Archive for July 9, 2015

Double or Nothing. 41   1 comment

Chapter 41: Morning Kisses

Giles stood behind the counter in the library attempting to get a little work done despite the sudden appearance of his visitor.

He’d had to glance at his watch to confirm the time was actually just after two in the afternoon. Whatever was bothering the vampire, it did not seem to concern him that he was strolling about during the day. Not that the sun had stopped his previous incarnations from getting into trouble, the Watcher considered the fact.

“Are you going to get to the point of your visit or are you simply demonstrating the latest pacing technique?” Giles asked him as Angel followed an invisible trail back and forth in front of the desk.

“I’m upset,” growled Angel with an economy of words. Stopping short in front of the Watcher, he put his hands on the countertop gripping the edge as if it might come off if he put any more effort into it.

“No need to take it out on school property,” Giles raised an eyebrow and nodded in the direction of his hands.

Angel shoved his hands in his pants pockets.

“Should I guess why you’re here in the middle of the day or are you planning to tell me?”

Sarcasm…Angel hated it when the Watcher used that tone with him. There was no use in arguing about it. That was the problem. He’d had arguments up to his eyeballs lately and it was starting to get to him. Through clenched white teeth, Angel revealed his problem, “Cordelia.”

“Ah.” No surprise there. Giles fought off the urge to roll his eyes in true Cordelia fashion. The vampire would think Cordelia was his most immediate problem, but Giles had another opinion. “You lack focus.”

Questioning Giles’ meaning, Angel’s eyes closed into narrow slits of suspicion. “What the hell is that supposed to mean, Rup?”

Ignoring the hated nickname, Giles set aside his task of stamping return dates on library books and gave Angel his full attention. “As the Moirae’s new champion, you lack a certain focus on your work. Frankly, Xander has more discipline than you have shown the past two weeks. All of your attention is elsewhere.”

“On Cordelia,” nodded Angel without apologizing for the fact. As far as he was concerned, that was where his focus should be.

“Yes,” Giles agreed that Cordelia was a major distraction. The brunette was obviously still mourning the loss of her mate while Angel’s frustration with the matter grew by leaps and bounds. All Giles could do was counsel the vampire to be patient and to try to focus on fighting the forces of darkness here in Sunnydale.

Noting the tight clenching of the muscles of Angel’s jaw, Giles opted for the easier topic of conversation. “Buffy reported your activities during patrol last night.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Angel inquired with an irritable look on his face. He was not here to discuss Buffy Summers or the routine patrol through Restfield Cemetery.

“Obviously, I am referring to your lack of initiative in stopping those two vampires last night,” Giles looked flummoxed at the idea.

Two vampires? Angel thought back to the previous night. Patrol had been boring— very. The appearance of two young vampires strolling along the sidewalk hand in hand was a bit of a distraction. Buffy had started after them only to have Angel stop her.

“They were just scrawny kids,” Angel commented with a dismissive shrug. “Hardly worth the effort.”

Giles glared harshly. “Those kids made their way to the Bronze. If Buffy had not trailed after them, they might have been successful in killing someone. She informed me that you decided patrol was boring and went back to the mansion to be with Cordelia.”

Making no apologies for prioritizing his time the way he saw fit, Angel reminded Giles, “Cordelia is the reason I’m here. If you want me to focus on killing demons and helping Buffy protect the Hellmouth then I suggest you help me.”

With a deep sigh, the Watcher realized he wasn’t getting out of this one. He had tried his best to stay out of Angel and Cordelia’s personal business. Unfortunately, it now seemed to be interfering with Angel’s duties. That worried Giles more than he wanted to admit to himself. Everyday in the back of his mind, he reviewed what the Moirae revealed about their champion.

What plagued him the most was the fact that Angel could easily slide from fighting the Good Fight to following a darker path bound to the evil side of his nature. Somehow, the Moirae had made Cordelia a key to Angel successfully navigating one path versus the other.

Each passing day added further doubts in Giles’ mind that Angel was currently on the path he needed to be for it seemed that the longer Cordelia rejected his suit the more disinterested Angel became with taking up the mantle of a champion of justice.

“How may I help you, Angel?”

“Call Cordelia out of class. Bring her here. I want to talk to her,” Angel certainly looked determined to do so.

“Why?”

“Because I want to see her,” Angel answered as he started up with the pacing again. “I was asleep when she left for school this morning. There are— issues I need to talk to her about.”

Giles hesitated to ask. “Issues?”

“Yes, dammit,” Angel certainly wasn’t going into all of the details with the Watcher. “Issues. The primary one being that the Ice Queen turns into a raging harpy whenever we’re together.”

“And yet I’m supposed to pull her out of class so she can do so right here in my library?” Giles seriously doubted that was a good idea, adding, “Surely harpy is a rather harsh description.”

Angel paused and turned to him with a meaningful stare. “You obviously haven’t had to live with her for the past couple of weeks.”

To be perfectly honest, Giles had witnessed some of the behavior that Angel referred to and had to agree that Cordelia was less than pleasant. When that cool veneer cracked, it did so with a vengeance. He tried to find something positive to tell the vampire.

“Cordelia is trying to help you acclimate yourself,” Giles commented. “She brought you here and introduced you to everyone.”

Reminding him, Angel countered with, “You called the Scooby meeting and made the introductions.”

“Oh, well, perhaps so,” Giles admitted reluctantly, “but she stayed with you instead of leaving. Cordelia certainly could have done that as there is nothing officially tying her to the mansion except for her place within the Order of Aurelius.”

The low rumble in Angel’s chest suggested that was probably not the best thing to remind the vampire about. “You think she’s getting used to me? Accepting me?”

Giles could almost hear the implied pfft accompanying his expression.

“One afternoon— it was that second day— I went down to the kitchen to warm some blood,” Angel explained. “I was hungry. Cordelia arrived home from school and saw that I was using Angelus’ coffee mug.”

“His mug?”

“She went wild,” Angel’s face showed a flash of the horror he felt. “Screamed at me like a banshee and stormed out of the house.”

“Perhaps it’s only natural for her to be protective of the things that belonged to her mate, especially something so familiar.” Giles felt his heart go out to Cordelia. “Obviously, she returned. Probably just needed some time to cool down and consider how unimportant it was in the larger scheme of things.”

Angel leaned up against the counter. “Cordelia went shopping. For three hours. She came back with every basic necessity known to man and vampire including several mismatched mugs and seven pairs of pajamas.”

“Perhaps Cordy was trying to make up for yelling at you,” came the innocent suggestion, “by buying you presents.”

“I don’t wear pajamas,” deadpanned Angel.

“Oh.”

This was exactly why Giles didn’t want to put his nose into their personal business. All topics no matter how remote and unrelated, such as a simple mug, always seemed to lead straight back to the bedroom. In a moment they’d be discussing Angel’s preference for not wearing pajamas to bed and the fact that Cordelia was uncomfortable with that situation hence that addition to the shopping spree.

“We negotiated,” Angel admitted the fact to the Watcher.

“So she let you keep Angelus’ mug?” Giles thought that was a bit of progress.

The vampire shook his head. “No. She took both of them, including my favorite— the one she gave me when mine broke.”

“Yours?”

Irritated that he had to make a differentiation between himself and Angel, he clarified, “Angel’s special mug. Cordelia took both of them and threw them in the trash.”

Giles mulled over the outcome. “So Cordelia would rather have you naked than drink from Angel or Angelus’ mugs?”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Angel suddenly smirked at the idea. Maybe he’d won that argument after all, especially considering the fact that during the night Cordelia had curled her luscious body around his sharing her warmth as she snuggled against him in her sleep.

Not that awakening with their limbs entwined and his morning erection pressed between them had provided such peaceful contentment. Cordelia’s clock radio was signaling time for her to get up and get ready for school. With a mumbled complaint, Cordelia was still caught between sleep and wakefulness as she snuggled even closer to the vampire in her arms.

Her lips opened up under his as Angel kissed her awake. It was then that the Ice Queen returned staring up at him from their lip-locked position with that patented glare. Angel chose to ignore the look, merely telling her good morning and placing another brief kiss on her soft lips before letting her systematically detach herself from his arms.

“Have you made any effort to—uh, break the ice so to speak?” asked Giles. “Cordelia is not likely to pick things up where she left off with Angelus no matter how much you’d like that to happen.”

“It could if Cor would just see the truth and accept it,” Angel dragged his thoughts out of their bed and back to the present.

Giles sighed. “This isn’t as simple or easy to understand from her point of view. What have you done to make this transition easier?”

“What have I done?” Angel couldn’t believe that he was the one expected to make things easier. After a moment of staring at the Watcher in silent irritation, he confessed, “I’ve tried every damn thing I can think of to give her all of the space and patience I can allow. My patience is wearing a little thin at the moment.”

“Well, I know that Cordelia was concerned about your continued…attentions,” Giles was trying to phrase it delicately. The sexual tension between the pair was only escalating to the point that it was noticeable whenever they were together. He had to admire Angel’s self-restraint considering his vampiric nature and admitted to some surprise that he had not forced the issue long before now.

Angel let out a dark laugh at the Englishman’s stammering over that particular topic. “If Cordelia was around more, I might have more opportunity toattend to her. She’s been avoiding me like the plague. Uses every excuse she can think of to stay away from me and only comes back home once the sun has set.”

No wonder the vampire was aggravated, thought Giles sympathetically. It was one thing for Cordelia to avoid intimacy, but she didn’t need to avoid all contact with the Moirae’s champion. Socially isolating him could actually create the situations that pushed Angel toward his darker tendencies.

“So she’s yours from dusk until dawn,” Giles murmured.

“Don’t make it sound like a bloody Tarantino movie,” Angel growled at him despite the fact that Angelus had adored that particular horror film. It was not something comparable to his relationship with his mate. Not that she was his mate at the moment— that was the problem. “Cordelia is back at the mansion after dark, but as for being mine…pfft! Don’t get me started.”

“Go home, Angel,” Giles encouraged. “Cordelia is in class and we shouldn’t interrupt her for something that is likely to turn into brouhaha. Focus on what you’ll do tonight. Why don’t you try to be helpful? Offer to assist with her homework.”

The vampire only laughed as if the idea itself was akin to evil itself. “Help Cordelia with her homework? You think I haven’t tried that one during the last two weeks? Let’s just say she refused my help.”

“What was the subject? Perhaps it was something she thought you might not understand.” Giles figured there were few subjects on Cordelia Chase’s schedule of which the vampire was not knowledgeable, but it was best to leave that possibility open.

“World history,” Angel returned smoothly, his eyes black with inner rage at the memory of his own interest in helping her followed by Cordelia’s quick retort. What did she care if the subject was Europe in the 1800s? Did it matter if he was there when his perspective was that of a vampire?

Angel reminded her that the perspective in question was that of Angelus. Did she want to know that? Upon revealing this to Giles, he saw the Watcher flinch in reaction echoing Cordelia’s initial response. “I shouldn’t have mentioned Angelus.”

“No,” agreed Giles quickly. “Perhaps you should refrain from mentioning Angelus until Cordelia comes to terms with the idea that you have his memories.”

“They’re my memories, Rupert. All of them. Mine. I’m tired of pussyfooting around allowing Cordelia to pretend that I’m a total stranger.”

Oh, dear. Giles figured the vampire’s sudden appearance in the middle of the school day did not bode well for maintaining the peace. “If offering your help has been taken the wrong way, perhaps you are making too much of an effort to please her. Women can be a bit contrary that way.”

“I know women, Rup,” Angel forestalled his advice bringing his hand down hard on the counter. “That’s why I’m here. So I suggest you call Cordelia out of class before I start looking for her.”

“T-That’s not a very good idea, Angel,” Giles rushed to convince him. “Nothing can be done to change Cordelia’s mind about your relationship that wouldn’t better be done at home. In private surroundings.”

Angel’s mouth twisted into a smirk. “What did you think I was planning? Seduction in the hallway? Sex in the bookstands? Borrowing Snyder’s desk— or yours?”

“Lord, I hope not.” Giles had the decency to blush when he realized the vampire was only joking. “You should try to focus on the future. On the simple everyday things. She can’t find fault with that.”

“What about last Tuesday?” Angel asked him referring to their research session right here in the library.

“Good point,” Giles muttered suddenly feeling that the vampire wasn’t being given much of a change to make good.

Cordelia and Angel were researching the latest threat when it so happened that they both needed to browse through the Navlix Compendium of Demonology at the same time. The ensuing stare-off quickly resulted in a battle of verbal ping-pong. At its conclusion, Angel and Cordelia were separated by the table and gazing hotly into each other’s eyes, while the Compendium lay in two parts between them.

“Fortunately that was only a copy and not the original,” Giles gritted his teeth and tried not to show his anger over the incident. “Can’t you just let Cordelia have her way for a while? Be the mature one. Treat her with kindness.”

What the hell did Rupert Giles think he was doing if not giving Cordelia her way? “Yesterday, for example,” Angel pointed out to him, “I brought her breakfast in bed.”

“That’s nice,” Giles smiled at the vampire’s decision. “Good thinking.”

Angel leaned across the space of the counter. “She threw it at me.”

His smile faded as Giles gaped in return. “Threw it at you?”

“Cordy actually accused me of trying to win her affections with my cooking, said she was not hungry and threw the pancakes at me,” Angel’s eyes narrowed at the memory.

“You didn’t do anything else to set her off? It just seems a bit much even for her.”

“I kissed her good morning like I always do,” Angel shrugged. “Hardly enough to merit having her breakfast thrown in my face.”

Angel had shoved the breakfast tray onto the end of the bed as he climbed in next to her. His fury was enough to send Cordelia diving for an escape route on the opposite side of the bed, but he caught her half way there tossing her onto her back and towering above her as his knees dug into the mattress.

“What the hell are you playing at?” Angel recalled demanding an explanation.

“Get away from me. Stop trying to make me feel something that I don’t,” she spat the words at him. Breathing fast, her lush breasts heaved against the cotton tank top she wore that night, one half of her touch-me-not pajamas that provoked quite the opposite feelings and reactions from the vampire as the clinging cotton drifted up to bare her taut midriff.

“Your heart is racing, sweetheart,” Angel told her. “It’s not in fear. Shall I guess at what you’re feeling or will you tell me?”

“Anger.”

“What else?” The vampire wasn’t going to deny her anger. It was there beneath the surface of that Ice Queen exterior, the face she put on for him each day and presented to the world as Queen C. He knew better. Knew what lay under that icy expression. Angel knew the fire that existed inside her and would rather have it than nothing at all.

Cordelia glared hotly, her skin flushed and her pulse racing in her ears. “That’s all there is.

He watched her shiver under the weight of his stare, heard her pulse quicken, and sensed her arousal despite the vehement denial on her lips. “Stop lying to yourself, Cordy. I’m not buying it. Neither should you.”

“There’s nothing else,” Cordelia sucked in a deep breath at the utter calm that came over the vampire above her. Like the eye of a dangerous hurricane providing a false sense of security, Angel made no move as Cordelia inched further away.

“Going somewhere?” Angel raised an eyebrow and contemplated all the things he wanted to do to Cordelia Chase before allowing her to leave his bed.

Not about to be intimidated, Cordelia narrowed her gaze into slits of fury. “School.”

“I think I deserve an apology before you go anywhere,” Angel told her as he barely contained the urge to paddle her bare ass until his hand was as hot and red as the flesh beneath it. He vaguely recalled suggesting the idea to her as an alternative.

“Never!” Cordelia spontaneously grabbed for the nearest weapon within reach.

Angel stared down at the bottle of Mrs. Butterworth syrup pointed in his direction. “You wouldn’t dare—”

SQUIRT.

The sticky syrup dripped from Angel’s jaw down to his bare chest exposed beneath his gaping robe. Fascinated horror flashed in Cordelia’s gaze as it followed the trail of syrup slowly making its way down toward the dip of Angel’s navel. The vampire was too busy watching her subconsciously lick at her lips to care.

In the next moment he stormed her mouth with a kiss of such intensity that Cordelia only shuddered beneath him in response. Pulling up slightly, Angel met her gaze noting with satisfaction that lustful surprise had replaced the look of horror at what she had done. A smear of syrup now covered her chin; Angel lapped it up with a sweep of his cool tongue.

Then her hands were on his shoulders, the nails curling into his skin, but only to pull him closer. Angel let out a deep rumble at the sensation wanting more. Sliding his hand beneath her back, Angel pulled her up long enough to whip her cotton tank top over her head. Without giving her a chance to protest, he returned his mouth to hers meeting her suddenly hungry lips kiss for kiss.

Her breasts pressed firm and hot into his chest, the deep cleavage marked with the dark sticky syrup that had tasted so sweet on her skin. As Angel’s mouth left Cordelia’s, she let out a soft moan of protest soon followed by altering gasps and sighs as he worked his way down her throat to her rose-tipped breasts. Those hard little nipples begged for his mouth.

Cordelia rolled her head back on the mattress as Angel’s hands curled around her bare flesh. Those long skillful fingers playing their soft strokes across sensitive territory teasing and stoking her arousal to a fever pitch. Angel reveled in her response as he curled his tongue along the traces of syrup, whispered softly across the beauty of her lush curves and closed his mouth over one pebbled nipple teasing it with his teeth and tongue.

The boxers he had put on before going downstairs were tented with the hard proof of his arousal. It made itself known to the woman in Angel’s arms eagerly calling her attention to itself by pressing into her thighs. Before he could acknowledge the move, Angel felt Cordelia’s legs wrap around him as his erection was cradled against her through the thin layers of their clothes.

The connection even through that barrier served as a wake up call for Cordelia who gave a shriek and suddenly started to protest what was happening.“Angel! Get off of me. Now.”

Slowly, Angel lifted up to meet her panicked gaze. The fear was certainly showing now, but it wasn’t directed at him. Cordelia was scared of her own reaction. “You want me, baby. There’s no need to be afraid of it. Not of me. Not of this.”

Then he kissed her again, softly slanting his mouth across hers. Sliding his lips open and taking her bottom lip between his encouraging her to open up to him. Then his name formed on her lips and Cordelia spoke to him between kisses, “Angel.”

Her hands left his shoulders and her legs tightened around him as he rocked his hips into hers moaning at the sensation of his hard cock as it pressed closer to her heated core.

“Angel,” Curling her fingers into his hair Cordelia alternately kissed and issued her protest at the same time, “I, kiss, want you, kiss, to stop.” Then she was kissing the hell out of him tangling her tongue with his as her fingernails dug into the back of his head.

Cordelia was hot and wet with arousal. Her hazel eyes glittered with it despite her voicing a demand to stop. Somehow, through his own haze of lust, Angel understood the meaning of her words if not the reason for them. “Let me make love to you.” The deep timbre of his voice dripped with sensual vibes as thick as the syrup clinging to their skin.

Then Angel recalled saying something that must have scared her. “I want to be inside you, baby. My cock stroking into you. Deep inside. My fangs— the way you lick them. I want to taste you, sink into that warm tender flesh. Make you mine.”

Caught up in his fantasy, Angel didn’t see the look of fear flash across her face until it was too late. He bent down to claim her lips again only to feel Cordelia’s teeth latch onto his lower lip with a hard chomp. The pain combined with his lust to cause a reaction that only made things worse. His human visage vanished behind the face and form of his demon as the vampire appeared gazing lustfully upon his once and future mate.

“Oh dear God,” Giles gasped in horror wondering what Angel had done to Cordelia in return.

Angel realized suddenly, that he had been talking to Giles all along. The red flush across the Watcher’s cheeks suggested he had not been sparing of the details. “She bit me. Do you have any idea how difficult it was not to bite back?”

Relief poured from every nerve as Giles reacted to the news that Cordelia somehow managed to avoid the vampire’s bite. Considering the passion between the two, Giles doubted that she also escaped consummation of their relationship. It was something he saw as inevitable. The only question was whether Cordelia was going to be a willing participant or if the vampire would claim her without her permission. Her actions to steer his own. Her decisions to guide him onto a path of Good or Evil. Naturally, that had more to it than sex, he presumed, but certainly that was part of it.

Trying to subdue his red-faced embarrassment, Giles inquired, “Did anything else happen?”

Angel gave him a wry look. “I let her go. Cordelia climbed out of bed and ran into the bathroom to get ready for school.”

“You let her go?” Giles was still stuck on that piece of information. Either the vampire had extraordinary control or he loved the girl beyond anything a vampire could ever experience. Stopping when he did must have taken an extreme act of will.

Now the vampire stood before him with gold rimming his dark brown eyes. “I won’t let it happen again, Rup.”

The words came out as a vow, but the Watcher remained confused. What wouldn’t Angel let happen again? “The food fight or Cordelia biting you?”

“Letting her go,” Angel clarified starkly.

“And this happened yesterday?”

Nodding his confirmation, Angel’s thought were already roving ahead to meeting up with Cordelia.

“What happened between then and now?” Giles’ curiosity overruled his own sense of minding his own business. He was so deep into their personal affairs that it no longer mattered whether that was appropriate or even sensible.

“The Ice Queen returned after her away game,” Angel reminded Giles that the Razorbacks were playing the Palmdale Fighting Falcons for the last time that season. “The game ran into overtime so the bus was late in returning everyone to Sunnydale. Cordelia stayed late with the other cheerleaders.”

Giles didn’t really follow the football schedule. “I suppose she was tired coming home after such an exciting game.”

“There’s no need to make excuses for her,” Angel suppressed a growl of discontent. “She’s determined to hold me at arms length. This morning, I thought I’d try that one for myself.”

Seemed like a strange theory. How would holding Cordelia at arms length benefit Angel? Whatever happened this morning must have continued to bother the vampire, bringing him here this afternoon just to talk to Cordelia. His further inquiry brought only a mute stare from the vampire who eventually commented, “I think you’re stalling. Bring Cordy here or tell me where to find her.”

Angel’s patience appeared to be at an end. While Giles had to admit that this was not his business and that the vampire had dragged him into it, he could not do as Angel wanted without offering up some advice.

“Cordelia may be mature for her age, Angel. Certain life experiences have given her a different outlook on life compared to other seventeen year olds, but she is still only a teenager,” Giles gave him a harsh stare. “You have to be the mature one here. She is essentially a young woman dealing with the loss of her beloved mate.”

“Dammit, Rup, she hasn’t lost anything or anyone. I’m here,” Angel shoved a finger at his own chest.

The Watcher knew what he meant, but pointed out, “Cordelia cannot or will not accept that at the moment. No matter that Angelus is part of you or that you possess his form and memories, she knows you are also new to her. Perhaps that is something you also have to accept.”

“I know that, Rupert. Cordelia already knows it, but won’t admit the truth.” He felt the frustration rise up within him. “She can’t accept the change and is hiding behind the pain she’s refusing to let go.”

Giles sighed, removing his glasses only to put them on again immediately afterward as he preferred to keep Angel within sharp focus in front of him. No telling how the vampire might react to this discussion. “Because of the physical separation of Angelus and Angel, Cordelia came to know and love you as two unique beings.”

He paused, waiting for Angel to assimilate that information and accept it as fact. Those dark eyes stared back and silence fell between them. Giles continued when he was certain Angel was listening. “That did not happen overnight, Angel. It has only been two weeks. As Angelus, you brought Cordelia into a very complex adult relationship. Now you’re dealing with the fallout.”

Angel growled deep within his chest causing the hairs to raise on the back of Giles’ neck. He told the Watcher, “I didn’t come here for the I-told-you-so lecture.”

“I can’t stop you from doing what you want,” Giles told him. “Just remember that there are consequences. The Moirae have set you on a course with a divided path. Make certain you choose the right one, Angel.”

“Save the threats, Rup,” Angel responded as he met the Watcher’s sharp gaze. “Where is Cordelia?”

After a moment of contemplation, Giles decided to reveal Cordelia’s classroom location. It would only cause problems to deny the vampire the information easily picturing Angel traveling from room to room in search of the cheerleader. Snyder would be upon them in a matter of minutes.

“This is the fifth period,” Giles commented as he glanced at his watch. “Cordelia will be in her Literature class. Room 207. They’re studying—”

King Lear,” Angel finished off as he swept out of the library with his leather coat billowing behind him.

The fact that Rupert Giles had Cordelia’s class schedule memorized did not really come as a surprise. Angel imagined the Watcher had pulled them out of class for Slayer-related projects on a number of occasions.

