the banter but both men lowered their stakes.

“Am I to assume there is no need to stake Angel?”

“What? For hitting me with a pillow? That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”

“Cordelia, you.. You did that on purpose.”

“Loosen up, Wes. You’ll get gray hairs.”

“And they will have your name written all over them.” Wesley tried to look severe but he couldn’t maintain the façade. “I am quite glad that you declared a truce.”

She shrugged. “It seemed like the thing to do.” Her eyes light up when a delivery man walked in with flowers. “Oh my god! Brian is so wonderful.” She practically skipped to the doorway and gathered the bouquet. “They’re so beautiful.” She ripped open the card.

Gunn walked over to the delivery man and signed for the flowers since Cordelia seemed too engrossed in the card.

Cordelia,
I look forward to our Saturday in the park.
Brian

“Brian is so sweet. I have to put these in water.”

Wesley noticed the dark cloud descending over Angel’s expression. He waited until Cordelia left in search of a vase to speak. “You are very fortunate, Angel. Cordelia has decided to give you a second chance. I would hate to see you mess that up in your own unique way.”

“…”

“Being supportive of her tentative relationship is what any good friend would do.”

“…”

“Brian seemed nice and Cordelia appears to like him. I think he might be good for her. She could use a stable young man in her life. She needs our encouragement.”

“…”

“It isn’t right for someone her age to give up on love.”

“…”

“You want me to poke him to see if he’s still alive or undead or whatever.”

“I have to go see a guy about a thing.” Angel grabbed his coat.

Gunn watched the tense vampire leave through the basement. “Did you find anything yet?”

“No. Nothing conclusive.”

“You don’t think he went after the accountant, do you?”

Wesley shook his head. “He doesn’t know where he works. I never showed him the file.”

“Good thinking. You should probably have that talk with him.”

“You mean because the one I was trying to have was going so well?”

“I don’t want him upsetting Cordy. She looked happy.”

Wesley smiled. “She really did, didn’t she?”

“Didn’t she what?”

“Cordelia, I didn’t see you there.”

“Hence the talking about me.”

“We were only remarking on how happy you looked.”

“I am pretty happy. Where’s Angel?”

He had an errand to run.”

In the middle of the day?”

“He took the sewers. I’m very proud of how you’re dealing with the situation with Angel. I know it can’t be easy for you.”

“I think that’s why I was so hesitant about liking Brian. Being mad at Angel was taking all of my energy. I couldn’t concentrate on Brian because thoughts of Angel kept invading my brain. I know I have every reason to be mad at him but his stupid puppy face kept making me feel like I was being an unreasonable bitch. Once I decided to let go of the anger and give him a chance, I felt like this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I mean I’m still a little scared. No one has ever hurt me like Angel but trying to hate him feels like work now that he’s back. I don’t know why I bothered. It didn’t work with Xander. The dork had to go and buy my prom dress, not that he bought my forgiveness. He did it to be nice. He wasn’t expecting anything in exchange. He wasn’t standing in Wesley’s office with a stupid grin on his fat face like I should jump up and down and shower him with kisses.”

“I believe you were focusing on the letting go.”

“Oh right. I don’t know if I’ll ever trust him like I used to. We may never get back to where we once were but we might be able to be good friends, just not best friends.” She buried her nose in the bouquet and inhaled their fragrance. “Brian is so sweet. I can’t believe he sent me flowers again. I’m gonna go call him.”

***

“Angelcakes, you do remember this is an evening establishment, right? That should be perfect for you seeing as how you’re a vampire.”

“The alley provides enough shade for me. I can easily make it to your door from the sewer access tunnel.”

“You don’t know how that fills my life with joy. What can I do for you? It’s not like I was doing anything important.” Lorne tightened the belt on his yellow and purple silk robe.

“I thought she forgave me. We had such a great night together.”

“I thought she had a date with… OK. There’s no need to growl at me. I’m not the one who’s dating your wife.”

“This was after her date. She was being nice. She patched up my wound and brought me some blood. We had a pillow fight and everything was great. She was still being nice to me this morning too.”

So what’s the problem, crumbcake. It sounds like an excellent beginning.”

“That’s just it. I thought..”

“You thought you had crossed the finish line. You need to exercise those brain cells of yours. Your relationship is going to need more than a pillow fight to fix it. Although I must say the mental images are doing wonders for me.”

“Lorne”

“Sorry. It sounds like she’s giving you an opening. Forgiveness isn’t easy for brown eyes. She’s been hurt a lot in her short life. You weren’t the first person to abandon her. The fact that she’s even giving you a chance is quite a risk for her poor heart. I suggest you don’t screw it up this time. I believe there are at least two people who would be glad to help you meet a dusty end if you fail again. I, myself, may just have to give them a helping hand.”

“Wes says I should be more supportive of her “tentative relationship”. Apparently if I want to be a good friend, I have to support Cordelia’s burgeoning feelings. Like it’s a good idea that any of us encourage that no good Ryan’s attempts to get his hands on my… on Cordelia. I’ll encourage him all right. I’ll encourage him right off the roof.”

“Hey there! Let’s try to remember that BRIAN is a friend of mine.”

“I can’t believe you’re taking his side!”

Lorne held his hands out, ready to ward off an attack if need be. “Don’t put words in my mouth. I simply would prefer it if you refrained from murderous talk where my friend is concerned. That’s all.”

“Well you tell your “Friend” to keep his hands off my…” Angel slammed his fist on the table.

Lorne ignored the sound of wood cracking. “Your what? Don’t stop there. You were doing so well.”

“…”

He sighed dramatically at the stubborn vampire. “The muffin does have a point.”

“Who? What? Huh?”

“I’m the one who was disturbed from my beauty sleep. Wake up those brain cells. Wesley has a good point.”

“I told you! You’re on,” Angel’s face scrunched up in disgust, “Brian’s side.”

“Look you came to me so listen up. Insulting the other guy and purposely using the wrong name isn’t going to help your case. It makes you look and sound like a petulant child. Instead of trying to convince Cordelicious that Brian is all wrong for her, why not try to show her how right you are for her?”

“I never… I didn’t… Why would she want to be with me?”

“I don’t know. You’ll think of something. If all else fails, make stuff up.”

“This is your big speech? THIS is the best you’ve got?”

“Hey! Take a look around the room, sugar. Does it look like I’m open for business? ‘Cuz I’m not.”

“But..”

“I can’t tell you what to say to her. I don’t know her like.. oh I don’t know.. you for instance. Why should she want to be with you? What do you have to offer her?”

“I don’t know.”

Lorne reached around and smacked Angel on his head. “How about love, dumbass? Cordelia is so right about you, beauty with so little brains.”

“What? She said that about me?”

“Yup. It was shortly after you fired her, kicked her to the curb, tossed her out on her ass…”

“I get the point.”

“She was crying in her beer about how you didn’t know a good thing when you had it. She had a good point.”

“She was crying? You gave her a beer? What did she mean by “had it”?”

“She wasn’t crying literally, although she was a little misty-eyed. I know she’s underage but when her eyebrow shoots up, I fold like a table. It’s almost as powerful as that little pouty look she does so well. As for having it, that’s up to you to figure out.”

“Oh. OK. Wait when has she ever used the pouty look on you? What did she want? What did you give her? If you..”

“Retract the claws, sweetie. I’m not her type. She was using it on the muffin. He crumbled faster than a pastry.”

“Oh. What was she using it on Wesley for? What did she want from him? What did he give her?”

“You have it so bad, Angelcakes. You better do something about it before I’m forced to spike your drink with holy water.”

***

Cordelia hadn’t felt so good in a long time. Everything seemed clearer since she let go of her anger. Well not all of her anger. If she really thought about what Angel did, she’d get angry all over again. The stupid vampire hurt her. They were supposed to be family, best friends even. She had let him get closer to her than anyone else ever had.

“Are you alright, Cordelia?”

“What?”

“For a moment I thought you were growling.”

“Don’t be stupid, Wes. I don’t growl. That’s Angel’s department.”

“Of course. I really am pleased that you’ve decided to give him another chance. We do have to work together for the sake of the mission.”

“I know. It will make the whole sharing a bed thing easier too.”

Wesley cleared his throat.

“Don’t be so missish. It’s not that big of a deal.”