Avoiding the patches of direct sunlight pouring into the main hall, Angel headed up to the second floor in search of Room 207. This morning had been far worse than yesterday, he thought as he bounded up the stairs in the deserted hall. Yesterday, he had touched and tasted and all but taken what was his. Today had been about denying Cordelia something she didn’t even know she craved, thought her reaction to those syrupy kisses might have acted as a clue.

Inside Room 207, Cordelia was lost in thought again, her mind far from Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear. All day long, she had been thinking about Angel. About the way she had kissed him yesterday morning and her body’s passionate reaction to his touch. He had been so determined to have her, yet he let her go.

Cordelia thought about what he might have done while she was locked in the bathroom to get all that aggressive sexual tension under control. Had he touched himself? Wrapped a hand around that hard tower of flesh and brought himself to a climax she had denied him? Or had he employed that iron will and simply forced himself to ignore his body’s needs?

He wasn’t even in the room when Cordelia had emerged from her shower to get ready for school. Relieved, she figured he had gone down to Angel’s old room to use the other shower. That had only cause thoughts of licking up that sticky syrup from his chest and dipping her tongue into the well of his navel and slurping up what had gathered there.

Was it any wonder that she’d been distracted at the game that night? Daydreaming about hot, sticky sex with a vampire she still thought of as a stranger— mostly. She’d been so angry at herself for thinking those things. So mad that she practically ignored Angel upon her return to the mansion.

Claiming to be tired, she had showered and dressed in a pair of her comfy cotton pajamas before climbing into bed. What surprised Cordelia the most was that she actually went to sleep not long after turning out the light. She had no clue when Angel came to bed, but found herself back in that familiar entwined position the next morning when her radio alarm musically signaled that it was time to get out of bed.

As always, Cordelia had continued to snooze lightly as the music played, her eyes closed and waiting for the vampire in her arms to stir. Angel always awakened her with kisses. It was an annoying habit considering that she didn’t want him touching her. Very annoying.

Only this morning, the vampire stayed asleep. He didn’t budge when the alarm went off and it was some time before Cordelia realized he wasn’t going to move. There was not going to be a wake up kiss this morning. Opening her eyes just enough to peek at him, she saw nothing on his handsome face to suggest he was not in a deep dreamless sleep. Hard to tell with vampires considering the not needing to breathe.

Slowly untangling herself from Angel’s arms, Cordelia slipped her leg out from between his pausing when she thought he was about to wake up. The vampire only shifted onto his back, the sheet falling down to his hips as his hand slipped down his taut belly.

Seeing him like this with his eyes closed made it so easy to imagine that it was Angelus at her side. That gorgeous face and hard male body within kissing distance. Only, Cordy knew that it was not her mate, nor was it Angel despite the fact that she called him by that name.

If I know it, why do I want his touch? His morning kisses? Cordelia lay upon her side watching Angel as he slept. Tempted, she was so tempted to lean over and press her mouth to his just for an instant. Just to claim the kiss she was now used to getting from him every day.

A flash of anger burst within her chest as Cordelia realized what she was thinking. What she nearly did of her own free will. Slipping out of bed with a speed that nearly caused her to lose her balance, she darted into the bathroom to get ready for school.

Irritated at herself, Cordelia had mumbled under her breath through getting dressed and putting on her makeup. The vampire continued to sleep through it all despite the fact that near the end she had purposefully started to make enough noise to wake the dead. Finally, it was time for her to go downstairs. She had fiddled around so long that there was no longer any time to stop for breakfast and she would have to hightail it to school in order to make the first bell.

Grabbing her purse, Cordelia slung it over her shoulder and trudged toward the door. She paused on the threshold, glancing over her shoulder at her still sleeping bedmate. It was back again— that damn temptation. Cordelia walked back to the edge of the bed standing there staring down at Angel and nibbling on her lower lip. All she had to do was lean over and brush her lips against his. No big.

Only Cordelia felt her pulse racing at the thought of initiating a kiss. Even one that he would never know she gave him. Her lips were tingling in anticipation as they hovered close to his.

Then sanity struck hard making Cordelia realize she shouldn’t be thinking of kissing the vampire who was the Moirae’s replacement for Angelus and Angel. Fleeing the bedroom, Cordelia had slammed the front door behind her on her way out of the mansion.

Driving to school like a maniac on wheels had not been fast enough to escape her own sense of betrayal or the realization that she enjoyed Angel’s kisses. The entire day had been a waste of time. She was so out of it that there was no interest in any new gossip much less learning something from her teachers.

Giles had passed the word around the teachers’ lounge that there had been a recent death in Cordelia Chase’s family. They were all cutting her a little slack at the moment, but even Mrs. Petersen, literature and drama teacher, reacted in surprise as the door to her classroom swung open to reveal the tall young man in black. His eyes swept the room to find Cordelia who looked up at him in seeming shock at his presence.

“I need to speak with Cordelia,” Angel informed the teacher. “Family emergency.”

“Oh! Of course,” Mrs. Petersen rushed to comply with the request. “Go ahead, Cordelia. One of the other students will take notes for you.”

Willow raised her hand to volunteer, “I will.”

Hearing the familiar voice, Angel turned his gaze toward the redhead. He nodded in her direction simply acknowledging her presence as he waited for Cordelia to join him in the hall. There was a look of confusion and concern on her face as she emerged from the classroom, shutting the door behind her.

“What is it? My parents—?”

“Baby, no!” Angel rushed to reassure her. “They’re fine. I needed to see you. To get you out of class for a minute or two.”

Cordelia let out a sigh of relief, but quickly brought up her guard. “What is it, Angel?”

“You left today without something that belongs to you,” he told her.

Raising a hand to her throat, Cordelia felt cool metal of her golden choker. It was the only thing she could think of that Angel could be talking about.

Angel noted the direction of her thoughts, but continued by saying, “I wanted you to have it if you still want it.”

The fingers caressing her face curled to allow his thumb to brush along her lower lip hinting at the direction of his conversation. With a slow dawning, Cordelia realized he was referring to her missed morning kiss and then her heart was bounding in response. “You came here to kiss me?”

“That depends on whether you want it.” Angels stood close, but not quite touching as he moved his hand to the wall behind her. God knows he wanted it more than he should. Enough to come after her.

Cordelia knew she should be saying no. How hard could it be? No. No. No. Piece of cake. Easy as pie. Sticky as syrup.

She lifted a hand between them, planning to push at his chest, but found her hand curling into the lapel of his coat instead. Gazing up into those questing eyes, Cordelia whispered, “Good morning, Angel.”

“Sweetheart,” Angel covered her mouth with his kiss as he pulled her close into his arms. Neither one cared that it was no longer morning.

Chapter 42

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 40a   1 comment

Angel’s head turned swiftly toward her as soon as the soft words were out of her mouth. It seemed his attention wasn’t completely turned elsewhere after all. Well…good. She was glad he heard her.

Except Cordelia realized she used her pet name for Angelus with her tart suggestion. With her body feeling one thing and her mouth adding to Cordelia’s confusion, it did not take an irate look from the vampire to know she was in trouble.

Now wanting nothing more than to get back to Cordelia’s side and erase that haughty glare from her eyes, Angel remembered that he was still in the middle of letting Xander Harris off the hook. Turning back to the teenager, he carefully explained, “Cordelia is none of your business, but Buffy is no longer mine if that’s what worries you. So relax. Just watch your mouth.”

Xander ignored the part of the statement about watching his mouth. It was the same advice that Giles had given earlier. Hey, talking just came naturally. It was a defense mechanism— only in reverse since it seemed to cause certain vampires to attack him for making a simple point.

“So you’re saying that you already love Cordelia?” His curiosity was piqued now. Yes, it had been an easy jump to imagine the forever love with Buffy instantaneously renewing itself since Xander imagined her to be eager for it, but Cordy wasn’t exactly hanging on to New Guy Vamp’s every word.

Was she? Though she didn’t exactly present the ideal picture of the grieving widow, Xander figured she had to be hurting on the inside.

Willow jumped in to answer Xander’s question before the vampire could affirm or deny his affections for Cordelia Chase. “Angelus loved her. Angel loved her even if his psycho vamp behavior was a little scary. Liam didn’t know her. So by my calculations at least two-thirds of him loved Cordelia and I seriously doubt— from what we…uh…saw of him— that Liam wouldn’t think Cor was a hottie. Loves her? You do the math.”

Standing there in frozen contemplation of Willow’s theory on love, Cordelia noticed that the vampire was back at her side just in time to hear the utterance of disdain fall from her lips in the form of a soft, “Pfft.”

“Not my best subject, Will,” joked Xander while silently admitting his friend was right. Just looking at Angel and Cordelia, he could tell that there was something between them.

What he wouldn’t give to be telepathic right now. The vibes coming off the pair of them were electric. The intensity even gave him shivers halfway across the room. Both stood silently focusing only on the other and neither one with a single readable emotion on their faces. Not that Xander could tell anyway. Though he knew enough to realize there was a lot being said without a word being spoken.

Standing with her hands propped on her hips, Cordelia merely returned Angel’s stare without a hint of apology. She had every right to her opinion and it wasn’t as if she was responsible for his vampire hearing picking up her soft utterances. Not like she said them on purpose just so he’d hear.

Not like it mattered that Buffy had looked like she wanted to crawl up his body and wrap her arms and legs around him. Not like Cordelia cared or had any rights to him. Not that she believed Willow’s little theory.

Cordelia denied that it had any effect on her whatsoever. Walling herself off from sudden jealousy or the spreading warmth of curiosity that hit after Xander questioned Angel’s feelings, she was determined not to let herself feel anything for this— stranger. Though it might be good to know what he was thinking because right now Cordelia wasn’t certain what was going to happen next.

Angel’s gaze went black, so dark the depths were as fathomless as obsidian; impenetrable and hard as the stone itself. If it was love, lust or anger he was feeling, Cordelia could not determine it to be true. His taut frame suggested reigned in power, actions controlled by a razor thin edge of restraint.

Love? It couldn’t be. This new vampire existed with the shadow of memory, nothing of his own experience. Willow’s calculations might be true if it talked of desire rather than heartfelt emotion. That seemed undeniable. Hello— vampire! The Moirae’s champion was charged with sexual magnetism, but Cordelia wanted no part of it.

No matter that the steely muscular planes of his body and the appealing angles of his face perfectly matched the image she equated with love— there was a difference.

Her mind knew it. Her heart felt it. Her body? Well, it was just confused.

If she closed her eyes, Cordelia knew Angel’s presence would be no less palpable. On the outside, she remained the picture of cool disinterest. Inwardly, her heart beat madly and every traitorous nerve ending tingled in response. Recognizing her automatic reaction, Cordelia narrowed her gaze as if to blame him for it.

Go ahead, vampire, Cordelia still found it difficult to think of him as Angel and kept distancing herself from the name. Do it. Whatever it is you’re planning.

Cordelia’s hazel orbs bore deeply with a mix of emerald, topaz and burnished gold daring silently for action. Slowly deciphering the hidden messages, Angel found himself torn by her conflicting signals. One thing seemed clear enough.

Looking for a fight? Don’t think I can’t tell, sweetheart. That I don’t know you.

Moving that extra inch forward, Angel brought his tall frame into the barest contact with hers causing a sharp intake of breath as the pebbled tips of her breasts brushed against his shirt. Anticipation or fear, Cordelia. Pick one. Can’t have it both ways, baby.

What’ll it be, huh? Gonna touch me with those wicked fingers? Kiss me until I see the stars? Cordelia knew lust. He wanted her and made no bones about it. No denial there. On his part. Make your point in front of my friends, champ. Just know that it’s them you’re convincing. Not me. I’ll never let you into my heart.

There it was again, Cordelia decided. That look of utter confidence suggesting she was on the losing side of this silent battle. Hell if she’d let this usurper make her quiver in fear— or longing in anticipation of his touch.

Is it anger? Questioning her own assumptions, Cordelia wondered if he was not mad at her for making comments about Little Miss Likes to Fight. Not that he seemed to want the blonde if his words to Xander were as truthful as they sounded.

Pure anger— I can deal. Go ahead and bite. Spank me. Shake me senseless. Whatever it takes. Go on. Give me an excuse to leave— because it’s not right. It’s not fair to them to be with you.

Sensing the sudden buildup to…something, Giles decided to step in. He had no wish to end up with either Angel or Cordelia’s wrath upon him for interfering, but the library was hardly the place to air out their issues. No doubt there were many. He had to admire the fact that Cordelia was even able to crawl out of bed to come to the meeting. After Jenny’s death— frankly, he was still not over it completely.

Clearing his throat rather loudly, Giles commented, “Angel, I think it would be good to see you handle a routine patrol tonight. Just to assess your handling of the situation in comparison to what we know of your…predecessors.”

For a moment, the vampire did not respond to the suggestion. He was too focused on the sight of Cordelia’s ripe lips parted such a short distance from his own. She licked at her lips, moistening them beneath the onslaught of his stare, but only because they were dry and not that she had any conscious thought of tempting him.

“Angel,” the Watcher called out again.

Lifting his dark head, Angel gave Cordelia one last look before turning away. This silent conversation was not over. He promised her that with only a quirk of an eyebrow and the slightest curve of his mouth.

“I heard you the first time, Rupert,” Angel answered calmly. There was no tension in his voice, no hint that he was bothered at all by their confrontation, Cordelia realized with an angry breath. She sucked air into her lungs and held it deeply until it burned, the anger at his control nearly causing her to shriek out his name and demand a response.

Which was it? Lust or anger? Or did he really expect her to believe in Willow’s theory? Not like the little witch had been on-target with her magick lately, so why fuss over the fact that her calculating brain decided it had an equation for love.

Slowly releasing the air, Cordelia noticed that the Scooby Gang was too busy looking at Angel or listening to Giles’ plan for patrol to care or notice that her careful mask had faded momentarily. It appeared that the vampire was not going to give her excuses of any kind tonight. Not with an audience present at any rate.

“I’m not exactly dressed for patrol,” Cordelia pointed out when Xander asked her to pick a weapon from the selection he had gathered. “Think I’ll head home.”

Xander realized there was more to her statement than concerns about her leather skirt and stylish boots. She kept looking toward Angel from beneath her long eyelashes waiting for him to respond. There was a flash of surprise in the cheerleader’s eyes as Angel answered her agreeably.

“See you later, sweetheart,” Angel captured her chin in a gentle hold and brushed his lips across hers.

Her lips remained pursed in surprise at his easy acceptance of her suggestions. The vamp hadn’t let her out of his sight for more than a minute all day. So maybe Angelus or Angel wouldn’t have wanted her out on patrol in the midst of potential danger, but it seemed a bit strange that Sir Vamp-a-lot was suddenly trusting her out of his immediate presence.

Removing his keys from his pocket, Angel handed them to her. “You take the car. I’ll walk back after patrol.”

“You’re letting me drive the Plymouth without you?” Cordelia barely controlled the urge to giggle in delight. Fortunately, it was overridden by the realization that this was highly suspicious. Home alone and control of his precious classic?

Not that it was his, Cordy reminded herself quickly.

“No big,” he answered casually although his dark eyes were sparkling with something she couldn’t quite discern.

“Yeah. No big. You just go out there and do— whatever a champion does,” Cordelia gave him a tight smile, “that’s different from everyone else.”

Meaning different from what Angelus and Angel could accomplish, he surmised with an absolute sense of surety. Still blaming him for taking away her mate and would-be-lover. It wasn’t that Cordelia didn’t understand the truth. She was far too intelligent to fail to understand Giles’ explanations. It was pure denial.

Time and distance, the Watcher had suggested to him. Angel thought time wouldn’t be a problem. That he could be patient as long as he could hold her in his arms. Smothering Cordelia with attention would not be any wiser than letting her run off on her own with the hopes that she would return. There was a fine line to walk with this fiery young woman if she was to accept him as her mate.

Angel wanted that acceptance, but knew in the depths of his being that his decision to claim her would not change no matter her decision. When he would just as soon keep her at his side, he held out the keys to his car and encouraged her to go. To stretch her wings. To taste the independence that was so important to her.

Even if it was an illusion.

“Drive safely.” Angel made his words a caress across her cheek which caused Cordelia to tilt her head away in silent protest; except the move only provided him with access to the exposed cord of her neck. His cool lips pressed a butterfly kiss there.

So much for giving her space, Angel backed off and shoved his hands in his pockets as he censured himself. He could hear Cordelia’s heart pounding beneath her ribs with a telltale beat. Just go while I still have the nerve to let you out of my sight.

***
Willow and Oz had elected not to come on patrol, informing everyone that they had something else to do. While Angel figured this was a cryptic way of stating they wanted some private time together, it hadn’t been any of his business and he forgot about it the moment the words were out of Willow’s mouth. What the hell was Oz and the little red witch up to?

Noting that there was no sign of the Plymouth in the driveway, Angel hoped that meant Cordelia had put it away in the garage. The sinking feeling that hit his stomach caused him to leave the front door gaping wide as he entered the house. He followed the noise of the television to the living room.

“Where the hell is Cordelia?” Angel demanded of the pair curled up on the couch.

“Angelus,” gasped Willow as she took in his appearance. “You’re hurt.”

“The blood’s not mine,” he dismissed her concerns. Other than aching muscles and a few deep bruises, he was fine. “Where is Cordelia?”

“Upstairs,” Oz assured him.

A heavy weight lifted from the vampire’s shoulders at the realization that Cordelia had not taken the first opportunity to run. That didn’t explain what these two were doing here. Asking them, Angel learned that they were worried about his ma— about Cordelia. That they didn’t want her to be alone right now. So they had followed her under the pretense of cleaning up the mess left behind from the summoning spell.

Still standing on the threshold of the living room, Angel glanced back over his shoulder to note that the foyer appeared spotless once again. No sign of yesterday’s activity at all. He thought it strange that Cordelia would abandon guests even if they were just Willow and Oz. “How is she?”

The witch and werewolf exchanged glances trying to figure out how to answer Angel’s question. With an expression of pure honesty, Willow let out a long sigh and told him, “Sad.”

Not that he hadn’t known that or expected it, but Angel felt the impact just the same like a tight hand crushing his heart. “She told you that?”

“No,” Willow admitted. “Cordelia actually talked a lot— about stuff. School. Homework. Cheerleading. The Dingoes. Anything and everything except you.”

Oz hit the power button on the remote control shutting the television off. “We’ll be going now that you’re back. Cordelia is one in a million. Willow and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to make this more difficult on her than it already is.”

“There is no need to warn me off,” Angel contained his growl of irritation. It wasn’t so much what Oz said as it was the fact that the werewolf thought it necessary. It was the same damn warning that Rupert Giles had given him.

Time and distance. No matter how much that made sense, Angel knew he would not be able to give her much of either. He was trapped between wanting her unconditional acceptance and needing to lay claim to her in ways that would leave no doubt in her mind that she was his.

After bidding Willow and Oz goodnight, Angel slowly made his way upstairs toward the bedroom. He felt like doing nothing more than crawling into bed and curling up behind Cordelia, but the demon fight in the Old Sunnydale Cemetery had taken its toll on him. So much for being a champion, he mused. The Moirae’s title hadn’t given him any new advantage over the demon that he could tell despite Rupert Giles’ observations.

Angel strolled into the bedroom realizing immediately that there was no sign of Cordelia, just the light peeping from beneath the closed bathroom door. The soft splooshing sounds of water suggested that she was in the bathtub. Their suite had both a large bathtub and a shower stall, but Cordelia preferred the luxury of a bubble bath when time allowed.

He remembered the last time he shared— no, that was Angelus, he swiftly reminded himself. Angel rested his forehead against the bathroom door just listening to the sounds from within including the steady beat of Cordelia’s heart. Its rhythm called out to him in its familiar tune and it no longer mattered that the memory of it was not his own because each moment spent in her presence brought those memories to vibrant life.

When Angel’s soft knock sounded on the door, Cordelia nearly dropped the book she was reading into the tub. There was no doubt in her mind who was out there— the vampire. It only came as a surprise that he bothered to knock.

Maybe he’ll go away if I ignore him, Cordelia thought wistfully. Right. Pfft! Buy that bridge in Brooklyn while you’re at it.

“Cordy?” The question came along with Angel opening the bathroom door. Apparently, she had taken too long to respond to his knock.

“Hey! You’re letting all the heat out,” Cordelia complained as he stood in the doorway.

Stepping inside, Angel shut it behind him while trying to hide his amusement over the fact that she had obviously intended him to stay on the outside. Too late now. He was too busy soaking up the sight of her to leave again so quickly. Cordelia’s soft chestnut hair was swept up into a curling twist on the top of her head leaving loose strands caressing the curves of her face. Heat from the water turned her skin a rosy hue flushing her neck and the slick skin of her shoulders visible above the bubbles. One leg was bent upward, its knee peeking out of the water with tiny white bubbles clinging lovingly to its silken flesh.

Leaning back against the door, Angel flinched in momentary pain as his shoulder blade came into contact with the wooden surface. Cordelia’s eyes widened and proceeded to travel from head to toe looking for other signs of wear and tear from patrol. He didn’t want to worry her over nothing. “What are you reading?”

Cordelia could care less what she was reading. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” Angel denied it. He went back to his original question. “Something for school or pleasure?”

“It’s King Lear,” Cordelia rolled her eyes, “not Cosmo.”

Pursing his lips wryly, Angel commented, “I meant reading for fun, not how to pleasure yourself or your mate.”

The bathwater sloshed in reaction as Cordelia dropped her leg beneath the waterline. “I wasn’t talking orgasms either, but now that you mention it, Cosmo is a lot more educational than Shakespeare.”

He had to laugh at her way of thinking. “Sex education perhaps. Though it surprises me that you don’t take an interest in studying King Lear considering his daughter has your name.”

“As if I need to be reminded that my own life is a tragedy,” Cordelia glared as she shut the book and tossed it onto the floor.

What the hell was he supposed to say to that? Angel stared at her like she’d slapped him in the face.

Cordelia lowered her arms into the tub and sank a little deeper into the bubbles. He didn’t seem to be planning to leave, so she found herself chattering and asking him about patrol, a subject that surely had to be a safe one— unless Buffy had tried something while she was not there. The idea bothered Cordelia, though she had no idea why it would.

“We went to Old Sunnydale,” Angel referred to the oldest existing cemetery in town.

“Not my favorite,” Cordelia scrunched up her nose. “It’s spooky and smells like rotting flesh and old tennis shoes.”

Angel couldn’t deny it. The place wasn’t the most pleasant internment site, but because of its age was often the center of demonic activity in comparison to the typical vampire risings at new cemeteries. As he removed his jacket, wincing slightly while moving his shoulders, Angel told Cordelia, “We ran into something unusual.”

That could mean anything, Cordelia surmised. Sunnydale wasn’t exactly the home of your average Joe demons. “How unusual?”

“Oh it wasn’t the demon that was unusual,” he explained as he dropped the jacket onto the top of the hamper and started to unbutton his shirt. “That was your typical eight-foot behemoth with a tendency to rip people limb from limb.”

“Nice fella,” Cordelia mumbled as her attention wandered down the course Angel’s fingers were taking until he reached the part of his shirt tucked into his pants. He yanked it out and continued to unbutton until his shirt lay open revealing a hint of the muscular torso beneath.

Angel slipped off his shoes and pulled off his socks. “The lawyers who summoned him to our dimension didn’t think so when he killed them all.”

“Lawyers?” Cordelia was almost distracted from Angel’s slow striptease. She nibbled at her lower lip as he moved to unbuckle his belt.

“That’s the weird part.” Angel had no idea why a group of lawyers from L.A. would be in a Sunnydale cemetery summoning other-worldly demons. Even the Watcher was rather stumped by the discovery. “Rupert found one of their business cards and a copy of the spell they used to bring the demon here. They work for a firm called Wolfram & Hart.”

Cordelia never heard of them nor cared to. In fact, she was getting a little bored with the demon story. “So you killed the demon.”

“Yeah,” Angel nodded as he removed his shirt adding it to the pile on the hamper.

The sight of the dark blue bruises covering his torso startled Cordelia into calling out his name as she sat straight up amidst the bubbles, “Angel!”

He smiled softly, reassuring her, “I’m okay, baby. Really. It’s just a few bruises. They’ll be gone by morning.”

Just a few bruises?! “You look like a demon punching bag,” Cordelia gasped in outrage. “I thought the Moirae would at least make you invulnerable when they made you into Super Vamp.”

“Apparently not,” Angel glanced down at his bruised torso.

Reminding herself that she wasn’t supposed to care, Cordelia commented, “That’s what you get for not taking me along on patrol. I coulda kicked a little demon ass.”

“You wanted to come home.” Then Angel reminded her, “We agreed you wouldn’t put yourself in any more danger until you were properly trained.”

We didn’t agree to anything,” Cordelia pointed out. Besides, she didn’t see herself training with Sir Paws-a-lot considering his touchy-feely tendencies. “I’m not going to train with you.”

Angel remained silent on that one. It was an idea whose time had come, she just didn’t want to admit it. He pulled his belt out of the loops of his pants and folded it in his hand.

“I was surprised that you left me alone tonight.”

“You weren’t alone,” Angel shrugged through the discomfort the move created. “Willow and Oz came over.”

“You didn’t know they would do that,” Cordelia countered. “Did you?”

Admitting, “No.”

“Was it a test, Angel?”

For a second, he was distracted as she used his name again. Test? What?

“To see if I’d be here when you got back,” Cordelia answered his unspoken question. “To see if I’d take the first chance to leave you.”

“I thought about it,” Angel made his confession.

“Oh.” Cordelia figured he’d go for denying it. “W-What would you have done?”

Angel stepped close to the edge of the tub gazing down at her. “What do you think?”

“Come after me?” she asked after a pause.

“Yes.”

“Bring me back?”

“Yes.”

“You’d do what you said when Giles was here,” Cordelia licked at the full curves of her lips.

Angel didn’t sense any fear as she reminded him that he already told her precisely what he would do if she dared attempt to leave him. There was intrigue showing in those hazel orbs questioning whether or not he would follow through with that threat. A hint of mirth at denying him the pleasure of tying her to his bed might also be found in her bright gaze unless he was imagining it.

Angel dropped the hand holding the curled belt to his side putting it in Cordelia’s direct line of sight. “You don’t have to be bad to be tied up, baby. Just ask me if you want it.”

“I prefer to do the tying,” Cordelia huffed in return now staring at the slowly vanishing mound of bubbles. Adding swiftly, “Not that I’m planning to.”

“Too bad,” Angel grinned that toothy grin that sent shockwaves down her spine. He put the belt down on top of his shirt on the hamper. “We’ll just leave that topic open for discussion at a later time.”

Fine. Cordelia sank back down into the water’s warmth trying to slow her rapidly beating heart. Now that that was clear, a more pressing thought occurred to her as she realized that she’d never kicked him out of the bathroom and now he seemed to be taking off his clothes. “What are you doing?”

“Undressing,” he answered with a grin that told her it should be obvious. Angel unzipped his pants and shoved them to the floor leaving him totally nude before her.

“No shit, Sherlock,” Cordelia snarked feeling her anger growing by leaps and bounds. “I was asking what you were planning to do once you finished with the getting naked.”

Cordelia kept her eyes focused on his, not daring to lower her gaze even under the pretense of checking out his injuries. He gave her a look that told her he knew precisely what she was thinking. “I was planning on hitting the shower. Unless you want company in the tub. Bubble therapy is probably even better for bruises with a taste of Cordelia in the mix.”

“No!” Cordelia snapped back quickly. She reached a hand out of the tub and felt around on the tile floor for her copy of King Lear never minding the fact that doing so made the cover rather soggy. “I’m homework girl tonight. Gotta read. No distractions.”

“That’s what I figured,” Angel opened up the door to the shower and turned on the water letting it run hot.

No sooner had he stepped inside the shower stall, than Cordelia took the opportunity to dart out of the tub, grabbing a towel along the way and leaving a trail of bubbles behind. By the time Angel emerged from the bathroom, Cordelia was bundled into a pair of her comfy jammies— a cotton top and bottom that looked nothing like her sexy nightgowns. She was propped up in bed with her still soggy edition of King Lear when Angel climbed into bed next to her.

Using her peripheral vision, Cordelia eyed him cautiously, pretending not to notice when he moved closer to her warm side of the bed. Angel lay on his back, his hands resting on his taut abdomen, but he was looking her way. “Kiss me goodnight.”

Her eyes snapped back to the page she was pretending to read. No way, Jose.

“Cordy,” his voice took on that deep timbre she could not ignore. It was neither a plea nor an order, but the sound of her name on his lips forced her to turn in his direction.

“Maybe I don’t want to kiss you,” Cordelia muttered even as she leaned closer to his handsome face.

“Then don’t kiss me if you’re afraid to,” Angel’s eyes gleamed with mischief knowing Cordelia was incapable of letting him get away with that particular statement.

Gaping at him, Cordelia responded with a harsh glare. “Afraid? Pfft!”

“Then kiss me goodnight.”

Scooting over so she was positioned on her side looking down at him, Cordelia leaned forward only to pause with her mouth hovering over his. Angel’s eyes were open as he watched and waited for her to make the move he’d dared her to make. Her hand moved inadvertently onto his bruised shoulder causing him to react to her touch despite being focused on the soft lips so close to his.

The slight jerk of his muscles in response to the pain was enough to distract Cordelia from her task, or give her the excuse she was looking for.

“You’re so bruised,” she let her eyes wander over his bare torso until reaching the blanket’s edge. Even if he wasn’t her mate or the Angel she loved, he was still a person. It hurt to see him injured this way and not provide her usual brand of TLC. She couldn’t because Cordelia knew he would take it as acceptance of his place in her life.

Cordelia wasn’t prepared to admit that he had a place. She only wondered how she was going to live with this vampire and not betray her feelings for Angelus. That meant she could in no small way let him into her heart.

“Kiss it better?” Angel suggested as he lifted a hand to palm her cheek. Then he knew the moment he asked that he’d made a mistake for the soft concern in Cordelia’s eyes turned to ice.

“Why you?” Cordelia demanded. “Why did the Moirae choose to make you a champion? Do you even know what that means?”

The moment for goodnight kisses had ended, Angel realized woefully. He slid his thumb along the curve of her lower lip wanting to taste its plump sweetness, but knew such an offering was not coming his way.

“I have no idea what the Moirae are up to or how I fit into their cosmic game, Cordelia,” Angel admitted softly as he continued to caress her face with his fingertips. “I regret that you’ve been hurt by their actions, but I can’t tell you that I’d wish they’d done otherwise. Because I want to be here doing whatever it takes to keep us together.”

Cordelia’s pulse raced as his fingers trailed down her throat. “We’re not together, Angel. We just sleep in the same bed.”

Chapter 41

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 40   1 comment

Chapter 40: Introductions

For a Sunday evening, the Sunnydale High library was busier than most school days. The Scooby Gang had gathered there just over half an hour ago at the request of Rupert Giles to get the details on Angelus and Angel.

Having purposefully held them off most of the day with just the basic facts, he had also demanded they leave Cordelia and the Moirae’s new champion alone.

“So Klotho’s metaphorical pregnancy was just that,” Oz spoke up when the others around the room stared at the Watcher like gaping fish, “the merging of the gathered essence of Liam, Angelus and Angel into a completely new entity.”

Oz paused to look around for other reactions. Finding no other opinions voiced, he added an interested nod, “Cool.”

Now Buffy, Xander and Willow were gaping at him. Apparently ‘cool’ wasn’t the right descriptor for the situation in their minds.

Giles was unsurprised that Oz was the first to understand the application of the theory. Though stoic by nature, the werewolf was extremely intelligent and insightful. “In ways that we will never be able to fully detail, this new vampire is the sum of his parts. A unique being, but one who possesses the traits and memories of both Angelus and Angel. He will know you all, but technically this is his first time meeting you.”

“I can’t believe Angelus is gone,” Willow’s lower lip quivered unhappily. “He was such a sweet vampire.”

Rolling his eyes, Xander couldn’t believe it. “Listen to yourself, Will. You just said that Angelus was sweet. Angelus! The Scourge of Europe sweet? No wonder the Fates got rid of him. What use is a sweet formerly evil vampire when they want a champion?”

“That’s not a nice thing to say, Xander Harris,” gasped Willow. “You take that back.”

“Will not!” Stubbornly crossing his arms, Xander suddenly felt like he was back in kindergarten fighting over crayons.

“Angelus deserved to be their champion,” Willow shrugged off Oz’ arm not wanting any comfort right now. She didn’t care if there were tears flowing down her cheeks again and her eyes were red.

Buffy snapped at the idea. “No way.”

“Way.”

“Maybe Cordelia had Angelus wrapped around her little finger, but he was still a soulless vampire,” Buffy pointed out refusing to think that Angelus might have earned such an honor. “It was Angel who should’ve been their choice.”

“Psycho vamp?” Willow railed at her. “He couldn’t even control his instincts much less act as a champion. Considering…I mean, just look at you…well, you know what I mean when I say that…hello!…vampire bite…gosh, if anyone knows that—”

Squaring off in the middle of the library the petite blonde and redhead parried opinions at a fast pace until Xander and Oz finally stepped in to stop them. Neither had ever seen the two friends at each other’s throats in a verbal battle over anything. Buffy’s sharp quips interspersed Willow’s continuous trail of prattling babble.

Clearing his throat, Giles gained their attention. “Your opinions are no less valid than they were last night. However, the Moirae had different intentions and now they have come to fruition. Cordelia and Angel will be arriving any time now and I expect you all to behave yourselves.”

“W-What did you call him?” Buffy asked in a hushed voice.

“Angel,” repeated Giles realizing that he had purposefully left that out the first time he talked to the Slayer. Tugging at his tie, he followed up with an explanation.

Willow clarified, “So he goes by both names? I can call him Angelus if I want too?”

A groan sounded from Xander’s direction. “You trying to give us nightmares, Will?”

“No. It’ll make me feel better,” Willow commented with a pout wiping at her tear-stained face with the sleeve of her fuzzy sweater. “Like he’s not totally gone, which I suppose he is really still there…sorta…just not himself, ya know…just mixed with part of Angel too and part of Liam…though we didn’t know him as a human except for that…uh…peek at him that Klotho showed us. I wonder what he’s gonna be like.”

Buffy hadn’t said anything else since Giles called the new vampire by the name Angel. It caused her to drift off into her own thoughts where she wondered if this combination of Angel and Angelus might not be closer to her own boyfriend. Former boyfriend. The way he was before the split. Afterward, Angel had taken on a whole different personality and not been himself at all.

Just one of the reasons leading to their breakup. Was it possible things would be better this way? “Giles? If Angelus was Cordelia’s mate, but Angel wasn’t— what does that make the new guy?”

“Single?” Xander snarked before Giles could answer or before his own brain caught up with his mouth. Idiot. What are you trying to do? Give her ideas? Wave a red flag why dontcha!

Catching the look of horrification on Xander’s face, Giles easily reasoned out what was going on in the boy’s head. “Angel’s relationship with Cordelia is complicated. Frankly, it is none of our business, but technically they are both unattached. Cordelia remains part of the Order of Aurelius and subject to the will of the master.”

Snorting, Xander couldn’t stop himself. He wasn’t one for screaming or crying. Most of the time. Especially not over Angelus and Angel. The tension over the whole situation came out in bursts of uncontrollable humor. He could just picture himself hopping around on one leg because his foot was literally stuck in his mouth all day.

“Like Cordelia Chase is subject to anyone’s will,” Xander would believe pigs could fly before that one. “We don’t call her Queen C for nothing. As the former boyfriend, I think I have a handle on that.”

“But that’s just you, Xander,” Willow pointed out thinking that her friend couldn’t bend a flexible straw to his will much less Cordelia.

“Hey!”

Willow shrugged her thin shoulders. “I’m just saying it may be different with Angelus. It may be different than before. We don’t know what he’ll be like.”

“Good point,” Xander’s eyes narrowed as a worrisome thought crept into his head. “This vamp could be dangerous. Angelus was on a leash while he was here. This guy isn’t. He could be just as psycho as Angel for all we know.”

“Angel’s behavior was a temporary aberration,” Giles commented in defense. “A method of madness to provide the soul with certain experiences. The new vampire is certainly not psychotic, but he does possess the potential for both good and evil.”

Oz nodded thinking of his own struggles being a werewolf. “That applies to us all.”

“Agreed,” said Giles with an identical nod of concurrence.

“Most of us aren’t demons,” Xander countered quickly. “Maybe we should keep an eye on New Guy Vamp until we know he’s gonna stick with the game plan, fight the Good Fight and not take up where the old Angelus left off. You know…suck the world into Hell kind of stuff.”

Buffy volunteered faster than the others could blink, “I’ll watch him.”

Frowning, Xander commented, “I meant all of us. Time share the spying duties. Keeping some distance, but carrying a big stake just in case.”

“Okay. You keep your distance,” Buffy ordered. “I’ll carry the stake.”

Rubbing a finger across his furrowed brow, Giles let out a deep sigh. “Stalking Angel is unnecessary at this point. I think we learned our lesson on that one the last time.”

Willow had to admit, “Our stalkage saved Cordelia from being Angel food.”

“I don’t think it was food he had in mind,” Xander gritted his teeth at the memory. “That’s what I’m worried about.”

Giles told him, “You may have a point, Xander, based on the past behavior of Angel when he was influenced by an imbalanced psyche. However, this vampire is not that person nor is he in possession of a split personality or a shared soul. For the first time in his existence as a souled vampire, Angel is a whole entity now cured by the Moirae.”

Giving the Watcher a doubtful look, Xander decided, “I guess I’ll wait and see.”

“Just watch your mouth,” Giles pleaded. “Cordelia may be sensitive to anything we say to the vampire. For all intents and purposes she has just lost her mate even if he is bound together with the others.”

Thinking about it, Xander reluctantly admitted that Cordelia had feelings. That came as a surprise to him having been her boyfriend and seeing evidence of more self-centeredness than open emotion. Until Angelus came along. Cor loved the vamp. He couldn’t deny the fact. She also apparently loved Angel, which was kind of eew now that he thought about some of the things that were said last night.

Xander thought about what he would be like if anything horrible happened to Buffy or Willow. It would not be a pleasant sight, he figured. He’d be a wreck. What would he do if Cordelia came in looking depressed and broken? The teenager wasn’t certain he could handle seeing that.

Just as the thought hit him, the library doors swung open to admit Cordelia and Angel strolling in side by side. Sidebar conversation dropped off to nil as those gathered turned to face the newcomers. Entering with a dramatic flair, the two stopped in the middle of the room as if surveying the response to their presence.

Knowing the group expected the arrival of the weeping widow Cordelia was determined to keep her own feelings private. She had cried her last tear and no one was going to see her fall apart. Not talking about it meant she didn’t have to think about it. Not thinking about it meant she didn’t have to believe it. Not in her heart where she felt she would always see Angelus and Angel as two separate loves. Even with the proof standing by her side.

Back at the mansion, Cordelia had planned this entrance down to its smallest detail. From the time of their arrival right down to the clothes she was wearing. Having waited to see what Angel was going to wear, Cordelia matched her look to his. Angel’s clothing was no different than usual: black leather, a shirt of crimson red and the duster.

Cordelia had spent ten minutes chasing after Angel trying to wrest the duster away from him claiming that it belonged to her vampire. Seeing that activity only as a source for his amusement, she had returned to the bedroom to finish dressing.

Selecting the body-hugging red top, a long skirt of supple black leather and matching boots was no different than choosing her designer wear for school back when the Cordettes were worshipping at her feet. It was a costume for the role she was going to play that day and if it took Queen C to defend herself against the pity and well-meaning smiles of the Scooby Gang that was exactly what she was going to give them.

Fastening the gold choker Angelus had given her around her neck, Cordelia knew that she was also showing the world that she had ties to this new vampire and the Order of Aurelius. She didn’t care if that was the case. Let them think she freely accepted it as a fact. This choker was the only lasting thing Angelus had given to her that she could wear all of the time.

Entering the library, Cordelia stood shoulder to shoulder with Angel as she surveyed the Scoobies gauging their initial reaction. If the jaw-dropping silence was anything to go on, it appeared they made an impression. Placing one hand on Angel’s leather clad shoulder and the other on her hip, she sent the group a cool glare.

“Rude much?” Cordelia snarked at their gaping faces. “Did you forget how to say hello?”

Giles closed his mouth only to open it back up again in order to offer, “Let me introduce you to everyone.”

“I already know them,” Angel reminded the Watcher in a slightly distracted tone. He was too busy focusing on what Cordelia was going to do or say next. From the moment she had come downstairs tonight she had been cool and aloof.

Angel thought about kissing her senseless and melting that icy exterior. Only she looked too perfect to dishevel quite so soon, especially since it was only earlier in the day that she had shown him the most fragile side of her nature. He had a feeling that she wasn’t going to show him that fragility again.

“Perhaps you do know them,” Giles cut through Angel’s thoughts to redirect his attention back to the present, “but they technically do not know you.”

Noting that the others were still frozen in place by the impact of the dramatic entry, Oz stepped forward to greet the vampire. As he looked at the pair, there were no doubts in his mind that Cordelia had fashioned this color-coordinated effort resulting in the effect of them looking very much like a couple. A vampire couple, he edited his thoughts.

“Daniel Osborne,” he held out a hand to the vampire. “I go by Oz.”

Angel’s mouth lifted at one corner, “I know that Oz. The memories of Angelus, Angel and Liam are mine.”

“Giles mentioned it,” Oz nodded. “Just being polite to the new guy in town. Not making assumptions.”

Taking the offered hand, Angel shook it. They gave each other a silent nod of mutual understanding. Then Oz added, “I’m going to speak to Cordelia for a second.”

He wasn’t just stating a fact; the werewolf was asking permission. Those demon instincts just ran deep at times. Angel wasn’t certain that Cordelia wanted to hold a conversation with anyone. Glancing her way, she appeared almost regal in her aloofness. Maybe Cordy needed her cage rattled a little, Angel figured. These were her friends, not a group of total strangers.

“Sure,” Angel responded readily darting a meaningful gaze at the brunette who regarded him with a haughty expression.

While Angel awaited the arrival of the teary-eyed Willow who had been standing close behind her boyfriend, Cordelia and Oz simply stood casting each other stares of defiant silence and quiet concern. Having known Oz during her days of dating Devon, the lead singer of his band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, Cordelia realized he was seeing beyond the figurative mask she had put on tonight.

That knowing stare dug deeper than was comfortable at the moment. An emotional lump formed in the back of her throat forcing Cordelia to swallow it down and for the span of a single moment, her pain showed in the depths of her hazel orbs. Oz knew that it was time to move on.

Giving her the barest smile of encouragement and support, Oz told her, “Friends don’t always need words, Cordelia.”

There was nothing to be said to that, Cordelia decided. Oz was well-meaning, but this was not something she was planning to share in any manner of expression. Turning her attention away, she looked back at Angel who was in the middle of a rather one-sided conversation with Willow.

Cordelia was none too pleased with her friend the witch at the moment. After Angel gave into her demand for answers, he told her about her missing memories of her last night with Angelus. They weren’t really missing. She’d been asleep. Actually asleep! She had slept through her last remaining hours with her mate all thanks to Willow’s pink potion.

Expecting a little anger on Angel’s part considering his claim to the memories of Angelus and Angel, she was surprised to see him grinning like an idiot at the redheaded teenager.

Faced for the first time with the reality of Willow babble rather than the shadow of its memory, Angel couldn’t keep the grin from spreading across his face even if he wanted to.

“Can I call you Angelus? Cos Giles said I could, so I am. That is if you’ll let me or even want me to talk to you. I mean…I know I wasn’t Angel’s favorite person after the interrupting of the Cordy seduction. Though it wasn’t really a seduction was it? He kept threatening to spank me and I don’t think it would be very nice if you remembered that. And Angelus used to be my friend, but last night I really goofed and did something I shouldn’t, but I guess you know that too.”

Willow sucked in a deep breath when she was finished giving Angel an opening to finally respond to her numerous statements. It seemed to boil down to the fact that she wanted to be his friend. She stood staring up at him with wide red-rimmed eyes accentuated by her orange and fuchsia sweater that clashed garishly with them.

“How are the fish, Will?”

All the tension seemed to leave her body in one fell swoop and a bright grin appeared on her elfin face. That acknowledgement was enough for her. She completely understood Giles’ explanation of the emergence of this new vampire as a combination of his three parts. It was enough that she could see the spark of friendship that had existed between herself and Angelus.

“Still swimming,” Willow answered as she spontaneously threw her arms around his waist to hug him.

Cordelia watched the easy acceptance of the vampire by Willow with uneasy disdain. Her thoughts did not play out across her face for she kept them deep and hidden, but the fact that Angelus could be so instantly replaced in the redhead’s affections by this alternate version earned her ire.

As Willow pulled away from the warm embrace, she turned to Cordelia. The bright smile dropped away as she realized she had seen that cold look on Cordelia’s face countless times before. In grade school and junior high, it was more of a snooty princess expression, but this was the full-blown high school version of her very own childhood nemesis.

With a gulp, Willow decided to wait a while before asking Cordelia if she was okay. She didn’t think so considering the cold look in her eyes. Joining Oz back at the table, Willow grabbed his hand and held on tight. Their mutual worried expressions spoke volumes to each other.

Looking toward Buffy and Xander, the vampire wondered which one of them would make the first move toward him. Neither one seemed to budge from their positions at the edge of the table where they stood leaning up against its edge side by side. Taking a step forward, Angel decided he would be the one to take the lead.

The dark haired teen eyed him with a scrutinizing stare as if trying to detect something sinister in Angel’s approach. Xander wasn’t so big with the trust factor considering the past history he had to go on. Naturally wary, he remained curious nonetheless.

Stopping several feet away, Angel met Xander’s unflinching gaze with eyes that spoke of danger, dominance and power. Inwardly, Angel found it amusing, but it was simply the way he found himself reacting to the boy who was so entwined in the lives of the women also in his.

“Harris.”

“Angel,” returned Xander after only a moment’s pause.

Xander had not expected the now traditional greeting. Though he wasn’t certain what he thought would replace it, the exchange came as both a surprise and a relief that the status quo would be maintained. There would be no expected welcome hugs from him nor would he have to become the new vamp’s best friend.

Without a further word, Xander’s eyes shifted over to Cordelia who now stood apart from everyone else. Striking a typical Queen C pose, she looked beautiful and untouchable to a degree he had not seen since before their days of kissage and gropage in random school closets.

A low rumble caught his attention as the vampire moved past him toward Buffy, now standing directly in front of the blond Slayer who hadn’t taken her eyes off him since he first walked into the room. Xander wasn’t certain if the growl was directed at him for simply looking at Cordelia or at Buffy for no particular reason at all.

Buffy felt her heart flutter nervously in her chest as Angel approached her, anticipation of talking to him making her struggle not to follow Willow’s example with the hugging. It would be so good to feel the strength of his arms around her. Straightening up to her full height, Buffy placed herself inches away. Close enough to feel the aura of his strength and far enough away that she could gaze into his eyes.

Moistening her lips, she lifted her hopeful eyes to his and spoke almost shyly, “Hi.”

His memories revealed that Buffy Summers hadn’t been in such a twitter around him since their first year together. Those soft panting breaths and her racing pulse suggested she had forgotten all about her last encounter with her former boyfriend and was willing to explore options with him. That should have surprised him, but Angel knew tragedy often brought as much forgiveness as it did pain. And if not forgiveness, sometimes the convenience of selective memory.

At least from some quarters, he mused wryly.

Buffy reached out a tentative hand, just reassuring herself that he was real and in front of her. It seemed so easy to make the jump from seeing him to thinking of him as her Angel. Curling her hand around his leather clad arm, she stepped even closer as their gazes held fast and all others seemed to fade from the room.

Focused entirely upon him, Buffy felt the tingling sensations deep within her solar plexus spreading warmth throughout her body as every nerve and muscle reacted. Her blue eyes opened wide, first with confusion and then followed instantly by a sharp recognition as she searched the fathomless depths of his eyes.

“Angel,” his name tumbled from her throat on a gasp.