“So I assume you’ve told Brian all about it.”

“It hasn’t come up yet.”

“I see.”

“Don’t use that tone with me. It’s not exactly an easy thing to work into a conversation. I mean I’ve only gone out with the guy a couple of times. He may know about demons but that doesn’t mean he’s prepared for the insanity that is my life.”

“I can’t think of anyone who is.” He sent a crooked smile her way. “I was wondering what prompted your decision in regards to Angel.”

“Oh. I guess… There I was on a date with a really great guy that is totally perfect for me and Angel kept popping into my head. I realized that being so angry with him was standing in the way of my being happy. Last night he was injured and I decided to be nice. The next thing I knew we were having fun. We were connecting. This morning it felt like a huge weight had been lifted and it really hit me. I want Angel in my life. Yeah he’s a big jerk and I can’t really trust him so it makes absolutely no sense but that’s my life. Nothing makes sense. I’ve accepted he’s a part of my life and now I’m free to figure out if I want Brian to be a part of my life too.”

“That sounds like an excellent plan.”

“I thought so.”

“Are you doing anything special with him this evening?”

“Geez! I just decided to stop being such a bitch to him. We’re hardly ready to start hanging out together.” Blue eyes stared at her in confusion. “What?”

“I meant are you and Brian doing anything tonight.”

“Oh. No. He has to work late tonight.”

“It’s Friday night.”

“I know. It’s more of a business dinner. I think he started to ask me to go but I was a little unfocused at the time. It’s probably too soon for something like that, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know. I escorted Virginia to her social events early in our relationship.”

“That’s different. You aren’t supposed to go to those things alone. You can be introduced as her escort, no label needed. How would he introduce me to his clients or his co-workers?”

“Introducing you as Cordelia Chase could work but that’s just a thought.”

“Shut up, smartass.”

“What did English do now?”

“Where have you been? I’m starving.” Cordelia reached for the food but Gunn stepped back.

“Hey Miss Grabby Hands. Fork out some money first.”

“But I’m hunnggrry and my purse is all the way over there. I need food before I fade away.”

“Nice try. Whining and batting your eyelashes at me don’t work, only cold hard cash.”

“I didn’t know that about you. What will a twenty buy me?”

Gunn edged inside her personal bubble. “What did you have in mind?”

She snatched the bag from his hand and ran. “Sucker!”

Wesley laughed as Gunn gave chase.

Cordelia ran through the office, out the other door and around the red couch before Gunn caught her. Her shriek echoed through the hotel as he tossed her over his shoulder. He slapped her butt when she kept wriggling.

“Ow!”

“You shouldn’t pick fights you can’t win.”

“Is that right?”

Gunn grabbed her knees when she pushed on his back so she would dangle lower. Cordelia bit him on the butt causing him to yelp and lose his grip on her.

Cordelia tumbled off her high perch. The hard floor was centimeters from her head. She looked up into Angel’s concerned eyes and gulped.

“Are you alright, Cordelia?”

Wesley’s voice sounded far away. Her gaze was lost in beautiful chocolate brown eyes. “Nice catch.”

Angel set her on her feet. “Are you okay?”

She shook off her disorientation. “I’m fine. The moron over there dropped me.”

Once he was sure she was okay, he glared at Gunn. “What the hell were you doing?”

“It’s not my fault. She bit me on my ass.”

Angel spun around. “What the hell were you doing biting his ass?”

She shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. He’s was being all Neanderthal man on me.”

“Yeah Barbie. It was a great idea right up until you almost cracked your head open on the floor.”

“How was I supposed to know you’d drop me? I didn’t realize what a wussy you’ve turned into. What happened to the big tough guy whose life I protected?”

“Protected? More like you almost got me killed and bashed in the head of one of my crew.”

“Pfft. That was an honest mistake. I think you should apologize for almost breaking my neck by buying me lunch.” She glanced at the clock. “Although you took so long to get back, it’s more like dinner.”

“Fine. You always find a way to get out of paying.”

“That’s so not true.”

Gunn passed her a takeout container. “I’m sorry for dropping you.”

She leaned over and kissed his bald head. “I’m sorry for biting you.”

“I hope you’ve both learned a valuable lesson about horseplay in the office.”

“You’re right, Wes. I’ve learned my lesson. In the future, I won’t bite Gunn’s butt unless I know Angel is around to catch me.” She smiled at the scowling vampire. “What’s the matter with you?”

“…”

“Aw you’re mad ‘cuz you didn’t get a thank you.” She wrapped her arms around his neck for a hug. “My hero!” She gasped when Angel’s squeezed her tightly to him. Her words replayed in her head. *My hero*

Angel held her close for another moment before releasing her. He’d experienced a wide range of emotions in a short amount of time. If he’d had a heartbeat, it would have stopped at the sight of Cordelia crashing to the floor, his fear intense. He’d moved from the basement door to catch her in a flash.

He hadn’t seen what made Gunn drop her or why he’d been holding her in the first place. He had to stifle a growl when Gunn gave his reason and where she’d bitten him, his anger burning within. Hearing Cordelia call him her hero made him want to dance her around the room in joy, even if she had said it half-jokingly. Feeling her warm body pressed willingly into his made him wish the others away so he wouldn’t have to let go, his desire eclipsing all other emotions.

Oblivious to his warring emotions, she returned to the counter and began eating. “Mmmm. Thank you, Gunn. You’re so good to me.”

Gunn bumped her with his shoulder. “That’s ‘cuz you’re my girl.” Neither noticed Angel’s stormy expression.

***

“What exciting plans do you have tonight, Wes?”

“Gunn has challenged me to a rematch.”

“And tonight I’m gonna be ready for him.”

“For the last time, I did NOT cheat.”

“Try to sell me another one, English, I’ve heard that one before.”

“I think you both need to learn a lesson in getting your asses kicked with grace. Why don’t you take Angel with you tonight?”

“What? I doubt he’d be interested in a game darts or the pub we frequent.”

“Besides we don’t want him there.”

Cordelia placed her hands on her hips, her foot tapping in annoyance. “I’ve had to listen to all those speeches about giving Angel a chance and..”

“Hey that wasn’t me. I got the same speeches as you.”

“Yes but I listened to them and so should you.” Her steely gaze locked with Wesley’s. “It’s time for you to practice what you preach, mister.”

“Yes well I… Oh alright. Why don’t we make a night of it? All four of us can do something together. It has been quite awhile.”

Angel walked into the office as if he hadn’t been listening.

“Angel, excellent timing. I was just suggesting that the four of us do something together this evening. How does that sound?”

He decided to ignore his hurt feelings. The important thing was he would be with Cordelia and Brian wouldn’t. “I’m in.”

“Sorry boys. I have a date so it’ll just be the three of you.”

“Did you change your mind about Brian’s business dinner?”

“Nope. This is a totally different guy.”

“WHAT?” Angel swallowed his growl and tried to look calm.

“What happened to the accountant? You get tired of him already?”

“Of course not. I made this date before I even met Brian. I can’t just cancel.”

“Why not? Who is this guy? Have Gunn or I met him?”

“Geez. You guys are totally unfair. I don’t grill you about your dates.”

“We’re not the ones who are always getting into trouble.”

“Pfft. This from the guy with the bullet wound, you’re such a..”

“Cordelia, you can call me any name you wish but first I want the name of this man you’re seeing. Who is he? Is he important to you?”

“He’s very important to me. He just kinda wiggled his way into my heart.”

Angel couldn’t remain calm any longer. Now he had two men to compete with. “You’re not going.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you’re not.”

She relented when she saw the anger building in his eyes. She only meant to tease them. She hadn’t intended to start a fight. “Calm down. You guys are totally overreacting. You’ve all met him. OK. Wes has never gotten along with him but that’s because he’s always so rude to him.”

“Who are… Oh. OH! Cordelia, that was totally uncalled for.”

“Girl, sometimes you are just begging for a good spanking. Let’s go before she drives me crazy enough to try.”

“You better run, baldy.”

“What the hell! Did I miss something?”

Cordelia rolled her eyes at the still clueless vampire. “I promised Dennis we’d watch a movie together tonight. He wouldn’t help me pack unless I promised I’d come over at least once a week and spend some time with him.”

“Oh. That’s okay then.”

“Excuse me? Did you just give me your permission to go out?”

Gunn and Wesley both took a step back.

“No. I’m saying I won’t have to follow you.”

“You’re such an ass.”

“I’ll remember that the next time you take a nosedive off Gunn’s shoulder.”

“That’s it. I totally take back my hero comment, you big bully.” She saw the flash of hurt in his eyes. She really hadn’t meant to pick a fight. “I was only teasing.” She hooked her arm with his.

“Come on. I’ll let you guys drop me off at my apartment. If you promise to be nice, you can even come up and greet my date. Although I should warn you, Angel, he may be a little hostile at first. I haven’t gotten a chance to tell him about our truce yet. You might not want to drink anything he offers you just in case.”

Part 7

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 5   1 comment

Part 5

“Cordelia. I didn’t hear you come in. How was your evening?”

“It was nice. What are you still doing here?”

“I had some research to do.”

“It’s late, Wes. Go home and get some sleep.”

“I will as soon as you tell me about your evening.”

“It was really nice in a totally surreal kind of way.”

“How so?”

“Brian is this wonderful sweet intelligent normal guy. He knows about demons but he’s still completely normal. I never thought that was possible.”

“It is rather difficult.”

“I mean he knows about demons and he’s okay about it. He isn’t freaking out. The big difference is he doesn’t do anything with that knowledge. He doesn’t have any delusions about fighting. I’m not criticizing because most people should stay out of the fight. The only thing they’d end up doing is getting killed. He knows what not to do and he taught his family. They thought he was crazy until he went up for a visit. Lorne told him about a sanctuary in San Francisco. His family got to meet their first demon. Brian tried to tell his friends in LA but they don’t seem to want to know. Every time he starts the subject, they immediately change it. I told him about Sunnydale and how the people there have turned not noticing the stuff going on around them into an art form. They just don’t want to know and you have no choice but to respect that. He worries about his friends. Burying your head in the sand can get you killed. Brian is so sweet, Wes.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I… He was practically hanging on my every word. He really listened to me.”

“Again that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“Yes but… I don’t know how to date a nice normal guy that knows about demons.”

“Thanks.”

“Wes, you were never normal and I mean that in the sweetest way possible. I’ve dated the shallow guys who are only interested in themselves and getting me into bed. I’ve dated the quirky loser-type with a heart of gold and a fetish for slayers and nerdy best friends. I’ve fallen for the hero type that sacrifices his life after passing me mind-crunching skull-splitting visions. How do I date a guy like Brian?”

“You just do. I know you’ve been hurt in that past but sometimes you need to take a leap of faith.”

“And you think Brian might be the right guy?”

“I’m hardly prepared to make that conclusion. He seemed nice. What are you looking for?”

“I don’t know. My image of Mr. Right keeps changing. Brian is a really great guy.”

“Then I suggest you give him a chance.”

“You’re probably right. He’s taking me to dinner tomorrow night followed by dancing.”

“You haven’t been dancing in quite some time.”

“I know. He’s pretty wonderful.”

“Then why do you look so melancholy?”

“I don’t know that either. I’m probably just tired. Is my pain in the ass hubby upstairs?”

“Yes. He came in a little while ago.”

“I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see him.”

“He went patrolling. From the look of him, I’d say he was telling the truth.”

“Was he hurt?”

“Some minor scratches and bruising, they’re probably healed by now.”

“OK. Good night, Wes. Go home.”

“I will. Good night, Cordelia.”

***

Angel was lying on his back on his side of the bed, his eyes closed. She wondered if he was sleeping. There was no rhythmic rise and fall of his chest to indicate sleep. There was no rapid eye movement to indicate dreaming. She stood by the bed amazed by the recent events in her life.

Angel was in the bed she was about to climb into. He hadn’t moved since she entered his suite. She went about her usual business. She changed into her night clothes, washed her face and brushed her teeth. She was ready for bed.

Cordelia walked out onto the balcony and stared at the city lights. She had hours before she needed to be in that bed. Wesley hadn’t been able to determine if the annulment required they both be asleep at dawn or if they only needed to be in bed together.

She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. She absently wondered when she’d gotten used to smog-filled air. She wondered if she’d start choking if she ever returned to Sunnydale, not that the air there had been completely clean either. The possibility was another excellent reason never to go back.

She wrapped her arms around her waist. The night air had a chill to it. She’d gotten used to living in the night but there were times when she longed to feel the warmth of the sun on her skin. Giving it up had never felt like a sacrifice, it never even felt like a choice.

It was simply a given. She walked into the night because that was where she was needed. It seemed so surreal for Brian to invite her on a picnic in the park just the two of them. It was so sweet in such an innocent way. She should be smiling uncontrollably at the thought instead of a small wistful smile. Sunlight was what she should long for.

Her heart skipped a beat when soft cashmere touched her skin.

“You looked like you were cold.”

“Thank you.” She slipped her arms into the sweater. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t. I wanted to wait up until you came home. I guess I fell asleep.”

She finally turned to face him. “This isn’t home.”

“I know.” He walked over to the edge and stared out into the city. “How was your date?”

She mustered up some enthusiasm. “It was wonderful. Brian is a really nice guy. We had a great time.” She really did have a wonderful time.

“Are you going to see him again?”

“Yes. He’s taking me out for dinner tomorrow night. We just went out for coffee tonight.”

Angel silently turned to leave. He hesitated in the doorway. “Are you coming to bed?”

Her stomach clenched in what she would never willingly describe. “Yes.” Cordelia slowly followed him inside. She adjusted the curtains before climbing into bed.

“Thanks. I was wondering if you opened them so I’d get out of bed right after the sun came up.”

“I would never do that to you.”

“I was only kidding.”

“Oh. I didn’t want to turn on the lights and wake you up so I let the moon help me see. I figured loud cursing would probably wake you up too.”

“Cursing?”

“Yeah when I bump into things.”

Angel didn’t need moonlight to see. He turned onto his side and stared at her back. Her hair fanned out over her pillow. The covers were only pulled up to her waist. Her t-shirt had ridden up exposing a potion of her tattoo. He breathed her scent in.

“Did you just growl?”

“No.”

She turned. “I heard you growl.”

“Then why did you ask if I growled?”

“Shut up. Why did you growl?”

He turned his back to her. “I’m not going to hurt you if that’s what you’re thinking. Just go to sleep.” Angel closed his eyes and forced his senses not to notice her scent. She was covered in another man’s scent. He could tell it was innocent but that didn’t comfort him.

Epiphanies aside, he was meant to suffer and he needed to accept that. He wasn’t what Cordelia needed. He was so much less than what she deserved. He wasn’t even what she wanted. She deserved normal.

“Wesley said you went out on patrol.”

“I didn’t follow you.”

“I know. He said you had some scratches and bruises. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. They’re already healed. Go to sleep.”

“I didn’t mean to bother you with my concern. I’m sorry.” She shook the bed when she flopped onto her other side away from him. “Good night.”

“…”

She closed her eyes. If he didn’t want to talk to her, she certainly wasn’t going to waste her time trying. For a brief moment she’d forgotten that they weren’t friends. There was no reason his cold tone should affect her. It didn’t bother her in the least. His earlier concern for her feelings had obviously been for Wesley and Gunn’s benefit.

He wanted to be a part of the group again. He probably figured pretending to be concerned would make him seem like he valued her. *You are so stupid, Cor. When will you ever learn? You aren’t important to him so just deal already.*

***

Wesley watched Angel leave for another night of patrolling with an increasing sense of concern. Cordelia’s abrasive comments had been replaced by an oppressive silence. Angel’s overeager attempts at friendship had been replaced by inconspicuous glances. Wesley had no idea what had happened between the two.

The atmosphere had been so uncomfortable he had fled to his office to continue his research. The most Angel had spoken during the entire day was what he muttered under his breath when Brian arrived to pick Cordelia up for dinner.

He feared for a repeat of Angel’s beige period. Angel was already beginning to withdraw from the group. Cordelia’s confrontational attitude had actually been a source for hope. He knew her well enough to know that she would eventually say something uncalled for and her remorse would finally kick in, thawing her resolution towards Angel. Silence for Cordelia was never a good sign.