It was followed immediately by the vampire’s acknowledgement that Buffy was correct in determining precisely where things stood between them. Though soft, his voice carried a potent message with a single word of his official greeting.

“Slayer.”

Catching her breath, Buffy took in the intensity of that razor’s edge stare. Her body wasn’t reacting with excitement now, she realized. It had been her Slayer senses all along acting as a warning that she’d been too emotionally overloaded to recognize. They still sounded off tingling madly at the close proximity to her natural enemy, a stranger that possessed the face and body of her lover.

Xander watched the exchange without a clue of what was really going on. All he saw was Buffy and Angel huddled close with the blonde clutching at the vampire’s arm like she did not want to let go. It had taken all of— what? Two seconds for them to start making with the goo-goo eyes? Maybe it was his own stupidity, Xander presumed, but he and Buffy had spent an increasing amount of time together apart from the other Scoobies of late and it had actually occurred to him at one point that it meant something to both of them.

Not.

A burst of jealously flamed hotly as Xander turned his eyes away from the Slayer and the Moirae’s champion. Looking over at Cordelia, he saw nothing to indicate similar feelings on her part. If she was feeling anything, the cheerleader kept it well hidden.

Eyes open, Cor, the advice sounded off in Xander’s head. Then his mouth opened as his own pain twisted into another suggestion, “Looks like someone’s gonna get lucky. Now that you’re single, Cordelia—”

Before he could finish the sentence, Xander’s words were cut off as a large hand clamped down across his throat. Pushed back against the flat of the table, he found himself staring up into the raging ochre eyes of a very pissed off vampire.

Angel hadn’t heard the slight pause in Xander’s voice. It sounded as if the boy suggested that someone would get lucky with Cordelia now that she was…single. If Xander Harris thought by some inkling of a chance that person might be him, he certainly had another thing coming.

“Keep your eyes, hands and intentions off of Cordelia,” snarled Angel viciously. “She’s mine.”

“Let go!” Buffy pulled at Angel only to be pushed down on the floor with a harsh shove.

The vampire snapped at her, “Stay out of this. This business is between the boy and me.”

Xander was gripping Angel’s wrist with both hands trying to loosen his hold, but it was useless. Then Angel’s attention turned back to him making the teenager wonder why he had not armed himself with a stake. A random thought passed through his oxygen deprived brain that his plan to keep an eye on the vampire was certainly justified.

“If anyone is lucky tonight,” Angel morphed back into his human visage and released Xander, “it is indeed you, Harris. Just remember what I said.”

Free from the iron grip, Xander sucked in a gasp of air. “I wasn’t talking about Cordelia,” he clarified with a strained voice. “I was talking to her. Suggesting that she watch out for you and Buffy. Looked like you two were about to— do something. Old habits die hard.”

“Buffy and I understand each other,” Angel told him feeling quite certain that the Slayer realized he was no longer of the same mind when it came to her affections. Literally not of the same mind.

Caught up in her own denial, Cordelia ignored the wracking jealousy that twisted her guts. Even though Angel had certainly made it clear to Xander that she was not on the singles market that did not rule out residual feelings for Buffy Summers.

The idea grated against her heart, but Cordelia kept reminding herself that this wasn’t Angelus. It wasn’t even Angel who might have an excuse.

Petulantly, Cordelia muttered under her breath, “Go for it, Bad Boy.”

Continue

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 39a   1 comment

Having not been impressed by the Fates in the first place with anger overlaying her feelings toward them, Cordelia was not about to concede that anything they told her was the truth. Especially after leading her to believe that either Angelus or the real Angel would still be here this morning.

Glaring up at the vampire, Cordelia mocked the idea, “Be a good little vamp, don’t bite humans and always floss between meals.”

“You’re staying,” Angel ignored her sardonic effort and got back to the original topic.

“Am not.”

Cordelia half expected the typical Angel retort of ‘Are Too’, but he wasn’t about to be drawn into that little game. He reached down to wind the belt of her robe in his hand and asked, “Which will it be, Cordy? Silk, leather or metal? I’ll leave you the choice.”

“You are so not tying me up,” Cordelia gasped. “Giles! Did you hear that?”

Giles was currently stifling a yawn as he leaned against the countertop. “At least you have a choice.”

“You’re taking his side,” she complained. “What kind of a Watcher are you anyway?”

“One who’s looking out for the good of us all,” Giles replied. “Cordy, the Moirae did tell you that your destiny is with Angel. No matter that you influence him toward the good or evil side of his nature. Do you believe he’ll let you leave anymore easily than the last time? He’s a vampire, Cordelia and you willingly made yourself a part of the Order of Aurelius. No matter that he has memories of this place, it’s still new to him. Angel may need your help.”

“Playing the guilt card?” Cordelia was torn by everything Giles had told her today. He claimed that this new vampire was both Angelus and Angel. Also that New Guy Vamp was indeed someone unique and different. The person Angelus/Angel should have been instead of being divided off into completely separate personalities.

While Cordelia found it hard to think that the vampire in front of her was the one who was meant to be all along, she couldn’t forget the parts making him whole.

He might not be Angelus or Angel, but they were part of him. Not separately existing, but part of him nonetheless. That reality hit hard, making Cordelia realize that she could not abandon him entirely.

“I’ll stay,” she conceded and scrutinized Angel for any sudden sign of triumph that might make her change her mind again. Not a muscle twitched. Then Cordelia added one stipulation, “On the condition that you find another bedroom.”

“The location doesn’t matter, Cordelia,” he responded with resolve. “You’ll be there at my side.”

Cordelia cursed the way her body responded to that husky promise. Damn him for sounding so hot and looking identical to her vampires. The automatic response was not a welcome one considering the circumstances.

“Cordelia is no doubt grieving the loss of her mate, Angel,” Giles pointed out. “Give her some time and distance to mourn her loss.”

“She hasn’t lost anything. She has me,” Angel countered now sounding irritated that the Watcher dared to open his mouth when it came to sleeping with or making love to Cordelia. Not that he’d specifically mentioned sex, but the vampire read between the lines with practiced ease.

Still, Rupert had a point and if making a temporary concession would get him what he wanted, Angel figured he could wait a while. A short while perhaps, but it was longer than he wanted.

Releasing the belt of Cordelia’s robe, he lifted his hand to the nape of her neck and smoothing his thumb across the edge of her jaw. “Agree to remain in the mansion and stay in my bed. In return, I promise not to force the sex issue until you’re ready.”

“And if I’m never ready?”

“That’s something we’ll deal with if it happens,” Angel forced the confident smirk from appearing on his face knowing it would not be taken well. “Time is something I have plenty of, Cordelia.”

Stay here and sleep with him, but there would be no sex? How gullible did he think she was? Cordelia figured he was not giving her much of a choice. She could leave, but he would no doubt follow her, drag her back to the mansion and proceed to tie her to his bed anyway. Maybe the real question was— did she want to leave him when he was the only thing she had left of Angelus?

Just as Cordelia was about to agree to his terms, the phone started ringing. “Oh, God, it’s them.”

Giles reminded her, “I was supposed to call everyone.”

No one seemed to be moving to answer it, so Angel headed that way. Seeing that he intended to pick up the phone, Cordelia rushed past him and blocked his path. “No, not you. It will only hurt and confuse people.”

“Are you planning to let it ring? The answering machine is off,” he remembered. The look on Cordelia’s face suggested that was precisely what she was thinking.

With a sigh, Giles told them, “I’ll take the call. Any bets as to who it is?”

“Buffy,” both Cordelia and Angel sounded out simultaneous groans.

The phone rang incessantly. Giles had his hand on it. “I’m going with Willow.”

Picking up the handset, Giles held it to his ear. “Hello? Yes. Yes, it’s me. No I didn’t call. Because circumstances prevented me from doing so. No. No. That can wait. Just as you would expect. There is no need to cause hysteria. We’ll discuss it tonight. Yes. Very well. Goodbye, Xander.”

“Xander,” gasped Cordelia. It hadn’t been Buffy at all. Not even Willow, which she might have expected. “What was Xander doing calling here?”

Giles told her, “As I figured, not calling the group has stirred up some worries. They all attempted to call me at home. When I did not answer, they presumed something had happened and that I was here.”

“Are they all in cahoots or should I expect Buffy, Willow and Oz to make their own calls?” Cordelia asked him feeling invaded and hurt by the interruption rather than reassured. “What are they doing? Trying to settle a bet on which vampire survived the night? Guess nobody wins.”

Angel felt like showing her that she hadn’t lost everything, but was too busy growling over Giles’ next statement.

“As your former boyfriend, Xander was actually thinking about you.” Giles pointed out to Cordelia drawing a frown of displeasure from the vampire. “It’s not as if they aren’t going to know when I get a chance to tell them.”

“I know,” Cordelia sighed sadly. When Angel reached out, she jerked away from his touch turning away from him. She felt his eyes boring into her back, but refused to let the sensation affect her.

Adjusting his glasses, Giles looked over to Angel providing a little more information. “I’d like everyone to gather at the library tonight. Usual time. That will give you two some time to adjust to each other a bit. I’ll try to keep the others out of your hair until then.”

“You’re leaving?” Cordelia gulped nervously. That would leave her alone with him.

“I think we’ve already established that Angel is not an immediate danger to you, Cordelia,” he commented. Then the Watcher gave the vampire a pointed stare. “Isn’t that right?”

Inwardly, Angel smirked at the sight of Rupert Giles defending Cordelia from his lustful intentions, the mere thought of which made the Watcher extremely uncomfortable. “You can leave anytime, Rupert. I’d never hurt Cordelia, but there are some things we will have to work out on our own.”

Giles asked Cordelia if she was okay with him leaving. She nodded, realizing that it was unrealistic to expect the Watcher to hang around the mansion in his pajamas. Still reeling from the reality that hit when she first opened her eyes this morning and the explanation that followed,

Cordelia knew that only time would distance her from the raw feelings that swirled within her seeking some form of escape.

After Giles’ departure, Cordelia and Angel were again in the foyer staring at each other with an uncomfortable silence between them.

Finally, Cordelia dragged her eyes away from his to look at their surroundings. “Geez! What a mess. Maybe I should clean up while you go upstairs.”

“You— cleaning?” A short laugh sounded from the vampire who quickly cleared his throat and shoved his hands in his pants pockets when Cordelia glared at him.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s time for bed,” he answered simply. “The sun is shining and I’ve been up all night.”

Cordelia’s eyes widened a little. “Your bedtime. Not mine. I slept all night.”

“Just come upstairs, baby,” Angel tried to make it sound like he was giving her an option. “You can do whatever you want once I’m asleep, but I want you with me until then. We’ll spend some time alone this afternoon and go to tonight’s Scooby Meeting together.”

Get on with it, Cor, she lectured herself. You agreed to this.

Once upstairs, Cordelia hovered around the safe zone of her vanity brushing her hair with an industriousness that went far beyond her usual routine. Her eyes were glued to the mirror, but Cordelia barely noticed the slightly pale reflection staring back at her. She was too focused on the vampire currently undressing behind her. The rustle of clothing sounded while she tried to gauge if it was safe to turn around.

Hypersensitive in her nervous state, her hearing detected the soft thunk of his shoes, the swish of his socks, the pull of his shirt from the waist of his black pants. Cordelia could swear she heard his fingers working on the buttons of that royal blue shirt, opening a wider vee revealing the hard expanse of his chest beneath with each open button. The shirt came off.

Next came the metal clink of his black leather belt followed by a swift sound as Angel removed it from its loops. Cordelia could easily picture how he looked standing there in just his pants with that bare torso completely exposed and his toes digging into the carpet just for the pleasure it gave him. It didn’t take her eyes to know it. She already knew every inch of that body.

It was bad enough that Angelus and his brother were identical physically. That had been enough of a challenge. One Cordelia had failed in resisting. Now this new Angel was also the same in form and face making it all too easy to picture him completely. Then the obvious unzipping sound that seemed to cause an electric ripple to travel down her spine heralded the removal of his pants.

Cordelia’s hand shook slightly as she returned the brush to the vanity top. Letting out a shaky breath, she decided to ask for a reprieve, “Would you leave the boxers on?”

A pause behind her suggested contemplation of her request. When the answer came, Cordelia realized she should have suspected the truth all along. “One problem, babe. I’m not wearing any.”

Gripping the edge of the table, Cordelia contemplated what to do next. Should she beg him to wear pajamas to bed? She doubted there were any. Tell him to put on some boxers? Should she refuse to leave her seat until he was under the covers and then stay on top of them herself?

Ridiculous! Who am I? Whiny the Wonder Wimp? It’s not like he has anything you haven’t seen before. Cordelia met her own gaze in the mirror realizing that she did not like the frightened expression staring back at her. Just don’t look at it. No! Him! I meant don’t look at him. Just get your butt off the chair and get into bed.

Standing, Cordelia held her head erect as she walked toward the bed, her chestnut hair shining in long waves down her back. Focusing on herself rather than Ang— the vampire, she unbelted her borrowed robe and flung it carelessly over the back of the chair. Picking up the phone from the center of the bed, she replaced it on its cradle on the bedside table and proceeded to straighten out the bed covers.

“Which side of the bed do you want?” she asked keeping her voice steady, but still not looking in his direction.

Then his hands suddenly curled around her waist pulling her back against him. Oh, God! He was still semi-erect and while he made no overt move to press his erection against her, his arousal was entirely obvious. Cordelia’s heart fluttered at the feeling of recognition flooding her body with warmth. Closing her eyes as she attempted to dispel the feeling, her body reacted to his closeness nonetheless.

Angel answered Cordelia’s query sensing that she was simply trying to hold herself together despite the way she responded to his closeness. “The side I always sleep on,” he told her.

Whipping around to face him, forgetting his naked state, Cordelia poked a finger into his bare chest. “You have never slept in my bed. Maybe you were in it earlier since the Moirae put you there, but you haven’t been anywhere before today.”

He wasn’t about to argue with Cordelia at this point. She was distraught and looking for a fight. Anything to keep them both out of bed. “I was planning some shut-eye before tonight’s big meeting, but if you insist on keeping me up I can think of more interesting ways to occupy our time and it won’t matter which side of the bed we’re on.”

“Hmph! You promised you wouldn’t touch me,” Cordelia shoved her hands on her hips defiantly.

“I promised no such thing,” Angel countered, tucking his hand through one of her angled arms to spread out to cover the small of her back. “Now get into bed before I put you there.”

Cordelia refused to budge. Damn right he was going to have to put her there. No way was she volunteering to climb into bed if he planned to be touchy-feely. Hazel eyes glittered defiantly and the tip of her chin raised just a fraction. Unblinking in her determination to make her point, Cordelia stood her ground and did not budge.

Hot-headed, stubborn little—. Angel’s thoughts trailed off as he felt the demon in him rise to the occasion. Making no attempt to hold back the reaction, the vampire let the primal urges surface within. There was no outward indication except the dark intensity of his eyes, but that was more than enough for Cordelia to see that she was pushing the limits.

A low sound rumbled from the depths of his chest, so soft that it was barely above a breath. After an endless moment, Angel ground out, “Don’t make me move you.”

Angry, Cordelia merely narrowed her gaze refusing to give in to his demand. In the next instant she was lifted up and tossed into the center of the bed. And before she could even untangle her legs from the long silk nightgown, he was next to her, over her and holding her down with nothing more than the heavy weight of his stare.

Cordelia’s arms were raised at an angle, resting on the pillow near her head. He was leaning above her, his weight balanced on his hands which were on either side of her chest. Close, but not touching. Just like his lips coming down toward hers. Close, but not touching.

“What’s next?” Cordelia panted the question as her breathing came too fast to sound calm. “Is this where Neanderthal Vamp ravishes me? Pfft! So not impressed with the technique, Lancelot.”

Did Cordelia know how close she was to ravishment? She was so fucking close and smelled so damned good. There was no hint of her earlier fear, just the natural scent of her skin, hair, blood and liquid arousal. Maybe it was not her choice to react the way she did to his presence, but Angel knew she felt it.

“That name may apply to certain aspects, Cor,” he told her leaning in so that his tumescent penis pressed against her from hip to thigh, “but it’s not the name you should be using.”

Lancelot? What was— oh? Cordelia felt heat bloom in her chest spreading up to her cheeks. She wondered if Queen Guinevere realized her knight might have been named for something other than the big lance used for his jousting contests.

“Egomaniac,” Cordelia grumbled glaring upward.

Not to be sidetracked, Angel decided he was fed up with her game of denial. “Tell me who I am, Cordelia. Use my name. I want to hear it on your lips.”

“Clarence.” She smirked defiantly, otherwise holding still beneath him.

“Try again, sweetheart.”

“Elmo.”

“Not what I want to hear.”

“Jughead.”

Angel’s mouth twitched at one corner. A deep timbre sounded in his voice as he said, “You are incorrigible, but you’re not going to win this one. If it’s not going to be my name on your lips, it will simply be my lips on yours.”

With infinitesimal slowness, Angel moved closer to claiming her mouth with his own. Cordelia watched him lean in, torn between remaining obstinate just for the sake of it while wanting to avoid the intimate touch of his mouth. Hesitating just a fraction too long, Cordelia prepared to speak her mind only to provide an open invitation to his kiss.

Though vivid memory provided knowledge of Cordelia in all her intimate glory, there was no substitute for experiencing the real thing. Angel had kissed Cordelia twice already, both times close-mouthed and far too brief. She moaned a protest, a soft disgruntled moue, into his mouth as his cool lips pressed down upon hers shaping them to meet his own.

His tongue flicked across Cordelia’s lower lip tasting the delicate flesh of her inner lip and darting gently to tease the tip of her tongue as it moved responsively against his. Lowering himself to the mattress, Angel turned her body to fit to his running a hand down her spine to the curves of her buttocks. His soft kisses continued to coax a response until finally Cordelia’s arms settled around his shoulders and her hands dug into his hair.

From there the kiss became heated with the thrust and parry of their tongues and the heady moans of their desire sounding from their throats. Angel took her tongue into his mouth sucking gently feeling her entire body react. Pulling back, he pressed a series of butterfly kisses along her jaw down to her throat.

“Want you so much, baby,” he confessed the obvious as he moved his mouth to her ear.

A soft shudder of pleasure left a wave of tingles behind along with an aching need that centered deep within her. Cordelia splayed her hands across his muscular back holding him to her aching breasts and feeling their pebbled tips crushed against him. With a shaky sigh, she sounded out his name uncertain of what she was asking for, “Angel.”

“Say it again.” His topaz gaze held hers for a moment before he attended to the other side of her neck providing it equal attention with those tender caresses.

“Angel,” Cordelia repeated, her heavy-lidded eyes staring down at the hard male body wrapped in her embrace.

In the back of her mind, Cordelia knew Angel was making a point. At the same time he was kissing her again knowing exactly how she liked it, exactly how to make her respond. He kissed with a combination of power and gentility drawing her response like a moth to a flame.

Murmuring against her soft swollen lips, “My full name, Cordelia. Acknowledge me.”

Cordelia’s eyes snapped open meeting his with a last hint of defiance. Saying it meant accepting reality and she wasn’t certain she was ready for that. Whispering her answer, Cordelia told him, “No.”

“You will, sweetheart,” Angel cupped her face with one hand to caress her cheek with his thumb. “I promise you that you will. Even if it’s not today.”

Silent, Cordelia had already used up the last vestige of her defiance. So she was very fortunate when the vampire suddenly backed off and settled them both on the bed. Left with feelings of surprise and confusion, Cordelia asked, “You’re going to sleep now?”

A wave of relief warred with her arousal as he commented, “I promised you no sex until you were ready. Are you trying to tell me that you are?”

“N-No.”

“That’s what I thought,” Angel told her. It was a frustrating as hell realization, but it was one he was willing to admit. He remained almost painfully erect. “Just hold still for a while.”

Pfft! Easy for him to say. Cordelia watched in amazement over the next ten minutes as Angel’s body slowly shut down. She knew precisely when he fell asleep despite the fact that there were no outward signs.

Looking at him like this with his eyes shut blocked out the signs she normally read that told her who she was seeing. Like this, she might easily mistake him for Angel or Angelus. Her body obviously responded like it didn’t know the difference, but then it never had. Physical compatibility wasn’t an issue, but considering this vampire had the depth of experience that he did including personal knowledge of her that came as no surprise.

Both, but neither, Cordelia thought over the words. Her fingers reached up to softly touch his face. Could the Moirae be any more cryptic?

Just how much of her mate remained within him, she wondered. Was it possible that Giles was right about Angel being a true hybrid of both vampires? Did that make this vampire someone she needed to love or was he really just a stranger? The way he alternately called her baby or sweetheart dredged up memories of Angelus and Angel using those endearments. This new guy clearly didn’t think twice about it and simply called her by those names as naturally as he called her Cordelia.

The heavy weight of Angel’s arm was wrapped around her waist and his dark head pillowed against her breast as he slept. He felt so good. So familiar. Cordelia hated the feeling because in her mind it smacked of betrayal.

Adeptly extracting herself from the vampire’s embrace, Cordelia edged off the bed and trekked into the bathroom. She couldn’t stay with him like that. Not without thinking of Angelus. Not without thinking of Angel. Not without acutely feeling their loss despite the fact that this vampire was here and in her bed.

Cordelia stripped off her nightgown leaving it in a heap on the floor. Turning on the water, she stepped into the shower hoping to wash away her guilt. If only it was that easy. Methodically, she washed her hair and scrubbed herself with a loofah. Then she found herself standing there with nothing to do but get out and get on with whatever needed to be done.

The hot spray of the shower had cooled slightly, but the beads of water spraying her suddenly seemed to pelt her skin eliciting the release of emotions she had bottled up since awakening that morning. Angelus! Angel! She’d never know them individually again. There was nothing to mourn. Not even dust.

Out in the bedroom, Angel awakened with a start, his acute vampire senses hearing the muffled sounds of sobbing emanating from the bathroom. Instantly aware that it had to be Cordelia, he leapt out of bed striding toward the closed door. Pausing for a moment, he wondered if he should let her have some time alone. It took only the next shaky cry to have him discard that notion.

Angel let the door swing open, walking in and seeing the steam clouding the shower stall. It obscured his view of Cordelia and he could not tell from here just how bad things were based upon the sound of her sobs. He knew the cause for her tears just as he figured they would eventually come. She had been crying a bit when Rupert Giles showed up, but it wasn’t really the catharsis she needed.

He couldn’t stand her crying alone feeling the need to be there to comfort her. So without further delay, Angel opened the shower door and stepped inside. She let out a gasp staring at him in shock and perhaps confusing his reason for being there. At least until she looked in his eyes and saw only concern written across his handsome features.

Cordelia hesitated a moment before stepping forward into his space, the warm water now sluicing over them both. He wrapped her up in the safe comfort of his arms and held her quaking body as the tears continued to fall. Standing there for an untold amount of time, Angel waited for a sense that Cordelia was through the worst of it.

Turning off the water, he led her out of the shower. Cordelia still appeared to be in a state of shock. Speechless and staring. Never a good sign with her, he knew. With efficient and gentle moves, Angel toweled her off and bundled her in her own terry cloth bathrobe. Taking his time fluffing her hair so she wouldn’t get cold, he even combed out the tangles. Cordelia mutely watched as he dried himself off tossing the towel onto the top of the hamper.

“C’mon, let’s get you back to bed.” Angel felt her arms come up around his shoulders as he lifted her into his arms. While there was a distinct possibility that Cordelia was clinging to him simply out of a need for comfort, he wondered if there was an inkling of acceptance.

Gently depositing her in the bed, Angel climbed in behind her tucking the covers around them both. Soft sniffles replaced the alternating sobs and periods of dead silence. He spooned his body against her pulling Cordelia into the safe harbor of his arms. She stiffened against him, making Angel realize comfort was not so simple when you were the reason for the angst and pain. Worse, the idea that you could be jealous of yourself.

“I can’t bring them back to you,” Angel spoke quietly with his head resting on the pillow next to hers, “but I promise that I will do my best to love and protect you. I don’t know what the Moirae have in store for me, but I want you by my side. Always.”

Chapter 40

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 39   1 comment

Chapter 39: The Champion Revealed

“Don’t come any closer,” Cordelia screeched as the vampire rose to his knees on the bed obviously planning to make some move toward her. The bedcovers fell away to reveal the same expanse of muscular torso, the same tempting package beneath the stretchy black boxers, the same hard thighs as her mate.