“Wes, is this place gonna be chilly the entire 40 nights? I may have to buy me a sweater.”

“You noticed it too?”

“Hell yeah. I’ve been afraid to speak all day. I finally understood that saying the silence was deafening. What’s up with those two? Cordy didn’t even try to cut the vamp a new one at all today and he didn’t do any begging. Did you find anything in your books?”

“I’m afraid not. Most of the couples who marry in such a way consummate the marriage right away.”

“Makes sense. So what do we do?”

“It may be nothing. They may have had an argument last night about Angel’s behavior. Perhaps this will all blow over once he accepts the idea of her dating Brian.”

“I don’t get that. Why does he care? I mean we were concerned about her too, but we want her to be happy. The guy seems harmless enough. Lorne’s read him.”

“I know. His reservations may be due to her experiences with Xander and Wilson as he inferred, or he may be afraid that Brian, being a normal person, might take her away from here. You know I bet that’s it. If she were to marry a normal human male, she could decide to leave her mission days behind.”

“That’s not Cordy’s style. She wouldn’t walk away. Plus she’s got the visions.”

“Yes but she wouldn’t need to physically be here to relay them to us. She could phone us from her house in the suburbs.”

“I can’t picture Cordy driving the carpool. The people in her visions are too important to her. I mean she might trust us to save them but she needs to be here just in case. Who’d patch us up or call us dumbasses? I don’t see Cordy walkin’ away.”

“Nor do I but that doesn’t mean Angel isn’t fearing that very thing. He’s never really been able to hold on to things or people in his life. There’s usually someone waiting to knock him down, even if they have to go through the people around him to do it.”

“I don’t know if I buy that. If he was so worried about losing her, why did he cut her off in the first place?”

“I’m not entirely sure. I’m sure he had his reasons, regardless of how absurd they may seem to us. Perhaps his epiphany helped him to finally realize what he’d given up. When I first joined them in Los Angeles, they were very close. I oftentimes felt like I was intruding. As much as his firing us shocked me, I was more shocked that he abandoned Cordelia. Up until Darla showed up, Cordelia was extremely important to him.”

“I remember seeing him at the hospital when she was in a coma.”

“Ah yes. That was when you saw us in bed.”

Gunn grinned at the memory. “I’ll never forget the expression on your face when I said that.”

“I’ll never forget you shouting Gunn through Cordelia’s door. We were scrambling for a weapon.”

“Who ever thought we’d end up friends, English?”

“Certainly not I, but it is something I cherish.”

“Me too.” Gunn fidgeted in his seat. “OK. We’re having a Hallmark moment. Let’s stop before we hug.”

“Quite right. Back to Cordelia and Angel, I will continue to research the bond. Possessiveness is a common vampire trait and the bond may exacerbate his normal sense of possessiveness where Cordelia is concerned.”

“Woah. Hold up. Why would he normally feel possessive about Cordy?”

“She’s his seer as well as his friend. Vampires are very territorial. They don’t share and they fight for what they perceive as belonging to them.”

“I’m sorry. Is any of this supposed to make me feel better?”

“I know it sounds archaic but that’s not always the case. I don’t mean to suggest Angel considers Cordelia as some inanimate object that is his to possess. It’s more like she is his responsibility. He is responsible for safety.”

“OK. I can handle that. So what’s his problem with the accountant? He ain’t gonna hurt her.”

“Perhaps not physically but he may break her heart.”

“So what have we decided? Do we sit back and hope the vamp doesn’t decide to chop off any of Brian’s body parts?”

“I suppose we should do something a bit more proactive. In addition to research, I… you should speak to Cordelia… or Angel if you’d rather.”

“Nice try. You’re the boss. It’s your job to handle employee relations. You’re not scared, are you?”

“Of Angel, not at the moment. Of Cordelia, absolutely.”

“I know what you mean, English.”

***

“So your co-workers are like family?”

“Yes. Wesley and Gunn are like the brothers I never had. Although I guess that’s kind of squicky since Wes and I had a thing way back when.”

“You dated Wesley?”

“No. We had a flirtation going on back in Sunnydale but it died after we shared the worst kiss in history. Now he’s like a cross between my brother and my touchstone. He keeps me real and grounded. Gunn’s a cross between my big brother and a favorite uncle; you know the cool one who refuses to grow up.”

“So is Angel like a brother too?”

“Eww no. That’d be gross.” Cordelia leaned back as the waiter set her plate in front of her. “Mmm that smells so good. This restaurant is amazing. I don’t know how you got us in here on such short notice.”

“I handle their account. It’s always a good idea to be nice to your accountant.”

“Too bad my parents didn’t live by that rule but then I’m sure it wasn’t the accountant’s fault. He probably told my father to pay his taxes.”

“Why would it be gross?”

“Huh? This isn’t gross. It’s delicious. Do you want to try it?”

“Sure.” Brian accepted the bite of chicken she offered. “That is good. What I meant though was why would it be gross for Angel to be like a brother?”

“Oh.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s not talk about Angel. He’s a big insensitive jerk and he’s extremely annoying.”

“That sounds like a brother to me.”

“Can we talk about something else?”

“Of course, it’s just I can’t help remembering all the things I’ve heard about him in Caritas.”

“Well demons tend not to like Angel very much because he stops their evil plans or he just kills them.”

“I meant in regards to you. Referring to a woman as a possession is rather offensive. I would think his soul would make him more enlightened.”

“He doesn’t refer to me as a possession. He’s protective. There’s a difference. Those demons who were talking about me can get really crude and Angel doesn’t appreciate them talking about me like that. Some them are violent and may have tried to hurt me if it weren’t for Angel interfering. He doesn’t want to see me get hurt and he prefers men or males in general to treat me with respect. He may be a jerk sometimes but he is enlightened. OK. So he’s pretty backward when it comes to technology but when you cut yourself off from the world for like a hundred years, you miss stuff. He’s learning. He can be a little overbearing under the guise of chivalry but it’s not because he’s trying to make a woman feel smaller.”

“You’re right. Let’s not talk about Angel. Tell me more about where you grew up.”

***

Angel brushed off the dust that covered his coat. Cleaning out a vamp nest hadn’t been as satisfying as he had hoped. Violence normally made him feel at least a little better. He clutched his side as his injury began to take its toll. His day just kept on getting worse.

He’d fled his bed shortly after the sun rose telling himself it was because of her request. In truth it was because her beautiful alluring scent was mixed with another. By morning the scent had faded but he could still detect traces of another man.

It made his demon stir, whispering in his ear reminding him that he had foolishly let her go. He had pushed Cordelia away and now that he desperately wanted her back, she no longer wanted his friendship. If not for the people in her visions, she probably would never have agreed to his return at all.

Now there was another man in her life, a normal man who could give her a normal life. It was what she deserved and what she could never have with him. He should step back and wish her well.

“Screw that!” Angel started back to the hotel. He needed her and there was no way he was letting her go again. He had had an epiphany. He’d learned from his mistakes. It was a mistake to let her go the first time therefore it would be another mistake to let her go now.

***

Cordelia stood beneath the spray, letting the hot water cascade down her body. The evening had been enjoyable. By dessert she’d completely forgotten that she’d woken up alone and her panic had been rewarded by finding Angel asleep on the couch. Her day had been spent ignoring him and waiting for his apology. She wasn’t exactly sure what he was supposed to apologize for but she didn’t care. She was angry and she knew it was entirely his fault.

She had lost herself in the pounding beat of the music. The club Brian had taken her too was ultra-exclusive. She never knew an accountant could have so many good contacts. Hot sweaty bodies moving in a sultry rhythm made it impossible to think about Angel. He hadn’t said anything when Brian came to pick her up.

It was obvious his earlier reaction was an act. He wanted them to believe he cared about her safety, not that she thought he wanted anything bad to happen to her. It didn’t matter. They weren’t even friends anymore. Angel was just the hired muscle they needed to keep around for the mission. Brian had been a wonderful dancer, not like Angel.

His body moved in perfect synch with hers. The memory made her smile. It had been so long since she had someone to dance with, other than some random guy who kept trying to cop a feel. She’d forgotten how much she missed dancing.