The body she recognized, but his eyes held the difference. From the first, she had been able to tell Angelus apart from Angel, but the vampire currently teasing her with those molten stares was neither one as far as Cordelia could tell. That thought alone was enough to cause her head to spin for it meant she would have to face the reality of why this…new guy was here in place of both of her vampires.

Cordelia darted to her feet edging around the corner of the bed. When he followed her movements with that glittering gaze, she held out a hand as if warding off the way he seemed to strip her with his eyes. “Eyes off. Answer my question. Who the hell are you?”

“You tell me,” he answered almost daring her to guess.

Hadn’t she prided herself in knowing which vampire was which? Cordelia knew that she could not identify him save that everything the Moirae suggested meant that he was their champion. His dark eyes shone with the inner light of someone she did not recognize.

Speaking with the determination to hold back the welling panic springing deep within her, Cordelia admitted, “I don’t know you.”

“Yes you do.”

“Huh.”

Cordelia reached the other side of the bed, conscious of his continued stare as she grabbed the cordless phone from its cradle. Despite his assurance that she knew him, there was a distinct feeling of confusion pounding at her chest. Besides, if this was truly Angelus or Angel neither one would have delayed revealing their identity.

Thank God for speed dial.

A groan sounded on the other end. “Mm-hngh? Yes. Hello?”

“Giles! I need you here now.” Cordelia didn’t pause for preliminaries barely giving the Watcher time to ask her what was wrong. “I-I can’t say. Just come. No! Don’t bring the others. Come alone. Now. I don’t care if the others are expecting you to call them. Just get your British butt over here.”

She pressed the off button. “Sheesh! If you were attacking me, I’d be dead by now.”

“Put the phone down, Cordelia,” he ordered while getting out of bed. “There is no need to be afraid of me.”

“Then tell me who you are.”

“…”

“Hah! Even you can’t tell me.” Pushing the power button on the phone again, a dial tone sounded as Cordelia moved her thumb to the speed dial for Buffy Summer’s house. “We’ll see how you respond to having the Slayer in your face for the rest of the day.”

With a speed that made her head swim, the vampire appeared directly in front of her and wrested the phone from her grasp before she could punch in the code. Tossing it over his shoulder, he sent the phone flying to the middle of the bed where it bounced once on the mattress before settling amidst the covers. His hands came down on her shoulders, not only holding her in place, but caressing them with his thumbs as he leaned in to scent the trace of dried blood along her throat.

Jerking back, Cordelia slapped at his chest. The panic was starting to win out rising in her throat as a high-pitched shriek, “Personal bubble!”

“I’d like to make it personal, sweetheart,” he returned smoothly causing a shudder to zip down her spine.

Cordelia stared at him as she backed into the bedside chair stopping her progress. It was that husky octave in his tone and the choice of his words that made her wonder. He’d called her sweetheart. “A-Angel?”

“Guess again, love.”

“I’m not your love,” Cordelia snapped at him. At least she didn’t think so. Angelus wouldn’t act this way. Not to her. So the guy admitted that he wasn’t Angel. The twinge of pain that thought brought was countered only by the hope that this was actually her mate playing some twisted vampire game. Doubting it, but having to ask just the same, “Angelus?”

“Want to try again?” He gave her a look that suggested he was expecting her to see the truth. “Just keep in mind…three strikes and you’re out.”

More games. Cordelia narrowed her eyes as she told him, “I’m giving Giles the third guess. After that you or the Moirae better have a damn good explanation.”

“Forget the Moirae.”

“Huh! That’s easy for you to say Mister Mystery Vamp. Tell me the truth,” Cordelia pleaded with him for any news that would explain what the Fates had done to her vampires.

Once again, he came to stand in front of her, invading her space like he belonged there. Touching her hair this time, his fingers weaved through the soft tresses as his eyes continued to travel the course of her luscious curves. Cordelia grabbed the navy robe piled up on the chair, shoving her arms into the sleeves and wrapping herself up in its thin protective covering. Crinkles appeared at the corners of his eyes as he responded to her defensive move with soft throaty laughter.

“Get out!” Cordelia yelled at him. “This is my bedroom. Find one of your own.”

“I’m not leaving.”

Dropping the hand that pointed him toward the door back to her side, she attempted another technique. “Not leaving? Then I am. My parents will probably let me stay in my old room.”

The threat of her departure was no bluff, he realized. Holding onto her upper arms, he pulled her close to his body forcing Cordelia to crane her neck in order to meet his gaze. “I don’t think so, lover. The Fates didn’t put me in your bed intending to allow you to walk away.”

“You said to forget the Fates,” Cordelia struggled against his hold managing only to stomp on his bare foot with her own and dig her fingernails into his waist. “Besides, I won’t be walking away from you. I’m taking my Corvette.”

“And one more thing,” she added for good measure. “I’m not your lover.”

“You will be,” he seemed confident enough to phrase it as a promise.

Shaking her head, Cordelia denied it. As far as she was concerned, he was a stranger that looked like the men she loved. With his hands on her and his cheek now rubbing against hers, Cordelia felt the tears start to gather. As his mouth hovered over hers, she reminded him softly, “Giles is coming soon.”

“Let him come.” Instead of kissing her, he backed off contenting himself with holding her in his arms.

Staring at up him, Cordelia heard the quiver in her voice as she asked him, “They’re gone, aren’t they, both Angel and Angelus?”

“What happened was fated.”

That stirred her anger again warring with the agony now gripping her heart in a vice. “You think I give a rat’s ass about fate? I loved them! I loved them both. I thought…I thought the Moirae would leave me one of them.”

Her pain was unacceptable, but the vampire knew it to be part of the natural course of her grief. Naturally, Cordelia would see this as a conflict where none existed in his own mind. Trying to comfort her, he assured Cordelia, “The Moirae gave you both.”

“Both?” Cordelia caught onto the doubt in his voice immediately.

“I have their memories, Cordelia,” he revealed while realizing the fact for himself. “I have all of their memories. Liam, Angelus and Angel’s. Memories of everything they have done. Memories of you.”

Cordelia tried to reason out what he was saying, but came to the decision that based on everything else he told her that this situation had no similarity to the vampire she knew before Angel and Angelus were separated. “So it’s not like it was before? With Angelus being there?”

“No. There are no voices in my head, Cor. Their experiences are mine,” he admitted, “but I’m not them.”

“Hah!” Cordelia felt as if she had caught him with the truth. “Told you.”

Attempting to explain it, but coming off rather cryptically, he told her, “Individually, they were only a part of who I am.”

“Then who are you, dammit!”

Now giving her a simplistic answer, “I’m…just me.”

“Pfft!”

“Don’t pfft me.”

“Pfft! I can do anything I want. You have no claim over me,” Cordelia countered with a gleam of triumph.

Only the fact that the triumphal look was echoed in his eyes gave Cordelia pause to wonder if he knew something she didn’t. The chime of the doorbell interrupted them and Cordelia expectantly awaited her release from his arms. When it didn’t come as quickly as she figured, her attention turned back from the direction of the doorway to the vampire who seemed to be staring at the exposed turn of her throat with one purpose in mind.

“Giles is here,” she prompted hoping to distract him away from his obvious intention to claim her here and now.

“Mmm,” he murmured against her throat as his lips and teeth teased at the soft flesh of her neck. “Let him wait.”

Holding her in a way that prevented Cordelia from reaching up to pull his hair, he made no effort to stop tasting her skin. It was only when Cordelia stiffened in his arms and the scent of her escalating fear began to overshadow her usual intoxicating scent that he lifted his head from her throat. Claiming Cordelia was something the vampire had every intention of doing. She belonged to him. The Moirae said so, the sigil of the Order said so, and he wanted it that way.

“Go to the Watcher,” he released her with a soft kiss against her startled mouth. “I’ll put some clothes on.”

Like a deer caught in the headlights, Cordelia simply stared at him trying to figure out why he let her go. Then realizing that she was free, darted in the direction of the stairs exiting the bedroom as fast as she could go determined to have a minute or two alone with Giles before he showed up.

Cordelia pulled open the door to find Giles standing outside wearing a tweed jacket over his burgundy pajamas. No wonder he had gotten there so quickly. The man had literally jumped out of bed, thrown his jacket and slippers on and gotten into his car.

“What’s with the stake?” She asked him curiously noting he carried one at the ready.

Glancing down at it, Giles commented, “You sounded scared over the telephone. This was just in case.”

“In case the vampire decided to politely come to the door to let you in?” Cordelia let out a snort and waved him inside.

Lowering the weapon, Giles tucked it into his jacket pocket. As Cordelia closed the door behind him, he stepped further into the foyer which looked to be in the same state of disarray as they had left it last night. No sign of the Moirae’s champion in sight, he realized just as it occurred to him that Cordelia hadn’t used a name when suggesting it might have been the vampire at the door.

“What is it you couldn’t tell me over the phone?” He saw her calm mask slip and fall away replaced by glittering tears that fell in fat dollops down both cheeks. Combined with her silence, Rupert Giles knew that his worst suspicions had come to pass. Neither personality had survived the night.

Doing the only thing he could, Giles opened his arms and let the weeping teenager rush into them. Trying to comfort the girl was the least he could do in return for her support after Jenny’s untimely death at Angelus’ hands. The uncharacteristic crying was certain understandable if his suspicions were true, but he had to confirm them.

“The Moirae’s champion is here in the mansion?” Giles received a confirmatory grunt and the nod of her dark head against his chest.

Progress. Now for a more difficult question. “The champion is a vampire.”

Another nod.

“But not Angelus,” Giles assumed that to be true from the number of tears gathering on his pajama top.

More silence followed. Not even a grunt or a wail to indicate that Angelus was not the vampire chosen by the Moirae as their champion. Only the stiffening of Cordelia’s clinging frame suggested an answer.

“Angel?” He asked with equal hesitancy in his voice because he had a feeling that were either one of the vampires present Cordelia would not have required him to rush over to the mansion.

Cordelia swallowed thickly and let out a shaky sigh before managing to speak the one word Giles was waiting for. Delivering it with only a whisper of sound, it was accompanied by all the pain welling in her heart. “No.”

“So who is it?” Giles voiced curiously eliciting a sound from the brunette suggesting he had asked something wrong.

“Turn around, Watcher, and find out,” the voice sent a cold shiver down his spine as Giles reacted with recognition and surprise. With a stealthy approach, the vampire had made no sound coming down the stairs and crossing the foyer floor to stand at his back.

Giles wasn’t certain why he reacted that way to the simple comment other than it meant he was about to face the unknown in the form of the familiar. He waited to turn as Cordelia was busily wiping her eyes with the front of his pajama top leaving dark mascara streaks behind. Keeping a supportive arm around her, Giles whirled them around.

“I’m feeling a little overdressed,” the vampire commented drolly glancing at the pair in front of him.

Sputtering a bit, Giles realized that both he and Cordelia were in an untidy state of undress. Compared to the vampire’s immaculate appearance in a royal blue shirt and black pants, it certainly seemed that one of them was dressed inappropriately for the occasion. Tweed and striped cotton were not exactly what he would have selected to meet the Moirae’s champion for the first time under normal circumstances.

“I-I was concerned for Cordelia. The phone call she made suggested that she needed my help,” Giles defended his state of dress as emergency response. “So I came over immediately.”

“Very touching, Rupert,” the vampire responded smoothly meeting the Watcher eye to eye as he strolled closer. “Giving Cordelia a shoulder to cry on this way is so kind and fatherly of you.”

It was not the tone of his voice, but the pointed stare that suggested the vampire hinted his concern might be based on something less parental by nature. Evidenced by the fact that his arm was around Cordelia’s shoulder and her arms remained around his waist. Finally, it dawned on him that no matter who this vampire was, he remained completely territorial when it came to Cordelia Chase.

Fascinating, Giles thought even as he extracted himself out of Cordelia’s arms to put some distance between them.

Cordelia gave the Watcher a confused look as if he was taking away a blanket of protection without explanation. She eyed the vampire suspiciously. “Did you threaten Giles?”

“Me? Threaten the Watcher?” He gave her a look of pure innocence complete with a pair of puppy dog eyes. “All I did was thank him for responding so quickly to your call. After all, he did promise Angelus he would look after you.”

Finding nothing to prove it, Cordelia glanced over at Giles whose face remained calm and without a hint of anything to suggest he was feeling threatened. Except that his hand had wandered into the pocket of his jacket where he’d put the wooden stake.

“I knew it!” Cordelia whirled around so that the oversized navy robe slid right off her shoulder revealing the golden skin beneath. Stalking up to the vampire, she poked him in the chest. “Don’t think you can get away with that crap. I know possessive vampire behavior when I see it and you have no right to play that card with me.”

He found her fury enchanting. Reaching in, the vampire curled one hand around the nape of her neck and brought his mouth down on hers in a heated kiss that left her gasping for breath. Looking even more beautiful with her kiss-swollen lips, Cordelia attempted to smack his face only to have her hand caught and returned to her side.

“I have every right.” A growl of discontent sounded, but it came from the depths of Cordelia’s throat causing the vampire to smirk in response. To her further irritation, he straightened her robe before tucking her into his side and suggesting to Giles that they continue the discussion in the kitchen.

The Watcher had observed the entire exchange with a combination of fascination and concern. At the vampire’s mention of the kitchen, he commented, “I could do with a cup of tea.”

“Is that all he has to say?” Cordelia muttered under her breath. “Tea: the solution to everything.”

Leaning toward her ear as they walked, the vampire whispered conspiratorially, “Just between you and me, babe. I heard that.”

“Let. Go. Of. Me.” Cordelia enunciated the words through clenched teeth. Whispering furiously with another reminder about her personal bubble which went ignored until they reached the kitchen. Springing away from him at the first opportunity, Cordelia scampered to the other side of the island where she busied herself with making Giles his tea.

The Watcher and the vampire sat down across the table from one another with the latter appearing completely comfortable with his surroundings while the former did not. Giles fidgeted in his chair while gathering his thoughts for the slew of questions in his head.

“So Cordelia tells me that you are neither Angelus nor Angel,” Giles started off with the basics. On the other side of the kitchen, Cordelia slammed the metal tea kettle down on the stove causing him to jump in response to the sudden noise.

“I am both, but neither,” the vampire responded after a pause.

Cordelia let out a loud, “Pfft! Cryptic much?”

On the contrary, Giles found the logic quite simple. “You are a unique entity with the essence and memory of those who came before you.”

“I think so.”

“Fascinating,” Giles murmured. Then turning to share his enthusiasm with Cordelia, he remembered the teenager had another opinion altogether. She sent him a harsh glare cutting him off mid-sentence as he was adding, “I find this all quite—”

Turning on her heel, Cordelia opened up the refrigerator taking out the remaining orange juice and the container of pig blood. Setting them on the counter, she went to pull down a mug to heat up the blood, but found only two choices in the cabinet. One belonged to Angelus and the other to Angel. Like she would give one of their mugs to him. Pfft! Not likely.

She returned the blood to the refrigerator, stubbornly refusing to consider any other methods of warming it for the vampire.

Fixing her own orange juice, Cordelia saw there was only a small amount remaining. Apparently Willow used most of it for her pink concoction. Finishing off the quarter of a glass of juice, Cordelia suddenly realized she couldn’t remember what happened after Angelus carried her upstairs last night.

Those missing hours kept her mind occupied until the whistling of the tea kettle snapped her out of her thoughts. Then overhearing Giles’ next question, she nearly dropped the kettle onto the floor.

“Do you plan to call yourself Angelus or Angel?”

The vampire started to respond, “I hadn’t—,” when Cordelia let out a yelp of pain in response to touching the hot kettle with her bare hand. No sooner had she screamed than he was at her side lifting the kettle to the stove and examining her hands for any sign of injury.

Giles hopped out of his chair, stepping over to the island. “Oh, dear. Run your hands under the cold water. Perhaps they won’t blister.”

Pure discontent sounded in the form of a low rumble from the vampire’s chest at the thought that Cordelia might be burned. “Do as he says.”

He turned on the water for her and waited by her side until he was satisfied that she left them under long enough.

“Enough with the attention already,” Cordelia complained. “I’m fine. I barely touched the thing.”

“Let me see.”

Rolling her eyes toward the ceiling, she held her hands out for inspection. “See? All better now.”

“This happened because of Rupert’s question,” he presumed correctly. “You don’t think I should call myself Angelus.”

“Obvious much?”

While drying her hands with a kitchen towel, he explained why she would have to get used to hearing it. “The name is a part of my heritage as a vampire. Angelus and the shorter version Angel will remain with me as a reminder of my origins.”

Snatching her hands away from him, Cordelia demanded, “Pick another name. Hmm. A name for a champion. How about Lancelot? No? Seymour?”

“Seymour?”

“No. Not vampy enough. Vladamir? I suppose that’s been used.”

Giles cleared his throat in hopes of gaining Cordelia’s attention. Any moment now he expected the vampire was going to explode with rage. Considering that was what the previous two versions of this vampire would have done being suddenly faced with a suggestion that they willingly go by the monikers of Elmo, Barney, Clarence. Being a Rupert by birth rather than choice, Giles figured the vampire would not take kindly to the suggestions.

Instead, he patiently waited for Cordelia to run out of names and air before boxing her in against the kitchen counter. Without looking away from the bright hazel orbs that had his attention, he commanded Giles, “Tell her who I am, Watcher.”

All evidence thus far pointed to the fact that all of Giles’ theories on the subject were correct. “Lakhesis told us of the Moirae’s plans, Cordelia. They planned to fashion a champion from the existence and experience of the human Liam, the demon Angelus and the souled Angel. Through the many trials of life and death, suffering, inflicting pain and experiencing love, they created situations to produce desired outcomes, but only if their future champion followed the path they set before him.”

Giles really needed that tea right now, but forced himself to continue despite his frazzled nerves. “One of those situations resulted in the gypsy curse that not only gave Angelus a soul, but fragmented his psyche. Again, this was a tool used to shape the champion through his experiences. Only recently the separation of those two distinct personalities allowed Angelus and Angel to exist in physical form at the same time.”

“They fought the Good Fight,” Cordelia cut into Giles’ oratory still seeking answers. Fighting back a sob as she stared up at the vampire’s handsome face, “They didn’t deserve to die.”

The Watcher corrected, “They did not die. Angelus and Angel have simply been cured as only the Moirae could accomplish.”

Now glancing over her shoulder, she repeated the word as a question, “Cured?”

“The Moirae merged them back together, but fixed the split personality problem,” he told her. “The vampire here today is actually a hybrid of Angelus and Angel. With a certain amount of Liam added to the mix. He is the vampire he should have been if the curse hadn’t had that unexpected side effect.”

“Both, but neither,” Cordelia found the words sinking in. “What about his soul?”

Giles was a bit stumped on that one. “I presume he has one.”

“Can’t you tell?”

“Sorry,” he answered dryly. “I left my soul detector in my other jacket.”

“I was talking to him,” she nodded toward the vampire who continued to keep her within the enclosed frame of his arms and the cabinet.

The Watcher felt heat sweep up to his ears. “Oh. Right, then.”

“Yes, I have a soul.”

“Any other side effects for your soul left over from that gypsy curse? Say, you losing it?”

Giles cut in again, almost excitedly as he realized, “The soul is permanent. Not only would the Moirae ensure it, but there is no separate Angelus to emerge.”

“Were you planning to make me happy just so you could have your mate back?”

With a shocked look, Cordelia denied it vehemently. “Make you happy? I won’t even make you breakfast.”

“We’ll see about that Cordelia Chase.”

Asking warily, she questioned him, “Which part?”

“Take a guess, sweetheart,” the vampire smirked. “We can discuss it after Rupert leaves.”

“Giles isn’t leaving.”

“Well, actually,” the Watcher began when he caught the vampire’s gaze, “perhaps I should head back home.”

“No!” Cordelia turned around so that she faced Giles from across the island only to feel the vampire shift closer so that his hips pressed into her curved bottom. “Before you came, Elmo here tried to bite me.”

“El—,” Giles released a long sigh. Then with more concern, “He tried to bite you?”

“Hello! Vampire.” Cordelia reminded him. “He thinks he has some claim on me. Just because Angelus is part of who he is— kinda. Tell him, Giles.”

“Tell him what?”

For someone who was so smart, Rupert Giles could be so damn dense at times. “It’s simple. Just tell him that he has no claim on me.”

Giles removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose as if a sudden headache hit him. Why were there no simple questions? In fact, Giles preferred complicated ones, but not when issuing information out to people who might not like what they were going to hear.

“First off, let’s clear up the issue about the name,” Giles pleaded. “I’m not going to keep calling him ‘The Vampire’ all day.”

“Just call him Clarence,” Cordelia suggested with a straight face while simultaneously elbowing the vampire in the stomach as he trailed the back of his fingers down the curve of her spine.

She sensed he was laughing at her, but refused to turn around to call him on it. Even Giles appeared to be fighting off something, but Cordelia doubted it was laughter. He had Frustration Face on, quickly replacing his glasses as a shield to cover it up as if that did any good.

“Angelo? Jello for short?” Cordelia almost couldn’t stop herself. The thought of calling someone who seemed like a stranger to her by the name of her mate or his brother was not pleasant. It would be a constant reminder of what she had lost.

“Somehow, I don’t think he wants to be known as Jello,” Giles drolled realizing just how indulgent the vampire was being with the girl. Although the Watcher noted that he seemed to be unable to keep his hands off of her. No wonder Cordelia found this unsettling.

Cordelia sensed she was fighting a losing battle with the names, but wasn’t about to give up. “Just trying to be helpful.”

“I see that,” Giles sent the vampire a sympathetic look before he realized what he was doing. “So what’s it to be? Angelus or Angel?”

“Angelus D’Aurelius is the formal version and Angel the shorter variation. To me, they have equal meaning,” the vampire declared. “I have no preference for one versus the other. Call me whichever you are comfortable with.”

Giles nodded in agreement. Despite his recent peaceable dealings with the soulless version of the vampire, the name of Angelus himself would always bring back painful memories. Given a choice, he made it quickly, “Angel it is.”

A distinct grumbling sounded from Cordelia who attempted to move away from her trapped position only to find that she couldn’t budge. Practically draped across her back, her captor rested his cheek on her hair to tell her softly, “I suggest that you don’t squirm so much.”

There was no need to ask the reason. Cordelia could feel it pressing into her behind. She watched a red flush creep onto Giles’ face. Obviously, he’d overheard. The man was only two feet away for cripes sake. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out. With a gasp, Cordelia held herself completely still trying to ignore the lengthening hardness actively announcing its presence.

“This is the problem, Giles. Gropey Vamp thinks he has a claim of some kind. That he can touch me. That he can bite me,” she added with emphasis. “Tell him he can’t. Go ahead! Tell him.”

While Giles figured the job of telling the vampire that touching and biting were off limits was actually Cordelia’s, he realized there was more to it than her discomfort with Angel’s closeness.

Resuming Watcher’s mode, Giles figured that this combined version of Angelus and Angel retained feelings and memories that gave him certain preexisting ties to the brunette.

Perhaps it was better to start with what Angel believed his claim to be. Asking gave Giles more information than he realized was coming. Since the ritual of claiming was entirely tied up with vampire sexuality, he also found himself stuttering through his questions while Cordelia impatiently rolled her eyes at him.

“So Angelus couldn’t—,” Giles faltered a bit before starting to rephrase the question. “He wasn’t able to—.”

“Bite me,” Cordelia filled in with a huff. “Virtual handcuffs courtesy of the Fates. No biting humans, remember?”

Giles gave her a look realizing that she was actually angry about the fact rather than relieved. Glancing back to Angel, he queried, “So you have no doubts about your own ability to—”

“Perform?” Angel smirked at the human’s inability to complete a sentence.

“Function. No doubt the Moirae took care of that little issue since they created it in the first place as a deterrent while Angelus was supposed to be focusing on all things non-demonic in his vampiric nature,” Giles covered his discomfort over the topic with a long explanation.

Angel told him, “I’m certain Cordelia knows I function quite well. My ability is not in question, Rupert. She doubts my rights and wants you to convince me that they don’t exist.”

“You must consider that you are technically a stranger to her,” Giles pointed out. “While you may possess the appearance and full memories of Angelus and the original Angel, in Cordelia’s mind you are not them no matter that you are a combination of both.”

The Watcher’s response was not what Angel wanted to hear. So he informed Giles, “Makes no difference. Cordelia bears my mark.”

“I do not!”

“Yes, you do, Cor. Your skin bears a sigil of the Order of Aurelius,” reminded Angel. “That gives me the right to claim you.”

Cordelia hurriedly stated, “No it doesn’t.”

Still thinking about Angel’s reasoning, Giles skipped over the automatic rejection of the vampire’s theory. Confirming with Cordelia, “You have a tattoo?”

She nodded. “I’m surprised Xander didn’t say something. He was drooling to see it.”

In fact, Giles was quite interested himself…from a historian’s perspective of course. “I wouldn’t mind—”

“No,” Angel denied him the opportunity to finish his sentence much less take a look at Cordelia’s tattoo. Describing the sigil, he told the Watcher, “You’ll have to take my word for it that it exists and that it is a true mark of the Order.”

Disappointed, Giles accepted the vampire’s decision, but realized that Angelus had been unable to claim his mate through the usual vampiric ritual of bloodplay. He chose to make his mark another way. Now noticing Angel was wearing the Ring of the Master, his sleep deprived brain slowly came to a realization that Cordelia was not going to like his answer. Nor would the vampire considering his clear intentions toward making a claim on the brunette.

Why am I always the bearer of bad tidings? Giles complained silently. Best get on with it then.

“Cordelia, when you became Angelus’ mate and accepted the mark of the tattoo, it was technically no different in your eyes or his that it was a symbol of your bond.” Giles cleared his throat before continuing and watched as her hazel eyes narrowed in suspicion at the direction he was going with this. “You became an official member of the Order of Aurelius.”

“With him so far, babe?”

Detecting the confidence in the question, she reluctantly let out an affirmatory, “Mm-hmm.”

“As Angel is in possession of the Master’s ring,” Giles pointed out, “that makes him the head of the order. By mere association, vampiric laws and tradition make you… uh, technically his.”

“Mine.” The husky sound of his voice rumbled in her ear.

Turning around to face him, Cordelia shoved at his chest until Angel gave her some room. “First off, you can just forget about that. Angelus was my mate. You’re not. Try anything that involves your fangs and my neck if I don’t want it and I’ll make sure the Moirae’s champion fits in a dustpan. Got it?”

“Got it, sweetheart.” Angel only threw her own words back at her, “If you don’t want it.”

Was he actually suggesting that she did? That he could make her want it? Pfft! “Get a life. Stop trying to steal Angelus’ by being all grabby, gropey and possessive about me.”

“His life is already mine. We are meant to be together, Cordelia,” he answered with a dangerous gleam in his dark brown eyes. “Get used to it.”

Cordelia huffed and told Giles of her plans to go to her parents’ house to escape the unwanted attention of this New Guy. “Don Juan can’t keep his paws to himself, so I’m leaving as soon as I can get dressed.”

“Not likely,” warned Angel almost too calmly. His expressive eyes told quite another story suggesting he would physically restrain Cordelia before he let her walk away from him, especially considering the memories of her doing that once before. “You’ll be tied to my bed before I let that happen.”

“Giles won’t let you do that,” Cordelia returned never doubting the fact that the vampire would do it if he could get away with such a thing. “Would you Giles?”

There was an uncomfortable pause as the Watcher kept receiving silent signals from Angel suggesting that he should stay out of this business. Giles would have loved to keep out of it. Now that he was here, he felt obligated to speak his mind. “There is no need to tie you up, Cordelia. However, I do think you should reconsider leaving the mansion. The Moirae did tell us that you were intended to remain at the side of their champion.”

Grmph! That wasn’t what Giles was supposed to say. Complaining, Cordelia stated, “They also said that we all have free will to make our own decisions. Just because they created their Champ Vamp doesn’t mean I want him around.”

Giles recalled Lakhesis’ words. “Cordelia, I must caution you. Lakhesis suggested that your decisions and actions would have significant affect upon Angel’s destiny as a champion for the Powers that Be. That they will set him upon a path for Good or Evil, Order or Chaos.”

Continue

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 38a   1 comment

The mansion door closed behind them leaving Cordelia, Angelus and Angel staring at its wooden surface. Its closing meant one of the two vampires would never see the others again.

“Never thought I’d actually miss the Scooby Gang,” Angelus admitted breaking the silence that had fallen around them. “Kinda used to them now. They’ll get over it fast enough. It’s not like I’ve been around very long.”

Cordelia couldn’t believe that he was saying that, still so convinced that he would be the one to go. “Don’t say that! Don’t joke about not being here.”

“Better to face up to the possibility now,” Angelus took her hand in his own. “I want to be here in the morning, babe, but there are some things to consider if I’m not.”

“Don’t go there, Angelus,” warned his brother. “Tomorrow will be soon enough to worry about the future. No point in doing so until we know who has one.”

She had to agree with Angel. “I don’t want to think about it right now. Can we just do something together?”

Angelus knew what he wanted to do and it certainly didn’t involve Angel. “We could go to bed.”

The comment caused Cordelia to pause thoughtfully before clarifying, “I meant the three of us.”

With a smirk, Angel teased, “I’m game if you are,” garnering a death stare from his brother.

“For what?” Then Cordelia realized what Angel suggested and slapped him on the arm, more annoyed than embarrassed. “Eew! The only game I’m playing with you tonight is Scrabble.”

Angel held her gaze for a moment, seeing her eyes dilate and noting the flush of arousal spread over her cheeks. Beating a little faster, her heart added another telltale sign that the idea was a temptation even if the reality was not. He felt himself harden in automatic response. “Scrabble doesn’t have quite the same appeal, does it, sweetheart?”

Play word games or spend hours in bed with the two vampires she loved? It was a stupid question, the subject of a naughty fantasy rather than anything she would normally consider. Not that tonight was normal in any way, shape or form. Cordelia settled for, “You’re just trying to get out of a rematch. I kicked your vampire butt all over the board the last time we played.”

“You got all the good letters,” Angel swiftly defended himself only to find his brother now laughing at him. Obviously, Angelus had not been overly concerned that Cordy would accept his tongue-in-cheek suggestion. Not that he would have turned her down if she surprised him by taking him up on it. “Seriously, I think you cheated.”

“Did not!”

“Did too.”

Angelus put an arm around Cordelia’s shoulder and led her toward the living room grabbing his brother’s arm along the way. He marveled at how the two of them could go from talking about sex one second to acting like bickering children the next. Hell, he almost preferred the sex talk to the ping pong arguments. At least then he’d feel he could participate by bashing Angel over the head a few times just for the heck of it.

Arriving at the threshold of the living room, he suggested to them, “Television?”

Angel groaned aloud and walked over to the couch putting his feet up on the coffee table. “Why do I suddenly get the feeling my last night of existence will be spent watching Roadrunner cartoons?”

He picked up the remote control from the couch cushion and waited for them to settle down. With his thumb hovering over the power button, Angel asked them, “Are we really going to sit here and pretend that nothing is going to happen?”

“Cordelia doesn’t want to talk about it.” Angelus reached for the remote only to have it moved away, an easy task since he was sitting on the other side of the couch with Cordelia between them. “Neither did you five minutes ago.”

“I do now,” Angel went from thinking about it to demanding it all in the same brief moment. He was off the couch and grabbing his leather coat from its draped position on a nearby chair before Cordelia had time to blink. “This is no time to play games; certainly not the kind involving lettered tiles or darts or pool cues.”

Moving toward him, Cordelia asked as she reached out for his hand, “What is it you want, Angel?”

“What I want doesn’t have a chance in hell of happening,” he refused to let her touch him and saw the hurt look appear on her face. “I won’t sit here waiting for doomsday to arrive. Angelus may indulge your every whim, but he feels the same way I do.”

Hands on her hips, she huffed, “And how is that?”

“That there is only one thing to be done at a time like this,” Angel’s voice dropped to that husky octave that made her body thrum. “Spend every last hour in bed making damn sure the woman you love will never forget you.”

A strangled gasp caught in her throat at the intense emotion trapped in the depths of Angel’s eyes and the deep timbre of his voice making her utterly aware of his own desires. Impossibility stirred her to action as Cordelia shook her head refusing to let his words sway her original plan. Perhaps Angel was right about Angelus wanting to be alone with her. Thoughts of making love to her mate tempted Cordelia beyond reason, but could not give up holding onto Angel’s company in exchange.

Lifting her hands beneath Angel’s jacket, Cordelia moved them up the hard contours of his chest attempting to push it off again. “Please stay.”

“If the jacket comes off, Cordy, the rest does too,” Angel warned while managing to keep his own hands at his side. The temptation to pull her into his arms despite his brother’s presence was almost overwhelming. “I doubt Angelus wants to share, but he might not care if he was unconscious at the time.”

“You’d better come to the point,” his brother approached at a slow pace and stopped only a couple of feet away. Close enough for Angel to see the growing menace in his eyes, he issued a brief warning, “I don’t want a fight tonight, but keep this up and you’ll have one.

Holding Angelus’ gaze over Cordelia’s shoulder, Angel clarified his plan. “Since I can’t do what I really want, I’m going out to find something to kill.”

Angelus didn’t know whether to protest the departure for Cordelia’s sake or simply be thankful that his double knew exactly where his own thoughts were occupied. He knew this had to take an effort on Angel’s part. The statement about knocking him out and taking what he wanted from Cordelia wasn’t far off the mark. He wouldn’t have said it otherwise.

“I never got around to finishing patrol tonight,” Angelus pointed out. “A quick round of the cemeteries wouldn’t hurt.”

Nodding, Angel told him, “I’ll be back before dawn.”

Angry, Cordelia pushed at his chest, turning her back on them both. She was mad at Angel for planning to leave and her mate for encouraging him. Behind her, she heard Angel add, “There is just one request before I go. Call it a condition if you must.”

The inquiry came from Angelus as if he expected one. “What’s that?”

“Ten minutes alone with Cordy.”

Spinning around, Cordelia looked at Angel like he’d lost his mind— again. What was ten minutes supposed to do? Pfft! Like Angelus was going to agree to that anyway. Crossing her arms over her chest, she sent Angel a defiant look of triumph. Maybe he’d choose to stay if he didn’t get this last opportunity at alone time.

Realizing that was exactly what it was, Cordelia’s smile vanished. Angelus watched the conflicting emotions on her face and was inwardly warring with his own feelings on the matter. “A helluva lot can happen in ten minutes. I don’t want Cordelia hurt.”

“She’s already hurt, dammit,” Angel snarled the words. “One of us won’t be here when daylight comes. Ten minutes, that’s all I’m asking in exchange for giving you the whole night.”

Angelus moved closer to Cordelia, cupping her face in the palm of his hand. Without asking, he knew that she would want the ten minutes if no time at all was the only alternative. Pressing a soft kiss to her temple, he announced, “I’ll be in the kitchen. Want anything?”

“More pink stuff,” Cordelia’s eyes brightened at the realization there was still some of Willow’s juicy concoction left. “That was really good.”

Meeting his brother’s gaze, Angelus nodded curtly. “Ten minutes.”

Seconds passed in silence as Cordelia and Angel watched him leave the room and head down the hall toward the kitchen. “I can’t believe he agreed to this,” grumbled Cordelia realized he had come to the decision rather quickly.

“Ten minutes is more than a fair exchange compared to a night in your bed.”

Duh! “Angelus knows I didn’t want you to leave. What if something happens when you’re out on patrol?”

“Then it will be what the Moirae intended to happen all along,” Angel sounded calm despite the subject matter.

Cordelia didn’t want to hear that. Why didn’t he sound angry? “You’ve just accepted this too easily, Angel. I guess you’ve said your goodbyes to the important people so being with me— us doesn’t matter.”

“Important people?” Angel looked confused for a moment before realizing it was only one person Cordelia really meant. “You’re talking about Buffy.”

“You kissed her!” Cordelia’s eyes flared as she directed her anger and frustration with the situation at him.

Angel took a step forward, “Jealous, sweetheart?”

“No,” came her swift denial as she stood her ground despite the ominous tower of his hard frame.

“I figured it was probably the only kiss I’d be getting tonight,” Angel told her casually as he moved a hair closer.

“Pfft! You guessed right on that one,” Cordelia tried to push at his chest to put a little distance between them, but it was no use. Creating a rebound effect, Cordelia ended up against the wall which had somehow appeared out of nowhere behind her.

Geez! When did I get way over here?

Forming a soft circle of surprise, her plush mouth was captured by Angel’s fervent kiss. The press of his lips, their only point of contact, conveyed all the love, longing and regret Angel’s soul possessed. Sparking an echo of desire, Cordelia responded with a moan reverberating from the depths of her throat. A cry of need immediately answered as the kiss deepened with the cool sweep of his tongue across hers tasting and teasing with each caress.

Consumed by the need to touch him, Cordelia wound her arms around Angel’s neck while threading her fingers through the short strands of his hair to hold him there. Fitting her curvaceous body to the intractable contours of steely muscle elicited an answering groan from Angel. His hands lifted away from the wall to come down at her shoulder blades moving around so that his thumbs brushed against the outer curves of Cordelia’s breasts.

Through the thin barriers of their shirts, Angel felt the hard points of her pebbled nipples rubbing against him. He longed to feel them against his bare skin. To take them into his mouth as he pleasured her, but there was no time for that.

So Angel followed the feminine curves of her back and waist until his open palms filled with the firm swell of her buttocks. Cordelia gasped against his mouth as his hands continued from there, moving beneath the hem of her short skirt and back up again to dip beneath her panties. His slightly calloused hands clasped her bare flesh pulling her hips close into his lower body.

Cordelia felt the hard proof of his desire as Angel’s bulging erection pressed into the soft swell of her lower belly sending shockwaves of need straight to the heart of her womb. Opening her eyes as the contact caused their kiss to break, Cordelia found he was also staring back at her, eating her up with the hot fire of his topaz gaze.

“Let me see your true face,” Cordelia asked as her fingers moved along his jaw line. “I want to remember you that way too.”

“No, sweetheart,” he refused her request, his voice thick with passion.

The temptation to shift into his vampiric features was an urge he could barely resist. Because Angel knew that he could not show Cordelia his fangs without letting her feel them too. The need to claim her too strong to be denied should he relinquish that last modicum of control.

Angel told her, “Not now when my demon is so close to the surface. Besides, even if I’m not here, you’ll still have an identical face to see in the morning.”

One vampire was no substitute for the other in Cordelia’s mind. They were individual and unique. She loved them both with an inexplicable depth and passion, no longer caring why or how, but simply needing to hold on to what she could before the dawn stole one of them away forever.

“You’re different,” Cordelia told him. “I’ve always been able to tell the two of you apart.”

Unlike some people, thought Angel who couldn’t look past the fangs or leather pants even when that had been a telltale clue. Except Cordelia always knew, even when their personalities seemed to switch. Ultimately, it was a sign of recognition of her mate and while Angel wanted that to be him, he doubted the Moirae would be so kind or that anything they created would be so simple. Especially as Angelus already possessed that claim on Cordelia, no matter that she loved him too.

This wasn’t how Angel wanted to end it between them. Not groping Cordelia’s bare ass beneath the silky material of her panties. Moving his hands and straightening her skirt, Angel held back a moan as her hips shifted over his erection. He heard his name on her lips questioning the sudden departure of his touch. Pulling her arms away from his neck, Angel took her hands in his threading his fingers through hers and lifting them to rest on the wall beside her head.

Cordelia wanted to touch him and let out a frustrated grunt from her throat when he purposefully kept a small distance between them. “Angel, touch me,” she murmured between kisses needing to feel him against her. The denial was torture even as the possessive rhythm of his mouth and tongue had her whole body tingling with need.

The taste of her and Cordelia’s responsive kisses were akin to rapture itself. Angel’s plan to keep some distance between them and to part with a simple kiss was quickly abandoned. Dragging his mouth away from her lips, Cordelia’s panting breath felt warm against his cheek as he continued to trail kisses across her jaw line down to the pulse point of her throat.

As Angel’s face nuzzled her neck, Cordelia automatically gave him instant access by turning her head to the side. A subconscious move of acceptance even as she felt his face shift into the prominent vampire features. Angel continued to press kisses along her throat feeling the heady pulse quickening in anticipation of his bite. Without fear, she stood ready before him scenting of need and desire.

No thought of stopping entered Angel’s mind. He was too far gone with a basic urge to claim what his heart told him belonged to him. There was no thought of Angelus. No thought of the consequences. No thought of the dawn only hours away. Opening his mouth, Angel trailed his fangs along Cordelia’s throat producing a thin line of blood that his tongue greedily lapped up. He felt Cordelia shudder beneath him and Angel positioned his fangs over the tender spot on her neck that would bear his mark forever.

Before he could bite down, Angel suddenly found himself sprawled across the floor with his brother standing over him also in game face. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Angel?”

Licking at his fangs, Angel realized exactly what he had been doing and suddenly no longer cared that it might not be the right thing to do. He’d let his demon out and no one was going to come between him and what he wanted, especially his brother.

“What does it look like, Muffin?” Angel sneered as he stared up from a relaxed pose on the floor.

“Muffin?” Distracted from the sudden urge to kill his twin, Angelus glanced over at Cordelia as if to ask where Angel had heard that one. It was less masculine a term of endearment than the usual Bad Boy, but Angelus had gotten used to Cordelia calling out all sorts of things during sex. He just wondered where the hell Angel had heard this one.

“I think it suits you, Angelus,” grinned Angel not caring that he was stirring up even more trouble. “As for what I’m doing, I plan to take back what’s mine.”

Cordelia stood behind Angelus where he had placed himself as a barrier between her and his brother. Protecting her from him. It might be more accurate that he was also protecting her from herself considering the fact that she had practically egged Angel on wanting to see his demon face, to run her tongue over his fangs, shuddering in need when they scraped the thin skin of her throat.

As Angel finished his declaration, his leg swept out to knock Angelus off balance and sending the other vampire flying across the coffee table. Flipping to his feet, Angel grabbed Cordelia pressing a hard kiss across her mouth. “Give me a minute or two. I’ll be back.”

Leaving her against the wall, Angel turned back to Angelus who was already on his feet and stalking toward him. Cordelia wasn’t about to sit back and watch this again. She’d had enough of their fighting long before this and tonight was the last night she wanted animosity between them.

With a running jump, she landed on Angel’s back wrapping her arms and legs around him while yelling in his ear. “You can stop it with the Psycho Vamp mode.”

“Get off him, Cor,” Angelus growled now wanting to hit Angel and finding her in the way. “I don’t want you hurt.”

She only held on tighter despite Angel squirming and trying to get her to release him without hurting her at the same time. Cheerleading had produced strong leg muscles and Cordelia gripped him around the waist making it impossible to easily remove her. “If you insist on playing, sweetheart, I have to tell you that isn’t the position I want you in,” Angel imagined those supple legs surrounding him in quite a different way.

Dammit if he didn’t use that sexy tone. Cordelia felt the response of her own body to the suggestive comment and knew that he had to feel it with her pressed so closely against him. “Please don’t do this,” she murmured against his ear. “I don’t want you two fighting.”

Angelus could barely control his own anger despite his mate’s plea. The scent of her arousal made him come close to losing it, especially knowing how close Angel had come to putting his mark on her. Recognizing Cordelia’s feelings for Angel and even understanding the source of them was far different than seeing and scenting the evidence before his eyes.

Glaring at his brother with anger burning from the depths of his ochre gaze, Angelus reminded him, “I gave you ten minutes. Your time is up.”

“Maybe I don’t care,” Angel retorted seething at the idea that he had agreed to leave Cordelia alone with his brother. That Angelus would be the one to make love to her through the remainder of the night. “Cordelia should have been mine.”

“You made the deal with the Moirae,” Angelus barked driving the painful reminder home like a stake through the heart. “You gave her to me. She bears my mark, the sign of the Order of Aurelius. She is my acknowledged mate, Angel, not yours.”

His words were hardly calming. Angel sounded out a low dangerous growl and only the constant reminder that Cordelia was still physically in harms way kept him from lunging at his brother. Only her voice whispering in his ear pulled him back from the edge slowly bringing Angel back into a state where he grasped onto a thin thread of control. Finally, Angel let his demonic visage slip away to produce a renewed sense of his original intentions.

Maintaining his guard, Angelus also let his game face shift back into the softer curves of his human appearance. He could tell by the look in Angel’s dark eyes that he had come to some decision, though it was impossible to know its nature. Cordelia slowly slipped down to her feet, untangling her limbs from around Angel’s body and moving to a position between them.

Silence became almost palpable in the moments that followed. Licking her suddenly dry lips, Cordelia asked Angelus, “Will you let me decide what happens next? I need this night to end without any more fighting.”

Angelus frowned. He wasn’t certain that he wanted to relinquish control of decision-making to Cordelia. Not that he ever had full control around her, but it was a fantasy he imagined himself to possess. What if she decided something that he couldn’t deal with? Knowing that the little twist of fate made her acknowledge her own passion for Angel suggested she might want to allow him to have her and claim her. Angelus did not know if he could stand the idea much less the reality of it. He’d been prepared to allow them their stolen kisses, but anything more was something that would tear him apart before he would agree to it.

“I always give you what you want, babe,” Angelus told her while keeping the anger from sounding in his voice. “Tonight is the last night I would deny you anything.”

A confident gleam appeared in Angel’s eyes as if he had just won a battle. No matter what Cordelia had to say, it would be more than he was originally allowing himself. She stood between them like a determined goddess, beautiful and tempting beyond anything Angel had ever known. The love shining from her eyes eclipsed the basic feelings of lust and need that had overtaken him giving Angel something else to hold onto in his struggle for control over his emotions.

“Will you agree to my decision?” Cordelia asked him stepping closer so that she was once again within arms reach. Trusting him not to grab her and claim her all in the same swift move that could begin and end before Angelus had a chance to stop him.

Depends on the decision, Angel thought about responding that way. He sought out her decision in her eyes, but they gave away nothing except showing him the depths of her feelings. Ask me to stay, sweetheart. I’ll do it. Roadrunner cartoons. Sharing you with Angelus. Whatever I have to do.

“Yes,” Angel forced the agreement from his throat finding it hard to say the word.

A shaky sigh came out as an elongated breath as Cordelia took another step closer. She met Angel’s gaze for a moment before turning to hold out a hand toward her mate. Wondering what she was planning, Angelus simply took her hand moving up to join her at Angel’s side.

Reaching up with her other hand, Cordelia trailed her fingers along the line of Angel’s jaw and down to the nape of his neck. Standing on her tiptoes, Cordelia brought her mouth to his in a close-mouthed kiss that lasted mere seconds of time, but conveyed her feelings just the same. Angel managed to keep his hands at his side since it ended so quickly only to hear her say, “I love you, Angel, but you were right about not staying tonight.”

“So you want me to leave.” Angel felt like he’d just been gut-punched.

Cordelia nodded. “It’s for the best. I have feelings for you. Angelus knows it. Maybe it is something the Moirae have influenced. Maybe it’s my own stupid heart, but I’m not going to let things go any further between us. Not even now.”

With his fingers clasping hers, Angelus gave her hand a soft squeeze. It couldn’t be easy to tell Angel to leave. Not when he knew that she wanted him here. Especially knowing that he had given her the freedom to decide whatever she wanted. Though Cordelia had never spoken of fantasizing about the three of them being together, he had to wonder if the idea had ever crossed her mind. Perhaps it was simply that she knew he would never agree to it under normal circumstances. Who was he kidding? Under any circumstances. Even these.

“I’ll go,” Angel ground out the words. “If that’s what you want.”

No, it’s not want I want, Cordelia admitted to herself. “It’s what we have to live with, Angel. Just promise me that you’ll come back before dawn.”

“I’d promise you anything, Cordy,” Angel cupped her face and kissed her with such passion that she moaned into his mouth. Her entire body responded from the tingling of her scalp down to the curling of her toes and every erogenous zone in between.

Only the nearly imperceptible growl from his brother called Angel’s attention back to reality. “My ten minutes is long over by now. Guess that’s my signal to leave.”