She’d kissed Brian for the first time when he dropped her off. It was nice. He was a really good kisser, slightly better than Xander. He didn’t try to grope her at all yet he was the one to deepen the kiss. It was the perfect balance of desire and restraint. She enjoyed the kiss. It was everything a first kiss should be.

It was perfect. There was no calculating on his part like the losers she’d dated in the past. There was no intense insane moment of inexplicable passion like with Xander. They hadn’t been insulting each other seconds before the kiss. It was perfect. Brian told her how much he enjoyed their evening and he asked her out again.

She turned off the water when it began running cold. She absently wondered why she wasn’t taking a cold shower. She’d just gone dancing and had a wonderful evening with a wonderful, desirable guy. Everything had been perfect. Brian had made her smile and laugh, something she really needed to do more often.

***

Angel paced the length of his bedroom waiting for Cordelia to get out of his bathroom. He needed to wash off the remains of his opponents and clean out his injury. He had almost knocked on the door but decided against it. Rushing her would probably make her mad. Everything he did made her mad. He decided against sitting on his bed as well. She’d removed his sheets and comforter and replaced them with her own.

His chairs and couch had her throw pillows on them. He was a little surprised she didn’t just move all her furniture in. He had to admit her things really did make the room feel more lived in. His suite had already been more inviting than any other place he ever lived in. When he first moved into the hotel, Cordelia refused to allow him to decorate with weapons.

Now the woman’s touch was more pronounced. Evidence of Cordelia’s presence was everywhere. It was actually kind of comforting.

He swallowed hard when Cordelia exited the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her head and one around her body. “Hey.”

Cordelia clutched her towel. “I didn’t know you were back.”

“I got back a few minutes ago. I was waiting to take a shower.”

“You look a little worse for the wear.” She noticed a wet spot on his black shirt. “Are you bleeding?”

“It’s nothing serious. It will be fine once I wash it out.”

“Oh. OK.” She stepped further into the bedroom, away from the bathroom door. “Oh shit. I umm used all the hot water. I’m not used to sharing a bathroom. If you wait a few minutes, I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Don’t worry about it. Cold water won’t kill me.” He gave her a small smile as he passed her.

Cordelia waited until the shower started to get dressed. She grabbed her favorite old t-shirt and a pair of Angel’s boxers from the one drawer he kept. She did her best to towel dry her hair before running downstairs for the first aid kit.

His injuries didn’t seem severe and she had no idea why she cared but she decided to patch him up anyway. Being cold and indifferent no longer felt like a punishment for just him, they weren’t friends but they did have to share a bed. A truce didn’t seem like such a bad idea. It would make Wesley feel better if she and Angel tried to get along.

***

Angel stepped out of the bathroom and froze. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like, dumbass? I’m getting what I might need out of the first aid kit so I can patch you up.”

“I told you it was nothing serious. It’ll be fine.”

“Shut up and get on the bed. I don’t have all night. OK. That came out wrong.” She blushed slightly. “I don’t want you bleeding on my sheets.”

“I don’t know why you didn’t use mine. They’re satin.”

“I know but I never really cared for satin sheets. They’re too slidey. I prefer cotton sheets with a high thread count. Anything over three hundred is acceptable.” Cordelia kneeled beside him. “It looks deep.” Her fingers gently touched the wound.

Angel’s side twitched at her caress.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“You didn’t. A few butterfly bandages and I’ll be fine.”

She nibbled on her lower lip as she worked. It had been a really long time since she bandaged Angel’s wounds. The cool flesh felt strange yet so familiar beneath her fingertips. She taped cotton gauze into place incase it started to bleed again. Her fingers stroked the surrounding area, “Are there any more I should know about?” She glanced up at his face. His eyes were closed. “Are you awake?”

“Yes.” He kept his eyes closed. He was afraid of what she might see in them. “Everything else was minor and has already healed.” He refused to groan in protest when her hands disappeared.

“OK. Umm do you need some blood? I can heat some up for you, if you want?”

“Why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden?” He cursed himself for his stupidity.

“Sorry. You were injured doing something other than hunting two psycho vamps or evil lawyers. Forgive me for trying to be helpful. I thought you could use some patching up.”

Angel grabbed her hand before she could move away. “I’m sorry.” His eyes connected with hers. “I’ve had a bad night.”

Her resolve to be angry melted under his sad puppy face. “That’s okay. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really but I could use that blood you offered.”

“Sure. I’ll be right back.”

Angel listened to her shuffle around the kitchenette in the outer room. It felt good to be taken care of again. He’d missed that. No one took care of him like Cordelia did. He only hoped she didn’t spice his blood. As touching as her efforts were, pigs’ blood would never taste good.

“Here you go.”

He sat up and accepted the glass. “Thanks.”

“It’s no big deal.” She slid under the covers on her side of the bed.

“How was your night?”

“It was nice.”

“So still no sign of Ryan, I mean Brian being evil?”

Despite herself, she smiled. “No. He’s a completely normal, really nice guy.” She laughed. “Apparently they really do exist. I’m expecting to see my very first unicorn any day now.”

“What’s your really nice guy think of us sharing a bed?”

“I haven’t exactly told him that part yet. You didn’t make a very good first impression. That and everything he’s heard about you in Caritas, I thought I should wait to explain the whole annulment process. This was only our second date. I don’t want to send him screaming into the night. He may be a completely normal, really nice guy but I am not a normal girl and I’m only nice to people I like.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“Jerk.” Her insult was tempered by the smile on her face. “I don’t know why he wants to see me again.”

“He asked you out again? Three dates three nights in a row seems kind of fast, don’t you think?”

“It’s not for tomorrow night. We’re going on a picnic on Saturday afternoon.”

“Oh. That’s sounds nice… and sunny.”

“I know. No one has ever invited me on a picnic before. OK that may have something to do with the fact that sitting on the ground has never been my thing. There’s dirt and bugs and that’s hardly an ideal setting for eating. Actually who the hell thought up eating outside like it’s a treat? I mean I get the whole cooking outdoors. Grilled food tastes pretty good but then it’s supposed to be brought inside and eaten at a table… with utensils and no bugs or dirt. Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally looking forward to this. Brian enjoys hiking and fishing, not that we’re doing that on Saturday and not that I wouldn’t enjoy… err be willing to try that. He told me he usually spends his vacations doing outdoor kind of stuff. My idea of outdoor sports is skiing followed by warming myself up in front of a roaring fire in a ski lodge. Lying on a beach somewhere is a good outdoor activity too. I guess I’m just used to nighttime stuff.”

“I’m sorry. I know that’s my fault.”

“Oh please! Did you notice me at all in Sunnydale? Nighttime activities included researching through musty books in the library, traipsing through the many Sunnydale cemeteries or dancing at the bronze. Daytime was spent at school, the mall or the library. That was hardly your fault. It was my choice to be there. I could have done the whole forget-what-happened-the-second-after-it-happens thing like the rest of the town. Plus I’m the one who practically begged you for job here in LA; which I will vehemently deny if you tell anyone. Doyle is the one who gave me the visions. If you want to feel guilty then do it right. Feel bad about abandoning me. Feel bad about abandoning the guys and the people in my visions. I don’t care about the stupid sun. No one is forcing me into the night. I can go outside and enjoy the sunny fields of nature any damn time I want. I don’t have to go to a tanning salon. I freakin’ live in California. I choose to use a tanning bed. I mean who wants tan lines when you don’t absolutely have to have them.” She started laughing. “How did we get on the subject of my lack of tan lines? What were we talking about?”

“I forget. Your thoughts aren’t exactly linear.” His mind was still processing the no tan lines comment.

“Shut up. I understood my transitions just fine.”

“So what were we talking about then?”

“Umm… It’s your fault I lost my train of thought.”

“Mine?”

“Yes. You were doing the “oh poor me” thing and knocked me off track.”

“My what?”

“Don’t try to look innocent with me. You did that everything is my fault thing.”

“You’re right. It is my fault you lost your train of thought.”

“Exactly.” She smiled. “Wait a minute.” His smirk finally registered. “You’re such a jerk.” She smacked him with her pillow. “You know when you beat yourself up about stuff it takes the fun out of it for the rest of us.” She smacked him again.

“I have perfectly legitimate reasons to be mad at you and you keep screwing that up for me.” On her third swing he caught her pillow and hit her with his. “Hey! No one gave you permission to defend yourself.” She yanked her weapon free and continued swinging.