“Guess so,” Cordelia felt the tears gathering in her eyes and fought them off with a determination not to let him see her cry.

Angel sent his brother a nod of acknowledgement as he turned to leave. Reaching the door leading out into the hallway, he paused, turning to look back at Cordelia. “If I’m not back by sunrise never forget that I loved you, sweetheart.”

Her heart beat wildly in her chest at the thought that Angel might not return. That he might meet some grizzly end out on patrol just because the Fates determined that it had to be that way. Or because he was convinced that Angelus would be the one the Moirae picked as their champion.

Wide-eyed, Cordelia heard the front door shut behind Angel as he departed. Turning to Angelus, she asked, “He wouldn’t do anything stupid. Would he?”

Angelus almost laughed at the idea. “No, Cor. If anything, he’s going out there one last time to prove to himself and the Moirae that he is the champion you deserve. He wouldn’t willingly give you up without a fight. If it isn’t me he’s fighting then it will be whatever unlucky demon happens to get in his way tonight.”

Relived by his words, Cordelia snuggled into Angelus’ embrace as he pulled her into his arms. With her head resting against his muscular chest, she found it necessary to apologize to her mate. “I’m so sorry, Angelus. I never meant to love Angel the way I do. It just happened and I told him that nothing could come of it.”

“I trust you, babe,” Angelus answered truthfully. “The Moirae hinted at the reasons for your feelings. They’re preparing you for your future whatever it is they have in store. Maybe you would never have acted out your feelings, but tonight is different.”

Moving so she could see his face, Cordelia rested her hands on his shoulders. “This isn’t fair. They’re manipulating all of us. I’d wish that they never interfered except it would mean I would never have had you.”

“Separating Angel and me merely gave the Moirae what they wanted. An opportunity to develop their champion,” Angelus found the whole thing ironic.

“I don’t want anything to happen to either of you,” Cordelia told him as pain showed clearly in her eyes. A hint of guilt appeared as she added, “I do love Angel, too, but is it evil of me to want you to be there in the morning?”

Holding her tightly again, Angelus kissed the top of her head. Murmuring against the soft halo of her hair, “No, baby. You know I’d fight for you if there was a battle to be won. If the Fates made some contest of champions and you were the prize I wouldn’t let anything stop me. So I’m glad that you want me too.”

“Take me upstairs,” Cordelia told him with the sudden need to make love to him. It had nothing to do with any residual arousal that Angel had stirred up. There was only the need to be with her mate one last time or two or three before the Moirae’s final interference brought with it lasting despair.

Grinning, Angelus swept Cordelia into his arms eliciting a laugh as she told him, “I didn’t mean literally, but this could be fun.”

Winding her arms around his neck, Cordelia didn’t mind playing Scarlet to his Rhett Butler. Not when she knew what was coming at the end of the long climb up their three flights of stairs. Angelus headed out into the hallway when Cordelia spotted the glass of juice he brought sitting on the table against the wall. He’d left it there when discovering what Angel was about to do to Cordelia. Seeing it, Cordelia suddenly felt completely parched.

“Stop!” Cordelia called out reaching out a hand toward the glass. “Pink stuff.”

“Now?” Angelus gave her a strange look. Rolling his eyes, he walked over so Cordelia could pick up the glass. “Huh! I’m about to carry you off and make love to you and you get distracted by juice.”

Cordelia’s only explanation was, “Thirsty.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you liked that stuff a little too much.” Angelus figured it was just a human thing. Cordelia started to gulp down the pink liquid even as her mate headed for the stairs. The rate at which he ascended made it difficult to drink at the same time, but somehow she managed to get it all down.

“Mmm,” Cordelia murmured as she swallowed it all. “Good to the last drop.”

No sooner had she gotten the words out than Cordelia’s head fell against Angelus’ shoulder and the glass crashed to the floor. The vampire paused on the top step, looking down to find her eyes closed. “Cordelia?”

Nudging her with his shoulder only produced a soft grunt and Angelus quickly came to the realization that she was asleep. Not in any form of natural sleep, either. This was a result of Cordelia drinking the damn pink stuff.

“I don’t believe it,” Angelus moaned. “The Fates have it in for me. Or Willow does.”

The witch had obviously put something into the juice without telling anyone, Angelus realized in frustration. Seeing that Cordelia was so upset by the news given them by the Moirae, Willow no doubt meant well by making her pink witch’s brew. Obviously, it never occurred to her that Cordelia might want to spend the night in bed doing something other than sleeping.

Angelus opened the door to their bedroom and walked across to the bed. Carefully setting Cordelia down, he paused to look at her and wondered if this might not be easier on her after all. Even if it frustrated the hell out of him.

Grabbing the bedside phone, he pressed the speed dial to Willow’s house needing to know just how long this sedation was going to last.

“Rosenberg residence,” chirped the familiar voice on the other end. It was almost too happy sounding making Angelus realize that Willow had been feeling something quite the opposite of happy and was faking her way through.

“What was in the pink stuff?”

“Angelus?” A loud gulp sounded on the other end followed by a long pause. Then the voice changed to a fake automated tone, “I’m sorry. Willow is currently unavailable to take your calls. Please leave a message after the tone and—”

Growling at her through the phone, “Willow.”

“Eep! I’m sorry, Angelus. Really, I am,” Willow begged forgiveness. “I-I only thought Cordelia might get hysterical. You know— because of stuff.”

“Have you ever known her to be hysterical?” Angelus had to ask.

Willow mumbled something incomprehensible even to the vampire. “Not exactly now that you mention it. When she first started acting as Bait Girl, she screamed a lot, but always kept her head on her shoulders. She knew just where to run away when it got bad and boy could she run. I think Cor could have joined the track team if she wanted too because that girl has some legs on her.”

“You’re babbling, Will,” Angelus pointed out as he cut off her next sentence. “Is this going to last all night?”

A whine sounded on the other end of the phone. “Yep. The effects wear off at dawn’s first light.”

“How poetic.”

Hearing the growl in the vampire’s voice, Willow was suddenly very glad to be on the other side of a telephone line and not standing in his presence. “I-I didn’t mean to do anything bad. The night won’t be so long for her now.”

What about me? Angelus nearly barked the question out, but thought better of it.

“I-I’m sorry,” Willow’s voice sounded tiny and utterly apologetic.

“Forget it, Will,” Angelus didn’t want to make the girl feel any worse than she already did. “Goodnight.”

He heard her gulp at the word. “G-Goodnight, Angelus.”

The blaring sound of the dial tone filled his ear as Willow hung up the phone. Angelus returned it to its cradle and sat down beside the sleeping form of his mate. The witch may have meant well, but her actions had denied him more than just a final night of bliss with Cordelia. Missing out on something his brother managed to accomplish, he would not get the opportunity to look into her eyes and tell her with conviction what he could only now say to her sleeping form.

“I love you, Cordelia Chase,” he whispered softly as his fingers trailed down the soft chestnut tresses spread out across her pillow. “No matter what the morning brings, no matter that our love was accidental or fated by those who weave destiny’s thread, it existed. Nothing will take that away from you.”

Cordelia’s only response was the soft sound of her breathing. The rhythmic sounds of her heart and lungs became hypnotic to the vampire who simply sat and listened for untold minutes. Finally, Angelus decided that he had to do something besides stare at his sleeping mate for the remainder of the night. He headed into the bathroom to take a long hot shower trying to let some of the tension drain from his body.

Emerging nearly half an hour later, Angelus dried himself off and dressed himself in a pair of stretchy black boxer shorts. Tossing the towel around his neck back into the bathroom, he decided that Cordelia should also be dressed for bed. That way he could pretend she was sleeping naturally instead of being under the spell of Willow’s juicy witch’s brew.

Carefully undressing Cordelia, he removed all of her clothing piling it up on a nearby chair. Angelus trailed the back of his fingers down his mate’s beautiful frame from collarbone to hipbone noting how responsive she was even in her sleeping state. A sardonic smile quirked his lips as he fought off the urge to kiss every silken inch of her skin no matter her lack of awareness.

Winning that inner battle, Angelus dressed her in the oyster white silk nightgown and pulled the covers up to her waist. He climbed in on his own side of the bed scooting closer and propping himself onto his side so that he could watch her the rest of the night giving in to the fact that he could never sleep thinking he might not be there to watch her wake up in the morning.

Hours passed and neither the vampire nor his sleeping mate had moved a muscle in all that time. Angelus whiled away the hours by reliving every moment he had spent with Cordelia since the time of his separation from Angel. He didn’t know the exact time, but realized that dawn was approaching. The front door downstairs opened and shut followed by the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs.

Angelus turned his eyes to the bedroom door realizing that Angel hadn’t stopped at the second floor landing. Without bothering to knock, Angel swung the already ajar door open wide and leaned against the doorframe. Both vampires were surprised by what they saw.

“What the hell happened to you?” Angelus questioned his brother who was bruised and bloody. His leather jacket was full of dust as was his hair.

“Nest of vamps in Trudzinski’s old warehouse,” Angel explained. “New in town. Now they’re just dust.”

Raising an eyebrow, Angelus had to wonder if Cordelia hadn’t been right. “You took out a nest on your own?”

“There were only twelve of them,” shrugged Angel as if it hadn’t mattered. Glancing toward Cordelia, he commented with a stab of jealousy, “I see you wore her out.”

Angelus covered Cordelia’s folded hands with one of his own. “Unfortunately, I can’t claim my usual prowess on this one.”

Sauntering into the room on his tired legs, Angel suddenly realized that the bedroom was not permeated by the scent of raw sex as he would expect. Cordelia certainly didn’t appear like she had been thoroughly tumbled. In fact, she looked glamorous in her sleep, almost untouched in her beauty as she lay in quiet repose beneath the silk sheets.

“What have you done?” Angel glared at his brother suspiciously.

“Nothing,” Angelus answered. “It was Willow. She put some kind of sleeping spell on that pink concoction she made Cordelia drink.”

“So you’re saying that Cordy has been asleep all night?” Angel gaped at him.

Without answering, Angelus simply sent his brother a death glare.

The chuckles came sporadically at first until Angel couldn’t stop himself. “I truly feel for you, bro. Honest.”

“Shut up, Angel,” grumbled Angelus despite himself. It was kind of funny in a way that had nothing to do with actual amusement. “Just promise me that if you are the one still here in the morning that Willow gets her ass spanked.”

Snorting, “I owe her one anyway.”

Narrowing his gaze, Angelus pointed out, “I was kidding.”

“I wasn’t.”

Angelus rolled his eyes and then asked on a serious note, “How much longer?”

“Less than an hour.” Angel told him. “I’m going to head down and take a shower. Get this dust off, but I’m coming back.”

The other vampire didn’t doubt it. “Cordelia would want you here.”

“Good.” Angel hadn’t expected it to be so easy. He left the room at a much faster pace than he had entered it heading directly to his own bathroom.

Returning in under fifteen minutes, Angel wore an open navy robe over his black boxers. He noticed immediately that Angelus had moved Cordelia into the middle of the bed obviously making room for him. That came as another surprise since Angel figured he’d be relegated to the bedside chair for the remainder of the night.

“I’m through fighting you, Angel,” his brother explained. “I’ve had a while to think about it tonight while Cordelia has been sleeping. In fighting, we’ve simply been going up against ourselves.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that the Moirae will do what they want,” Angel shucked off his robe tossing it over the pile of Cordelia’s clothes. “That we’ve been their pawn for the past two centuries. That one of us will still be their pawn when this is over.”

“That’s not the case,” Angelus had thought about that too. “The Moirae will no doubt have a champion, but they’ve left the rest open. It’s all about the choices we… you or I make from this point onward.”

Angel remembered what Lakhesis had said about the champion being a tool for the Powers that Be whether it was as an instrument of Order or Chaos, Good or Evil. The potential for anything existed and Cordy would somehow play a key role influencing which characteristics would prevail.

“I know that you love her, Angelus,” he moved his fingers along Cordelia’s soft cheek after climbing into bed next to her. “It’s been torture having Cordelia so near and yet not being able to have her. If by some strange turn of fate, I’m still here…I just want you to know that I’d never hurt her.”

“Cordelia was right to call you a dumbass,” Angelus told him. “You think I don’t know how you feel about her? How you’ve always felt even when you had other things on your mind. If I thought there was a slight chance of you hurting Cordelia, I would’ve staked you long before now no matter the consequences to myself.”

“Oh. Good to know,” Angel commented in surprise as he pulled the bedcovers up. “As long as we’re sharing—.”

His brother flinched at the idea.

“I just want to say it’s been great not having your irritating voice yapping in the back of my mind day in and day out,” finished Angel with a laugh.

Cordelia heard voices and laughter pulling her from the depths of sleep. Masculine and familiar, the comforting sounds made her wonder if this had been a nightmare. That fate couldn’t be so cruel to take Angelus or Angel away from her just to satisfy some centuries-long plan to create a champion. Fighting for consciousness, Cordelia felt the cool touch of fingers trailing down her arm.

As her eyelids fluttered open, Cordelia noticed the indirect light of early morning as it filtered into the bedroom. Several things became apparent in a short period. She was in her own bedroom, wearing her nightgown and she wasn’t alone. All of these things seemed to fit in with her hope that it was all a bad dream.

Sitting up, Cordelia turned to find herself trapped by the molten gaze of her bedmate as he silently reached up to thread his fingers through her hair. With a gasp, Cordelia pushed at his bare chest and scrambled to the far corner of the bed. As he moved to follow, she tumbled off of the bed onto the floor landing with a thunk.

When Cordelia peeked over the edge of the mattress, she found him lounging prone in a casual position, waiting for her verbal response. With her hazel eyes as wide as they could get, she asked with a combination of curiosity and despair, “W-Who are you?”

Chapter 39

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 38   1 comment

Chapter 38: Final Farewells

Lakhesis, she who measures out the Threads of Life, watched the group’s reaction to her prophetic announcement with cool interest. “Come the dawn the balance shall be restored and only the vampire who is our champion shall remain.”

Stone silence filled the Great Hall of the Moirae. Less than a minute passed. It did so at a protracted pace making moments seem like endless increments of time. All at once, a cacophony of discord arose within the chamber.

Erupting from their seated positions the eight outsiders crowded around the marble dais shouting out their questions, comments and complaints in simultaneous fashion.
Their targets remained nonplussed by the verbal barrage from these lower beings. It was little more than an irritant. Resolute, nothing could sway the hand of fate as the interference of the Moirae stood to alter or end the existence of Angel or Angelus.

“The time will soon be upon us, sister,” Klotho reminded as she lifted one hand back to her spinning wheel keeping the other draped across her gravid belly.

With a nod of understanding, Lakhesis shared a meaningful glance with Atropos who spoke in a tone that cut through the din. “Though you like it not, mortals, we Fates have gifted you with knowledge rare few of our own kind possess.”

“What will happen?” Cordelia demanded of the Moira despite the fearful quiver in her voice. The Fates had planned this for two hundred years and whatever it was would come to pass tonight.

Atropos gazed directly into Cordelia’s emotion laden gaze. Though bright with fear of the unknown, no tears fell upon her cheeks. There was only the determined desire to know the truth despite her fear of facing it. The crone’s violet orbs revealed nothing projecting only a reflection of what she saw in the young woman standing before her demanding answers.

“Your vampire will face his true path claiming his promised destiny,” Atropos told her despite knowing that the cryptic answer would not satisfy Cordelia’s human curiosity. “Take heart, daughter. Fate may appear to be cold and without mercy when it comes to cutting the threads of destiny, but endings may be beginnings if it is the will of the Moirae.”

Cordelia no longer cared that these were higher beings powerful enough to snuff out her own life in an instant if the whim hit them. Without warning, she stepped onto the dais not really certain of what she was doing; just wanting to shake some sense into the Moirae before they did something they couldn’t take back.

Angelus tried to reach her, but an invisible barrier blocked his path. It was already too late to shout out a warning for Cordelia was standing at Lakhesis’ side preparing to give her an earful. Since it wasn’t quite right to pick on an old woman or a pregnant one— even if neither were what they truly appeared to be— Cordelia had moved toward Lakhesis only to find a hand curled around her wrist in a vice-like grip.

“Choices are still to be made, daughter,” Lakhesis’ violet eye bore into hers drilling deeper than the conscious mind now focused with such desperate anger upon her. “A champion we will have no matter your pleas. It is your own destiny that may falter if you veer from the path we Moirae have set out for you.”

Sucking in a deep breath of air, Cordelia realized that the Moirae had plans for her as well. “Don’t threaten me. Stop playing these mind games. No more with the cryptic. I don’t care about your champion.”

“Do not lie to yourself, daughter,” Lakhesis held her steady. “You care to the depths of your soul for the vampire and our champion he will be. It is fear that governs your words and actions.”

“Vampires. Plural. Stop talking about them as if you’ve already killed one of them to satisfy your plans. Fix what you’ve done,” Cordelia had never begged for anything in her life, but suddenly did not care if her words came out that way, nor about the fact that she had an audience. “It’s not too late to change your mind. Please don’t let one of them die because you only need one as your champion. I-I need them both.”

Angelus noticed that the trio of the Moirae turned their gaze to him as Cordelia’s plea echoed in the hall. They expected an outburst in response to his mate’s unknowing confession that her feelings for Angel went deeper than she had revealed. Strangely, the news wasn’t really surprising and while his fury over it raged inside him, Angelus understood the reason.

The Moirae had never truly separated them. Not completely. While they possessed different physical forms, they remained connected on every other level. Somehow that included their feelings for Cordelia and in response also her attraction for them.

“Release her, Lakhesis,” Angelus gave the quiet command maintaining total control. “Nothing we say will change your plans. Whatever happens, it is something that was agreed to long ago.”

Klotho chimed in, “You did agree. You promised and now it is our turn to fulfill the course of our mission.”

Trying to keep his own demon under a tight reign, Angel’s rage was visible and violent. The chair Oz and Willow had been sitting in went flying as he paced past it kicking it across the smooth floor. Ignoring the concerned looks from his companions standing around him, Angel stalked back to the edge of the dais pressing up against the barrier.

“I don’t care about your mission,” Angel ground out through clenched teeth. “I want you to let go of Cordelia and stay the fuck out of her life.”

“The Moirae do not yield to pleas, threats or profanity,” Atropos spoke again with a measure of censure. “Vampire, your fate was sealed the moment you agreed to complete the third visitation. As for Cordelia Chase, her life’s thread is as entwined with our mission as yours.”

“Entwined?” Giles inquired from the sidelines. The Fates had said something to that effect before, but without explanation.

“She is as much the daughter of destiny as is the Chosen One or any who play a part for the Powers whether they know it or not,” Klotho revealed. “I would have Cordelia fulfill the thread of fate to which she was born: shaping the course of our champion’s existence. For within him lies the potential for Order and Chaos, Good and Evil.”

Lakhesis gazed up at Cordelia. “Go now, daughter. Seek what comfort you will in the hours ahead. The dawn harkens a time when the vampire will achieve the fulfillment of our promise and your own destiny awaits.”

Released from the Moira’s clutch, Cordelia backed down the steps only to find herself enfolded by Angelus’ strong arms. Her own hands reached up to hold him and she leaned back resting her head against his shoulder while trying to make sense of the plan of the Moirae.

“For now, this interview is over.” Atropos waved her gnarled hand in the air signaling the appearance of a swirling heavy mist that curled into the chamber suffusing it in a matter of moments.

“No, wait!” Cordelia called out to no avail as the dais vanished behind its cover.

As the mist rose, darkness replaced the light and a wave of energy passed through them reversing the spell that brought them to this hall. Once again, the group found themselves scattered across the floor. The wooden surface beneath them, sprinkled powder, and the scent of incense and melted wax filling the room combined to prove their location despite their inability to see.

“Angel,” Giles spoke up. “Perhaps you could get the lights. They should still function and you’d know where to find the switch.”

A moment passed before the vampire answered, still breathing unnecessarily hard. “Sure.”

He’d been distracted by his own demonic senses and the soft sounds coming from the floor near his feet. The darkness was not as resolute as in the chamber before the Great Hall. Angel could see the outline of his brother and Cordelia still entwined in each other’s arms.

When the lights came on, Cordelia was sitting in Angelus’ lap on the floor with their mouths pressed together in a seemingly endless kiss. While Rupert Giles understood the urgency behind the embrace, he also felt it necessary to put an end to it despite the fact that interrupting a vampire in the middle of any task was rarely a good idea.

Tapping Angelus on the shoulder, Giles added the sound of clearing his throat to gain the vampire’s attention. “There are still hours left of the night for…for that. We need to talk this out. The Moirae have given us information, but no clear answers.”

Reluctantly, Cordelia and Angelus separated, but only far enough to recognize the uncertainty in each other’s eyes. If there was any chance that they might not have each other in the morning, being apart for any portion of the night ahead was totally unacceptable.

“The Watcher is right,” Angelus trailed his thumb over Cordelia’s kiss-swollen lips as he realized there was much to discuss even though he didn’t really want to talk. He wanted to drag his mate off to bed and spend every second until dawn’s breaking light making love to her.

Buffy watched as Angelus helped Cordelia to her feet, still holding her close within the circle of his arms. She glanced over at Angel who remained standing by the light switch. A look of dark determination appeared for an instant before vanishing behind a blank expression as he watched the two. The Slayer recognized her own feelings of despair over the potential of losing Angel even though technically he was no longer hers to lose.

“How much longer, Giles?” She found herself asking. “How long were we gone?”

The Englishman glanced down at his watch expecting the hour to be past midnight, but to his surprise his watch indicated, “We’ve been gone only a few minutes. Either my watch didn’t register the time we spent with the Moirae or time flows differently there.”

A comparison of watches and the mansion clocks proved all had approximately the same time. “So it’s only 8:30?”

Cordelia’s question sounded shaky to their ears and conflicted. More time than any had expected, but still not enough. It would never be enough no matter what choice the Moirae had in mind.

“Why didn’t they just tell me which one they plan to murder?” Cordelia asked the Watcher. “Why drag it out? Just to torture us with not knowing?”

Hating to admit that he was just as much in the dark, Giles could only answer her, “This would have happened whether we contacted the Moirae or not. I believe they provided us with all of the answers, Cordelia. We just don’t understand them yet.”

“W-What do you think will happen?” She respected the Watcher’s opinion and while the answer might not be one she wanted to hear, Cordelia needed something.

Before Giles could speak, Angel cut him off as he walked closer to the others. “I’m certain that Angelus is the champion.”

His brother looked flummoxed at the thought. “What?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“No it’s not.” Buffy crossed her arms putting up an unconscious barrier between herself and the idea that Angel might not be there in the morning. “Angel, that is just crazy. What’s so obvious about it?”

A deep chuckle emerged from Angel’s throat sounding rife with irony rather than any kind of amusement. “Crazy? I think you’ve proven my point, Slayer.”

“You’re not crazy,” Cordelia scoffed at the idea. “Just a little…imbalanced.”

“Right.” Xander snorted, “This is Psycho Vamp we’re talking about. You think the Powers or whoever they are want him for a champion?”

“I have to disagree,” Oz put in. “Angel is the one with the soul. Even if Angelus has been sharing some of the effects of it because of the connection the Fates mentioned it still exists within Angel. I can’t believe that the Powers would choose a soulless champion.”

Willow gaped openly at her boyfriend. Not only had Oz chosen to speak up when he would normally remain silently neutral, but he had just indicated that he thought it would be Angelus who was going to die. “You’re guessing! How do you know what the Powers want in a champion?”

“I don’t,” Oz admitted, “but it makes sense to me.”

“Angelus has been the stable one,” Willow pointed out. “He’s fought along side us to keep the Good Fight going. Maybe he doesn’t have a soul, but he’s not evil anymore. Not like he was.”

Cordelia kept staring at Giles hoping that he would tell her that they were all wrong and that something good was going to come of this. That she had misunderstood the Fates and neither one of the vampires would be sacrificed come morning.

“There is nothing to be done except wait,” Giles admitted slowly recognizing his own feelings of helplessness. “The Moirae indicated that the balance would be restored for their champion. It is impossible to ascertain which vampire the Fates mean. As you all have already stated there are arguments for either one.”