Angel tackled her to the bed. “It’s hardly fair to pick on a poor defenseless injured vampire.”

She tried to wriggle out from under him. “Defenseless my ass. You’re a big bully.” She bucked her hips in an attempt to throw him off of her. “Get off of me, you big jerk.”

“Not until you apologize for hitting me.”

“Oh please. You deserved it.”

“How do you figure that?”

She grinned up at him. “Because I said so.”

“You’re logic is impressive.”

“I know.”

“I’m still waiting for an apology.”

“You’re gonna be waiting a really long time.”

“That’s okay. I have a really long life ahead of me.” He gripped both of her wrists in one hand, allowing his free hand to move lower.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ve never been known for patience.” His fingers lightly touched her side, teasing bare skin where her shirt had ridden up.

Cordelia bucked wildly beneath him as she broke out in a fit of giggles. “No fair! That tickles. Stop… stop! I’m serious, Angel. You’re making… very, very mad. OK. OK. I’m sorry.” She took a few deep breaths, willing her stomach muscles to relax. She shoved him off her. “I said it before and I’ll say it again. You are a big bully.” Her hand lashed out and smacked his chest. Her head popped up at his grunt of pain.

“Nice shot.” He clutched his wounded side.

“Serves you right. Move your hand so I can see, you big baby.”

“That hurt.”

“You shouldn’t pick a fight when you’re hurt.”

“You’re the one who started the violence.”

“Oh please!” She lifted the gauze and inspected her work. “You’re fine. It’s practically healed already. You are such a whiner.”

“I am not!”

“Pfft. Go to bed.” She flopped onto her back and grunted in annoyance. “Give me back my pillow.”

“No.” He placed both pillows beneath his head. “You called me a whiner.”

Cordelia rolled over and bit his arm.

“Ow!”

She grabbed her pillow. “You should have given me my pillow back.”

“I can’t believe you just bit me.”

“I’m just following your lead.”

“How do you figure that?”

“You did the five year old tickle torture. I bit you. Now we’re even.”

He rubbed his arm. “That hurt. I didn’t hurt you.”

“Aw! Did I hurt the poor defenseless injured vampire?” She rolled over again. “Here.” She moved his hand and kissed his arm. “Better now?” She rolled away without waiting for a response. “Now go to bed.”

Angel closed his eyes and tried to ignore the tingling sensation that started the instant her lips connected with his flesh. He would not ruin her playful mood by doing something stupid. No matter how much he wanted to.

“Good night, Cordy.”

“Good night, John Boy.”

“Who?”

“Never mind.”

Part 6

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC

40 Nights. 4   1 comment

Part 4

“Where have you been?”

“What part of “I don’t answer to you” is confusing for you, Angel?”

“Cordelia, you have been gone longer than you indicated. You can hardly blame us for worrying.”

“I told you where I was. I had to run a couple of errands afterwards. If you were worried, you should have called my cell phone. Some of us carry ours and actually know how to use them.” She shot a look at Angel. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have some work to do.”

The three men stared at each other debating with their eyes on who should follow her. They jumped as one when she suddenly spoke again.

“I want to know which one of you opened your fat mouth about my marriage from hell.”

“Pardon?”

“Lorne knew all about it. He wanted to hear the juicy details.”

“Well Lorne is an anagogic..”

“He didn’t read me. He heard about it from the demon grapevine. Which one of you blabbed?”

Wesley glanced around at the confused faces. “The demon priest did escape. Perhaps he spread the news. The demon world in general does pay particular attention to Angel’s life, so to speak.”

“OK. I’ll buy that story.” She stood in front of Angel with her hands firmly placed on her hips. “I want you to know I am NOT your property.”

“What?”

“There seems to be a popular misconception that I belong to you and I will NOT be referred to as property, especially yours.”

“Cordelia that is hardly Angel’s fault. There are some who take a very misogynistic view on marriage. A woman..”

“No. This goes back further than my marriage from hell and I think Mr. No-one-talks-about-my-seer knows exactly what I’m talking about. Granted I don’t want any of the evil and slimy set talking about me and I really don’t want them ogling me. Eww the thought just gives me the creeps but that doesn’t mean…” Her admission took most of the steam out of her outrage. “I’m not going to yell at you as long as we’re clear, NOT property.” She stormed off before Angel could respond.

“Do you have any idea what she was referring to?”

Angel sat down on the steps. “I may have.. in the past.. encouraged.. the unsavory to treat Cordelia with respect. I was pretty damn reasonable about it too. I didn’t.. encourage everyone. Some of harmless ones… Barney got off with just a glare and Lorne I let his comments slide all the time. It’s just the ones that were more suggestive in their comments that needed to be shown the error of their ways. I didn’t even kill any of them and I did not call her my property. Not exactly. I mean it’s not my fault if they interpreted it that way.”

“Yes well I suppose it would be hypocritical to judge your actions, although I’m still a little fuzzy on the specifics. Gunn and I have been known to be protective as well. Cordelia is a very beautiful woman and tends to attract attention.”

“I doubt there’s a guy out there who’s crazy enough to face us to get to Barbie.”

“Excuse me. I have a delivery for a Miss Cordelia Chase.”

The three men circled the delivery man carrying a vase full of flowers. “Who are those from?”

The man gulped at the menacing tone. “Am I at the right place? Does Cordelia Chase work here?”

“Yes. That’s me.” Cordelia pushed Angel aside. “They’re gorgeous.”

The delivery man handed her the vase and practically sprinted out of the hotel. He didn’t wait for a signature or a tip. He just wanted to get away from the man in black. He could have sworn the guy was growling.

“It’s been so long since anyone sent me flowers.” She buried her nose in the fragrant assortment of wildflowers and roses. She walked back to her desk ignoring the three men trailing behind her. She set the vase on her desk and opened the card

Cordelia,
I saw these flowers and thought of your smile.
Brian Jacobs

A large smile spread across her features as she inhaled the wonderful scent again.

“So who are they from?”

She slipped the card into her pocket. “They’re from a friend, Wes.”

“A friend?”

“Yes Gunn. A friend. Would you like me to spell it for you?”

“No. I’ll settle for the guy’s name. You can spell that if you want.”

“He’s a friend and that’s all you need to know.”

“I don’t like it.” Angel stared at the flowers like they were going to sprout tentacles and attack.

“You don’t have to. They’re for me, not you.”

Who is this friend? What do you know about him? Why haven’t Gunn or I met him?”

“Geez guys! Relax. The flowers aren’t evil. They aren’t going to attack. I need to add some water to them.” She grabbed the vase but paused in the doorway. “He’s not evil either. Don’t be so paranoid. Wesley, you’re the one who’s been telling me I’m young and I shouldn’t cut myself off from life. I’m just taking your advice.”

Angel turned accusing eyes to Wesley. “You said she wasn’t seeing anyone.”

“She wasn’t. She isn’t. We would know.” He looked to Gunn for support.

“English is right. We would know if she were datin’. She hasn’t dated in… I don’t think she’s dated since I met her.”

“You mean despite Wesley’s encouragement.”

“Don’t look at me like that. It was sound advice. She is too young to cut herself off from life. I only meant she should go out with friends her own age from time to time. I was dating Virginia and Gunn had his gang. Cordelia spent her free time at home with Dennis. She used to be so vivacious. I know she’s committed to the mission but I didn’t want to see her lose herself. I stand by my advice.” He slammed his glasses down on the desk. “Bloody hell! Who does this man think he is? He hasn’t even introduced himself to us. Why hasn’t she mentioned him sooner?”

***

Cordelia stood in the kitchen smelling her flowers. It felt good to be noticed by a man again, a man with class. Wesley told her dedication didn’t require isolation. She couldn’t agree at the time. She had let Angel in and he had hurt her badly.

It was too late to keep Wes and Gunn out but she vowed not to let anyone else in. Spending the night with Angel had been confusing. Suddenly the idea of letting someone new into her heart seemed less frightening. With Lorne’s assurance Brian wasn’t evil; the risk didn’t seem so great. She had a feeling that Brian wouldn’t hurt her like Angel had.

He couldn’t. No one would ever get that close to her again. Brian would be safe. He was human, attractive, not evil, not a lawyer and he didn’t have any grudges.

She walked back to her desk with a smile. She placed the vase back on her desk and began filing. Humming while she worked, she was completely oblivious to the three sets of eyes watching her from the office.

Wesley slid the doors shut. “This doesn’t bode well. Someone needs to go out there and question her.” His gaze drifted over to Gunn. “Let me know how it goes.”

“Me? Oh hell no. I value my manly parts too much. You’re the boss. You go talk to her.”

“I am the boss and as such it is my job to delegate duties as I see fit.”

“What about Angel? You’re married to her. You go ask her about this mystery friend.”

“She won’t talk to me about him. I could ask her the time and she’d get defensive.”

“Can you blame her?”

“Gunn, that’s not helping.”

“Sorry man. It’s a reflex.”

“Perhaps I should be the one to ask her.”

“It was your advice that got us into this mess.”

“I hardly think this is my fault, Angel.”

“It looks like you don’t know Cordelia as well as you thought, huh?”

“Look guys. Now is not the time to throw down. Some guy is moving in on Barbie. We don’t know who or what he is. Let’s try to stay focused before Cordy ends up getting hurt or worse.”

~ Ring! ~

The three men pressed their ears to the door to listen to Cordelia answer the phone.

“Angel Investigations, we help the helpless.”

“Hello, may I speak to Cordelia Chase?”

“This is she.”

“Hi. This is Brian. Brian Jacobs.”

“Hi. The flowers are beautiful. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I hope you don’t think it was too forward of me to send them. There is a flower shop right by my office. I saw them and… First the flowers and now I’m calling you, I don’t normally do this.”

“Please don’t apologize. It was very sweet. It’s been a while since someone sent me flowers.”

“In the spirit of thinking I’m not too forward, I was wondering if… I know this is last minute and we only just met. You probably already have plans. You see I have two tickets for a play tonight. I was supposed to go with a friend.”

“A friend?”

“Yes. She’s someone I work with. We went to UCLA together. Her daughter is sick and her husband is away on business. She cancelled on me this morning, not that I blame her. She should be with her daughter. I was just going to give the tickets away. It’s a good play but Jane was the one who wanted to see it. She and her husband have season tickets at the theater. She gave them to me when she cancelled. I don’t want you to think I’m too forward but I thought you might… I could give you both tickets if you’d rather. Like I said, I don’t have my heart set on seeing it. I wouldn’t want you to think..”

“You’ll actually have to ask me before I can start judging you.”

“Oh right. Would you like to attend the play with me? You can have both tickets if..”

“I think I’ll take just the one.”

“Great. Umm I can pick you up at seven or you can meet me at the theater if you’d feel more comfortable that way.”

“Seven will be fine. You can pick me up at the address on the card.”

“Working late?”

“It’s a long story. It’ll give us something to talk about tonight. Although I guess a play isn’t the best place for talking.”

“We could go out for coffee or a late dinner after the show. I’d take you out before but I have to work late.”

“That’s okay after the play would be fine with me. I’m kind of a night owl.”

“OK. I’ll see you tonight at seven.”

“Tonight at seven. Good bye.”

“Bye”

The doors flew open the moment she hung up the phone. “Geez! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Who was on the phone?”

Cordelia stood with her hands on her hips. “A friend.”

“The same friend who sent you flowers?”

“Yes”

“Does this friend have a name?”

“Yes”

“Cordelia, please be reasonable. We are concerned for your welfare. How long have you known him?”

“I met him today.”

“What? You can’t go out with a guy you just met. He could be evil. You don’t know anything about him.” Angel gulped at the fire in her eyes but stood tall. “You can’t go.”

“Go? You were listening to my private conversation? Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Someone who isn’t going to stand by and watch you get hurt.”

“What are you saying? You’re the only one who’s allowed to hurt me?”

“I..”

“Brian is a nice guy and I AM going out with him tonight.”

“Can’t you wait until we’ve had time to investigate him?”

Her expression softened. “It’s not necessary, Wes. He’s a friend of Lorne’s. Lorne has read him. He assured me Brian isn’t evil or a lawyer. Brian doesn’t have any demon spawn or grudges either. The rest I’ll learn from him. I’m not stupid. I was the one who got impregnated. If anyone has learned to be cautious when dating, it’s me.”

“Lorne has read him?”

“Yes. Lorne introduced us.”

“Well that changes everything.”

“We still have to meet him. He is a guy with guy hormones. It’s our job to let him know what’s what.”

“Don’t worry, Gunn. I think I can handle an accountant.”

“An accountant? Perhaps he can make sense of our books. Not that you aren’t doing an excellent job, Cordelia.”

“Nice save, watcher boy.”

“Have you all lost your minds? So Lorne read him? Big deal. He isn’t infallible. He sent me to that swami. Lorne had no idea his bartender would sell me out. I say we can’t trust Ryan.”

“His name is Brian and I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

“Whatever name this guy currently goes by doesn’t matter. He can’t be trusted.”

“You can’t stop me from going out with Brian.”

“Fine. Then I’ll just have to follow you.”

“What? You can’t do that.”

“Why not? You’re not the boss of me.”

“You can’t be serious.” Angel folded his arms, his features remained hard. “You can’t just follow us.”

“Of course I can. I follow things like Ryan all the time.”

Cordelia gritted her teeth. “His name is Brian and he’s not a thing!” He stood tall, his posture imposing. “Tell him he can’t follow me, Wes.”

“I have free time just like you, Cordy. I can spend it any way I see fit.”

“No you can’t and don’t use that posture with me, buddy.” She shook Wesley’s arm. “Tell him he can’t follow me and to stop using that I’ve-got-a-metal-pole-rammed-up-my-butt-don’t-mess-with-me posture!”

“Angel, I think you’re overreacting. We were all concerned for her safety but Lorne has read him.”

“He could be wrong and like Gunn pointed out Ryan is still a guy.”

“Yes but Cordelia prefers men so I don’t think we should prevent her from dating one.”

Angel failed to see the humor in the situation. He didn’t really want to analyze why. He only knew he didn’t think letting Cordelia go out with some guy was a good idea. “I’m not stopping her.”

“You aren’t allowed to follow me. You’re going to scare him off.”

“That would be a shame.”

Her eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. “If I see you tonight, you’re fired. Right Wes?”

“That’s fine. I guess you should enjoy your privacy for the next three months because after that we’ll be linked forever.”

“I bet the bond would be broken if I staked you.”

“Now children I think you’re both overreacting. Brian will be picking you up here at seven. We will decide then.”

“What’s to decide? It’s my life. I can date whoever the hell I want to date.”

“And I can follow if I want.”

“Stop it! Damn! Y’all need to calm down. Lorne said this guy was cool and we’ll be sure to put the fear of… us in him so he won’t be gettin’ any ideas.”

“Gunn is right. We have some time. I’ll make a few phone calls and run a background check on him. Gunn, you can assist me. Angel, why don’t you take the sewers to Caritas and speak to Lorne directly.”

“Guys, this is totally unnecessary.”

“Would you prefer we follow you?”

“Fine but if he dumps me because of your paranoia I’m kicking all your asses.”

***

“Angelcakes, what brings you to my violence-free sanctuary on this beautiful day?” Lorne quickly moved behind the bar. “We aren’t actually open for business yet.”

“I’m guessing you don’t need to hear me sing to know what’s on my mind.”

“Thank goodness for small favors. What would you like to discuss first?”

“Let’s start with Ryan. What’s his story? What is he? What does he want with Cordelia? And why the hell are you setting her up with men at all?”

“OK. First off I think you already know his name is Brian. He is your average human except he knows about demons. He got chased in here by a vampire and before you ask it was no vamp you know. He’s adjusted well. He grew up in San Francisco so he’s used to the strange and unusual. He isn’t evil and he isn’t a lawyer which I believe Cordelia already told you. As for what he wants, I imagine it’s the same thing every other red blooded… every heterosexual male wants and your seer is quite the hot tamale. But don’t worry he’s not just after her body. He’s a long-haul kind of guy. Nice growl. Congratulations on your nuptials by the way. I imagine an invite was too much to ask for.”

“We didn’t plan for it to happen.”

“So I hear.”

“From who?”

“Everyone is talking about it. A bond like this is pretty big news. Forever is a long time. Of course with Cordelicious, forever wouldn’t seem long enough.”

Angel decided to ignore his comment. “Do you know any other way of annulling the marriage?”

“Do you really want to sever it? And if you do, do you really want to find another way?”

“Why do you answer a question with a question? You know it pisses me off.”

“There is only one way to annul the marriage and two ways to complete it. Now where was I? Oh right question number four. While I was talking to Cordelia, Brian stopped by to pick up my books. I introduced them to be polite and the rest as they say is history.”

“There is no history and there won’t be any either.”

Lorne slid a shot of whiskey towards Angel. “Riddle me this, crumbcake. Why do you care?”

“What?”

“I’ve already assured you he’s a nice guy. Brian has a good job. He’s stable, kind and a rather good singer to boot. He’s the kind of guy girls are supposed to marry. So again I ask you, why do you care? You should be happy for her.”

“I.. I..”

“You mull over that for a while. I believe you have another question for me.”

“Why did Cordelia come here in the first place? What did she talk to you about?”

“Sorry. That’s between me and brown eyes.”

“Lorne”

“Growl my name all you want, sugar. Unless you want me sharing your confidences with her, don’t expect me to share hers. I’m thinkin’ there’s a certain epiphany you don’t want explained in graphic detail, heavy on the ic.”

Angel downed his shot in one gulp. “I can’t lose her.”

“I’m glad you finally figured that out. Now you just need to figure out the rest.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even if she and Brian fell madly in love and made beautiful babies together, it doesn’t mean she would leave you. She can still be your friend and your seer. She can have it all. Don’t you want her to be happy?”

“Yes”

“Then why not give Brian a chance? They would make a handsome couple.”

Angel’s fist clenched shattering the glass.

“I feel another epiphany coming on. You say you want Cordelia to be happy yet you don’t want her dating a rather nice guy. I wonder why that is? You think about that while I get something to clean up this mess.”

***

Cordelia stared at her reflection. It had been a long time since she’d gotten ready for a date. Wesley and Gunn hadn’t managed to find a single damning piece of information. They finally gave her their support on the stipulation that they get the opportunity to scare him. Gunn had asked if he could hold his axe when he met Brian but she managed to talk him out of it. Deep down, she liked how protective they were of her.

She straightened her dress and touched up her makeup. “You’ve still got it.” She looked forward to seeing Brian’s reaction to her dress almost as much as Angel’s. She could still be a bitch when she wanted to be.

***

Brian adjusted his collar for the third time. He hadn’t been this nervous since he’d picked up his prom date his senior year of high school. Her prison guard father had been a pussycat compared to Cordelia’s co-workers.

“I’m sure Cordelia will be down shortly.” Wesley shared a smile with Gunn. “I’m glad we had a moment to get to know you. We are both rather fond of OUR Cordelia. We don’t like to see her hurt.”

“Of course. That’s understandable.” Brian rose to his feet at the sound of a door slamming shut. Instead of Cordelia, an even more intimidating man appeared.

“Angel, I was beginning to wonder what happened to you. Did you come across any trouble?”

“No. I had to clear my head.”

“This is Brian Jacobs, Cordelia’s date for the evening. Brian, this is..”

“I’m Angel. I’m Cordelia’s husband.” Angel plastered a fake smile on his face ignoring the three shocked faces. “So where will you be taking my wife this evening?”

“Wife? Umm you mean ex-wife, right?”

“Nope. I’m the current spouse.”

“I don’t think I understand. Cordelia never mentioned being married. She wasn’t wearing a ring. Maybe I should go.”

“If you think that’s best, I won’t stop you.”

“Angel! Mr. Jacobs.. Brian, this isn’t exactly what you’re thinking.”

“So Cordelia isn’t married?”

“Well technically she is married but..”

“What the hell is going on down here?”

“Your husband was..”

“My what? Angel, you are so going to be staked for this.”

“Staked? Angel? Wait a minute. You’re the souled vampire with the girly name who just married his seer.” Brian’s gaze locked with Cordelia’s.

“I was going to explain tonight. It’s not what you think. We went to a cave to stop a ritual. We managed to save the sacrifices, as for stopping the ritual… not so much. Angel and I ended up married. We didn’t plan it. We didn’t even know what was happening until it was over. We are totally annulling it.”

“So you two aren’t..”

“I can’t say hell no strong enough.”

Angel had been stunned into silence. Cordelia looked beautiful but it was what she was wearing that stole his voice. He couldn’t even growl at the girly name comment. She was wearing one of the dresses he had bought her. She was wearing one of the gifts she had found extremely insulting.

She had almost been in tears at his attempt to apologize with expensive gifts. She was wearing something he had picked out for her to go on a date with another man. His voice finally returned. “You are completely unbelievable!”

“Me! You’re the one who..”

He grabbed Cordelia by her arm and dragged her towards the office. “Excuse us for a minute. We need to talk.” He shoved her into the office and slammed the door shut.

“Do you think we should?” Gunn motioned to the office door.

“I think we’d better stay out here.”

“He isn’t going to hurt her, is he?”

“Don’t worry about Barbie. If you want to worry about someone, worry about the vamp. He’s about to get his ass handed to him.”

***

“I can’t believe you!”

“What the hell is your problem, Angel? Why the hell was Brian referring to you as my husband?”

“No no. You are not getting off that easy. Why are you wearing that dress? You were pissed off when I gave it to you.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “It looks good on me and I wanted something nice to wear. You shouldn’t have tried to buy my forgiveness but it would be a shame to waste the clothes. It’s not like you were going to return them. I’m amazed you went shopping in the first place.”

“That was part of my point. I thought you’d appreciate my effort. I wanted to make you smile. I spent hours at the mall. I carried a picture of you to the show the sales girls so they could help me pick things out.”

Cordelia turned away to hide her smile. “The clothes are gorgeous.” Her hands ran over the red spaghetti strap dress. “It’s been a while since I wore red.”

“You look beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

“Cordy.” Angel’s hands hovered over her shoulders, unsure if he should make contact. He didn’t want to ruin the moment. “Why are you wearing the dress tonight?”

“Mainly to piss you off.” She spun around to face him. Her breath caught in her throat at his proximity. “Why does it bother you that I’m wearing it?”

“I just..” Angel stepped back when the office door opened.

“Cordelia, Brian asked me to let you know that the curtain goes up at eight and the theater is across town.”

“OK. I’m coming.” She waited until Wesley left before sending Angel a small smile. “I’ll be back well before dawn.” When she reached the doorway, she spoke without turning around. “Please let me have this.”

Angel walked out of the office in time to see a smiling Cordelia leave with her date.

“Angel, would you mind telling me what that was all about? You told me over the phone that Lorne didn’t have anything negative to say about Brian. He seems like a perfectly nice man.”

“I know you weren’t around at the time but people said the same thing about Xander, except for the man part. Cordelia was hurt by that perfectly nice boy. He cheated on her and as a bonus she was impaled by a rebar through her stomach. Just because a guy isn’t evil doesn’t mean he should be trusted.”

“I realize Xander hurt her but love isn’t something you can protect a person from. Love is a risk.”

Angel stared at Wesley with disgust. “Cordelia doesn’t even know this guy. She isn’t in love with him.”

“Angel, I know you want Cordelia’s friendship back. Perhaps you should support her instead of being an obstacle. You’re not really her husband.”

“I think I’ll go patrol for a while.”

“Please don’t follow her.”

“I don’t intend to. I feel the need to kill something and I thought you’d prefer I kill something evil.”

“Very well.” Wesley watched Angel grab some weapons and disappear into the night.

“What was up with him?”

“I don’t know. I wonder if the bond is starting to affect him. I was under the impression there wouldn’t be any changes until it was completed. Perhaps I was wrong.”

“Maybe you should hit the books. For a second there I would’ve sworn Angel had the hots for Cordy.”

“I thought the same thing but that’s not possible. Why now? It must be the bond.”

“I hope so. I don’t think he’d be good for her.”

“True but she would be awfully good for him.”

“Barbie would be good for any man.”

“Come on and help me before I start thinking that you’re being affected by the bond as well.”

Part 5

Posted June 27, 2015 by califi in TBC