The debate continued for some time despite the angst it generated. No one seemed willing to let the subject drop. Angel, Xander and Willow remained firm in their belief that Angelus was the designated champion. Angelus, Oz and Buffy argued that Angel had to be the one. The Watcher remained divided trying his best to remain neutral only to find himself arguing both sides of the fence from one moment to the next, his own indecisiveness surprising him.

Listening to it all, Cordelia found that she could not form an opinion one way or the other. If there was a point favoring one vampire, it was soon countered by another. They had moved into the dining room and were all gathered around the table while the discussion continued. Cordelia tuned them all out.

She couldn’t listen to it. Not anymore. The Moirae were right, she decided, about her being scared. Cordelia had never been so scared before. There was no one to rescue her from this situation. Nothing she could argue to change it. No magick that would erase what would happen as the night vanished with the dawn.

“Drink this,” Cordelia heard Willow’s voice as if from a distance.

Blinking, she turned her hazel gaze to see the redhead standing next to her holding a glass of pink liquid in one hand and a pitcher of the same in the other. “W-What is it?”

“Just orange juice,” Willow told her.

Cordelia pointed out, “It’s pink.”

“You’ll like it. Drink.” Holding out the glass, Willow encouraged her to take it. “Giles suggested tea, but I think this will be better.”

Realizing that she hadn’t even noticed Willow leaving the table, Cordelia took the glass from her outstretched hand. Sipping it hesitantly, she found the concoction to taste quite good. Glad of the distraction and realizing that she felt thirsty, Cordelia drained the juice glass.

“Have some more,” Willow told her.

Xander whined from the other end of the table, “Where’s mine? No sharing?”

“This is for Cordy,” his best friend explained. “There are sodas in the refrigerator if you want one.”

He was halfway out of his chair when Willow added, “Not that we need you on a sugar high right now.”

Slumping back down, Xander distracted himself from the tension in the room by grumbling over the fact that Willow was denying him her fruity concoction.

Angelus pushed his chair away from the table rising to his feet. “I’ve had enough of this. We’re not accomplishing anything except to upset Cordelia. I won’t have that. This is hard enough as it is.”

“I’m fine,” Cordelia sat up straight rushing to reassure him. She didn’t want Angelus to spend his potential last hours worrying about her.

“No, you’re not, sweetheart.” It was Angel who responded cutting through the bull. “You haven’t said anything about the Moirae in the last twenty minutes. I’ve never known you to be so quiet.”

Gripping the edge of the table, Cordelia sucked in a deep breath of air. “What do you want me to say, Angel? This sucks! I don’t want either one of you to die.”

“The idea doesn’t appeal to me either,” Angel readily admitted. “Doesn’t change the fact that I can’t do a damn thing about it.”

“You’re so sure it’s you?”

Angel reached over to take hold of her free hand. “What if it is?”

Pulling away from his touch, Cordelia glared angrily, “That’s not a fair question.”

“Yes it is,” Angelus commented while deciding that it was folly to admit such a thing. He did not want to hear Cordelia’s answer, but his suspicions about her feelings for Angel were no longer just suspicions.

Angelus felt certain that he would be the one no longer there in the morning. He was not certain why he felt so strongly about the idea, but the arguments were there to his mind. Despite the fact that Angel pointed out the Moirae had revealed Cordelia’s future would remain tied to their champion and that as her mate and the legitimate head of the Order of Aurelius that gave Angelus a better chance at survival, he felt that meant nothing to the Fates. They would make their decision based upon their own criteria, not vampiric law or tradition.

“Answer him, Cordelia,” her mate encouraged her to speak, though his eyes were full of hidden emotions. “Angel deserves to know your feelings.”

Strangled by his words, Cordelia realized that Angelus knew about her feelings for his brother. “He knows.”

“You love him,” Angelus wasn’t certain if it was an accusation or a statement of fact.

Cordelia felt the eyes of everyone upon her, but did not drop her gaze away from her mate. This was hardly the setting or the circumstances in which she had envisioned talking to Angelus about her feelings for his brother. “Yes.”

“It’s okay, baby,” Angelus promised even as he bit back the raging jealousy that rose up within him.

“No, it’s not,” Cordelia snapped back. “I love you, Angelus. Until you came along, I didn’t know I could love anyone this much. That I could be loved this much.”

He had her back in his arms within seconds, just holding her this time with his cheek brushing up against her hair. “It’s better this way.”

Still nuzzled into the crook of his shoulder, Cordelia could only ask, “What?”

Angelus met his brother’s suspicious gaze from across the table. “Don’t you see? I’ve only been sharing Angel’s soul through our connection. What will happen if I am the one who is chosen? Without a soul will I be able to love you the way you deserve to be loved?”

Sputtering in response, Cordelia staggered back out of his embrace moving away so that she could see both vampires. “I hate this! I hate the Moirae for playing God and interfering in other people’s lives. It’s not their right.”

Giles gulped down the thick lump in his throat. “The Moirae are certainly not gods, but they are immortal beings with vast power. They have manipulated the outcomes of countless lives and situations for purposes beyond our understanding. If not for their influence who can say whether Angelus would have ever come to exist or that a gypsy curse would return Angel’s soul or that he would ever come to Sunnydale in the first place.”

“I’m supposed to thank them for this?” questioned Cordelia sourly.

“Maybe you should,” Buffy told her with a hint of venom. The part of her that still blamed Cordelia for the breakup with Angel couldn’t resist the stab. “If not for them, Angelus wouldn’t even be here and Angel would still be mine.”

Dead silence followed until Xander commented, “I thought you were over him, Buffy; doesn’t sound that way to me.”

Buffy got up out of her chair so fast that it toppled over and hit the floor. There were tears in her eyes as she hurried out of the room in the direction of the adjoining kitchen. Watching her departure, Angel felt overwhelming satisfaction at the Slayer’s response.

It was the demon in him reveling in her pain. He started to go after her automatically preparing to twist the emotional knife a little deeper when he realized that Xander’s hand was on his shoulder.

“Stay here, vampire,” Xander glared at him. Even if his own big mouth had caused Buffy even more anguish than necessary, it was not Angel’s place to follow her. “Let me do this.”

“The Slayer is yours, Harris,” Angel shrugged carelessly realizing he really didn’t care about going after Buffy one way or the other. “I did give her to you.”

Xander frowned in confusion. “Yeah. Whatever.”

Looking over at his brother, Angel suggested, “If I’m not here in the morning, be sure to explain it to him.”

Willow frowned in disapproval. “This is hardly the time to joke.”

“Who’s joking?”

“If you’re not, then I don’t wanna know about it,” Willow grumbled. Pouring another glass of juice, she handed it over to Cordelia while insisting, “Drink this.”

Cordelia didn’t think to ask why Willow was so insistent about it. In fact, the drink actually tasted good and seemed to make her want more of it. She was on her third glass when she asked Giles, “Is it possible that we’ve got this all wrong? Maybe Miss Slut of the Eon isn’t doing anything to Angelus or Angel. Maybe she’s just doing the obvious and giving birth to a baby champion.”

The Watcher suddenly wondered what was in the concoction Cordelia was drinking. “We’ve been over this already.”

“Oh.”

Giles realized the cheerleader had been rather distracted during much of the group’s conversation. It was possible that she had simply not heard his explanation of why that was not a likely prospect. Unless he was completely wrong about his research. Unless he was fooling himself and only thinking the worst. Somehow, he knew better than to be so optimistic.

“Klotho’s pregnancy is not what it appears to be,” Giles recounted. “The Moirae are not corporeal nor do they reproduce in any manner we would understand. Though she is associated with the beginnings of life and childbearing, it is not in a physical sense, but a metaphorical one.”

“I don’t get it,” Cordelia admitted and deep down she wasn’t certain she wanted the full explanation. “Not sure I want to get it, but tell me anyway.”

As he understood the nature of their powers, Giles attempted to convey that limited knowledge to Cordelia. “Everything you saw in the Great Hall was illusion. Something filtered by our own minds into something we could comprehend. They appeared to us as the Greek goddesses because mythology provides that expectation.”

“The spinning wheel, the tapestry and the scissors are metaphors for their powers,” Willow told her having learned everything Giles had discovered during preparation for the summoning.

Loosening his tie, Giles could see that explanations were lost on the cheerleader. She wasn’t fully listening to him. Still, talking about it helped him come to terms with his own mixed feelings. No matter all the good that Angel had done or that Angelus had done of late, there were countless thousands of lives lost due to their existence.

One in particular that Giles could never forget, even after Angelus’ apology. The idea that the vampire who had murdered Jenny Calendar would become a champion for the Powers that Be was beyond his full reckoning.

Giles decided that the Moirae’s reasons were far beyond his understanding. Focusing on the method to their seeming madness gave him a tiny glimpse of perception into what might happen.

“The Moirae deal in mathematical probabilities and outcomes on a universal scale,” Giles explained. “What Klotho revealed to us as— as a liaison with Liam was in fact no such thing.”

“It wasn’t?” Angel smirked at the vivid memory in his head. “Seemed that way at the time.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia told the vampire, “You would think that. Liam was such a man-whore.”

“A what?” Angel laughed at the new term.

“You heard me. He was after everything in skirts.” Cordelia dared him to deny it.

Angel glared at his brother. “You have been talking, haven’t you?”

With a shrug, Angelus commented, “It was hardly a secret.”

As Cordelia appeared to be a little more relaxed about the conversation, Giles went on to tell her that the Moirae’s ability to affect outcomes is frequently dependant upon the decision-making of the individual. “One person can change the course of destiny through the act of free will. By making the deal with Liam in the manner that she did assured Klotho that her plans would come to fruition.”

“She did something to us,” Angel realized.

Giles nodded. “I believe she referred to it as— uh, gathering your essence.”

“Eew!” Cordelia responded still thinking in terms of them having sex.

“Yes, well, I must admit to feeling a little invaded on their behalf,” Giles confessed to Cordelia. “Though it was all an illusion, it included the gathering of something real that Klotho has watched over for the past two hundred years while making her plans to create a champion for the Powers that Be.”

Willow shuddered, “Pregnant for two hundred years. Can you imagine that being the real thing?”

Ignoring the comment, Giles continued, “I am certain that it is not a child, Willow. It is the vampire the Moirae have interest in. They spoke of him as one being, not two. The only question remaining is whether the one will be Angel or Angelus.”

“Giles,” the sound of his name came from Cordelia’s mouth immediately gaining his attention despite its softness.

Looking at her, the Watcher asked, “Yes?”

“Go away.”

“Pardon?”

“I want you to leave,” Cordelia told him with quiet determination. “Now. All of you. I want everyone out.”

Willow looked like she wanted to cry as she gazed back and forth between Cordelia and Angelus. “But Cordy—”

“Just get out!”

The sound of her suddenly raised voice brought Xander and Buffy back to the dining room from the kitchen. The Slayer asked, “What’s going on?”

“It’s time for us to leave,” Giles explained fully understanding that Cordelia needed some time alone with the vampires.

“No!” Buffy defied him. If there was a possibility that Angel wasn’t going to be here in the morning, she was planning to wait every second out right here at the mansion.

Angelus met her tearful gaze. “Buff, please go with the others. One of us will call you in the morning. Just give us some time.”

Protesting, “I should be here. What if— well, I maybe can—,” her voice trailed off as Buffy realized there was nothing she could do to change the outcome of the Moirae’s decision. Walking up to Cordelia, she no longer cared that her tears were falling. “I should have tried to stop them.”

“You couldn’t,” Cordelia realized that Buffy was blaming herself for not attempting to fight the Moirae.

“I’ve never been faced with anything I couldn’t kill,” Buffy admitted feeling helpless against what was happening. She glanced over Cordelia’s shoulder at Angelus and then back at Angel. “Not anything. This isn’t a fight I can win.”

Cordelia pulled Buffy into her arms for a hug. There was a time, however brief and unrealistic, when they thought they might become as close as sisters. Before the idea of double dating ran into a few snags, the major one being Angel and Buffy’s deteriorating relationship.

“It’s not your fault, Buffy,” she told the other teen while stepping back. “This isn’t something the Slayer has to fight, but you will have to accept it. I’ll have to accept it. God, I don’t want to, but it’s going to happen.”

There was a crack in Cordelia’s voice and unshed tears in her eyes. Something else that Buffy had never before experienced. It unnerved her to see that first tear fall and she followed its course down the curve of Cordelia’s cheek realizing no matter what she was feeling at the moment, Cordelia’s pain had to be doubled.

Xander had been right to say what he had when they were alone in the kitchen. This situation wasn’t about her or her remaining unresolved feelings for Angel.

“I-I’m—,” so sorry, Cor, “going now.”

Cordelia sighed in relief, not wanting to argue about it.

“You’ll call?”

“Tomorrow,” Cordelia promised.

Giles suggested, “Why don’t you call me. I will inform the others.”

After a huff of a minor protest, Buffy clamped her mouth shut. Secondhand news wasn’t quite what she wanted, but considering that Cordelia was not likely to be happy about any outcome it would be kinder to let her make one phone call. Buffy knew she would not be the cheerleader’s first choice.

“We’ll gather the summoning spell components another day,” Giles told Cordelia. “I’ll speak to you in the morning.”

She nodded and accepted the hug he gave her. Giles held out a hand to Angelus, “I can only say that you have shown extraordinary resolve given this opportunity. Your determination to fight alongside us and your love for Cordelia have proven you to be more than the sum of your past experiences.”

“Should I not be here in the morning, Rupert, I hope I can count on you to watch out for Cordelia,” Angelus told the Englishman as he shook his hand.

A hint of a smile appeared on his face as Giles glanced over at Cordelia. “I shall do so with as much veracity and tenaciousness as she did in looking out for me during my depression.”

“You knew what I was doing?” Cordelia reacted with surprise.

The Watcher grinned. “There is not much that brings you to the library excepting Scooby meetings.”

“That obvious, huh?”

“Afraid so, my dear.” Giles knew that he owed her a lot for those little niceties she provided even when it was only her encouraging smile. The genuine one that nobody thought her capable of possessing at the time.

Angel watched the exchange with amusement. It was only the fact that he realized that Cordelia looked at Giles as a fatherly figure that stopped him from ripping out the Watcher’s throat for daring to smile at her. There must have been something in the way he was staring because Giles kept his distance and didn’t bother with the offer of a handshake.

The Watcher did tell him, “Angel, I am certain that if you are present in the morning and your internal balance is restored we can let bygones by bygones.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Buffy inquired curiously.

“Nothing that concerns you, Buff,” Angel smirked while remembering threatening Rupert Giles a time or two.

“Oh. I-I’ll see you in the morning,” Buffy told him refusing to think otherwise.

Angel looked down at the Slayer who looked rather vulnerable with her tearstained face and petite body. With her blonde hair done up in a twisty knot, she looked even younger than her years. More like she did over a year ago when his heart was so full of her that he could feel nothing else.

“Goodbye, Buffy.” Taking her jaw in his hand, Angel tilted her face up to him as he pressed a hard and fast kiss onto her startled pouting lips.

“C’mon,” Xander took the Slayer by the arm seeing that she was staring up at Angel like she might never see him again, which he supposed was true. “Time to go.”

“No hug, Harris?” Angel laughed at Xander’s glare.

Xander paused for a moment, meeting Angel’s amused gaze. The vampire appeared to be relaxed despite this whole situation. Realizing that this might be the last time they ever faced off, Xander nodded his farewell. “Angel.”

The vampire did the same. “Xander.”

Oz followed Giles’ example with the handshaking. He made no effort to say anything suggestive of false platitudes. The vampires already knew the potential outcomes. It would be useless to say otherwise. The werewolf also kept a safe distance away from Cordelia sensing both Angelus and Angel were feeling a little territorial. He chose to give her a look that conveyed his concern and friendship.

Having purposefully waited, Willow broke into tears. She didn’t like goodbyes of any kind and knowing that one of them was going to be the forever kind made it difficult to say anything. She was closest to Angel having been standing next to Oz while he sent his silent messages of farewell.

Staring wordlessly at the vampire, Willow was completely unable to bring herself to say anything.

“I never gave you that punishment I promised,” Angel’s eyes sparkled. He ignored the look of caution that Oz sent his way. “It’s not too late.”

Willow tilted her chin up a little higher. “Thanks for making it easy, Angel. Goodbye.”

Then she turned immediately to wrap her arms around Angelus’ waist burying her head against his chest. She heard the other vampire chuckling behind her, but was too focused on the sound of her own sobbing to care. “I-I don’t want you to die.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Angelus quipped while wrapping his strong arms around Willow’s quaking form. He sent Cordelia a look of confusion as if he wasn’t quite certain what to do next.

Then Willow wretched herself out of his arms as if she couldn’t take it anymore. He was trying to be funny, but she knew that he had to be feeling sad or scared or any number of other emotions that vampires weren’t supposed to feel.

“T-Thanks for the fish,” Willow cringed at her own words. Surely she could’ve found something better to say to the last person in the world she ever expected would be her friend. Make that second to last. That honor belonged to Cordelia. She hugged the cheerleader tightly wishing that she could make this easier. “See you soon.”

Cordelia caught Willow’s arm as she started to move away. “Willow. I know the spell didn’t work the way you planned. Thanks for trying.”

Tearfully, Willow nodded. “Um, Cordy, I think I need to tell you something.”

Angelus put a hand on the redhead’s shoulder. “Tomorrow, Willow.”

“But—,” Willow’s protest was cut off by her own boyfriend echoing the vampire’s plea to wait.

“Time is passing, Willow,” Oz reminded. “We’re intruding on family time.”

“But—,” she started again only to bite down on her lower lip. Walking out to the van, she mumbled to herself, “Guess they’ll find out soon enough.”

Continue

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 37a   2 comments

The door to the main house suddenly opened to reveal an angry man recognizable despite his longer hair and period clothing. He slammed the wooden door shut with such force that it shook on its hinges. A stern voice came from the other side. “Get back in here ya young lout. Liam, ye’ll not talk ta me that way.”

Liam was already half way across the yard headed for the stables by the time his father finished his rant. “Who is he ta tell me what ta do? I wilna be stuck here forever.”

Turning the corner of the house, he disappeared from view forcing the group to run after him. Klotho picked up the edges of her robes. “Step carefully now. The horses have been here.”

“Couldn’t you just zap us over there?” questioned Xander as he avoided stepping into a large pile of horse manure. “Eew!”

“This is more fun,” came the Moira’s response as she tiptoed toward the stables. “Do hurry or you’ll miss my grand entrance.”

Cordelia and Buffy were ahead of the rest of them, both determined to learn more about the Fates’ dealings with the man who would eventually become Angelus. Even though Buffy was technically not supposed to care anymore, she asked in irritation, “Did you see the way Klotho looked at Angel?”

“At both of them,” Cordelia complained as her long strides carries her across the yard in swift measure. “She’s supposed to be the Fate of Life, but she’s all cute and dimply. Fate of Sluttiness is more like it.”

Buffy would have commented about Klotho looking ten months pregnant, but the two of them arrived at the stables with the others following close behind. “Oops! We missed the flashy entrance.”

Cordelia commented while focusing in on what she was seeing, “Looks like Miss Divine Being has Liam cornered.”

“Where did ya come from?” Liam looked more than just surprised to find a woman in his family’s stables, especially one so slim and beautiful wearing a diaphanous gown.

“I am Klotho,” she introduced herself. “Know me as one of the three Fates. I possess the key to your future.”

Liam gave the woman a hard stare. “Are ya daft?”

“I speak true, Liam, for I am fashioning a grand and glorious destiny for you should you choose to play the game,” Klotho revealed sashaying a little closer.

A smirk played at the corners of Liam’s mouth as his dark brown gaze traveled over the curvaceous form of the stranger. “What game is that?”

It seemed obvious from his tone that games of a sexual nature came to his mind. Those were games he knew well. “The game itself is beyond your comprehension, but you can be a major player if you so choose. Play or live out the rest of your days on this estate never realizing your true potential.”

“Ya sound like my father,” complained Liam. “Always wanting something. If ya can do what ya say, then you must be a witch.”

“If that is how you can comprehend my existence,” Klotho chose not to deny it. “What say you to my offer?”

Liam figured this was all likely a dream. Hadn’t he been drunk again last night? One of those tavern wenches probably had dark hair. Klotho didn’t look like a tavern wench, he had to admit. “What is it ya want from me?”

Dimples appeared as she smiled at him, drawing him out of his suspicious state back to one where his mind was focused on other matters. Reaching out, Klotho touched his face and ran a finger down to the vee of his shirt where his bare chest showed through. “Just you, Liam. Three times will I appear to you including today. Fulfill my desires and the destiny I revealed will be yours.”

Cordelia didn’t care that these events happened over two centuries before; she didn’t like the fact that Klotho was seducing the human version of her guy. “Hands off, you bimbo.”

Chuckling, Angel reminded Cordelia, “I didn’t know you then. There wasn’t a reason to say no.”

“Pfft!” Glaring at the Moira, Cordelia sent her a harsh stare. Klotho only giggled in response while combing her fingers through her loose ebony hair.

“Oh dear!” Giles pulled away from the stable doorway dragging Buffy back with him. “It appears that Liam accepted Klotho’s offer.”

“What do you have to say about all this?” Cordelia demanded of Angelus.

The vampire shrugged. “That wasn’t me.”

“Human you.”

Angelus looked over at the other men in the group. “Would you have said no?”

Giles, Xander and Oz found themselves under severe scrutiny by Buffy, Cordelia and Willow. Even Klotho appeared interested in their response. Simultaneously, they all answered, “Absolutely,” and “Uh-huh,” and “Yep.”

“Good answer,” Cordelia figured they were lying through their teeth. Trying to ignore the sounds emanating from the stable, she turned back to Klotho. “So you seduced Liam into agreeing to your grand plan. What was that? To let Darla turn him into a vampire? Was that your glorious destiny?”

“Liam never saw Klotho again,” Angel informed her, glancing back over his shoulder having been watching the show. “In fact, after this day, he forgot all about her.”

Angelus nodded in agreement with his brother. “Until Darla arrived and caught his eye. That’s when he realized his only destiny was going to be death.”

Klotho walked over to him. “Do you have any idea how interesting a vampire is to the Moirae? We who deal in birth and life and death normally see existence in linear fashion. But you are different. You live and die only to become something new until your final destiny comes as it does to all who exist.”

“Get on with this, Klotho,” he took her arm in his hand. For a moment, she looked at it as if considering some punishment, but the Fate only winked in response.

“You don’t want to stay until this scene plays out?” She seemed surprised. “Things are about to come to a climax.”

Giles cleared his throat. “I’m certain that they are, but it is unnecessary for us to remain.”

“Pooh! You’re no fun at all,” Klotho pouted. “Not like you used to be.”

The Englishman frowned. These Moirae were a little too omniscient for his liking. “Shall we continue?”

“No,” Angelus had another idea. “Why don’t I just summarize. Faster that way.”

Letting out a deep sigh, Klotho rolled her eyes. “Very well, Angelus, but let’s add some atmosphere.”

With the snap of her fingers, their party was swept away from Galway to another part of the world at a more dangerous time. The gloom of night was brightened only by a series of flickering street lights.

“This is London,” Angelus explained even as he soaked up the sights, sounds and smells surrounding them. “I forget the year. Sometime before I turned Dru.”

“Before 1860,” Giles put in recalling the date.

Angelus nodded. “The date isn’t really important. Darla was off at her dressmaker and I was planning a little trip to St. Catherine’s.”

“Is that a convent?” Buffy questioned as she subconsciously fingered the stake tucked in her belt. She knew Angelus had done some evil things in his day, but she certainly hoped that Klotho wasn’t about to lead them all to a bird’s eye view.

“I had a thing for convents,” Angelus shrugged apologetically.

Cordelia slapped him on the arm. “So what happened on the way to the convent?”

“I ran into her,” Angelus nodded in Klotho’s direction. “Somehow, I recognized her even after a hundred years. She claimed to be there to follow up on my promise to her.”

Getting impatient, Klotho complained, “Angelus doesn’t want you to see what happened, but he’s hedging on telling you the truth. The Moirae do not deal in lies, vampire. I will show them and you may deal with the consequences as you will.”

A low growl emerged from Angelus’ throat.

“Turn your eyes to the convent,” Klotho pointed a finger and as their eyes followed its course they suddenly appeared along the outer wall. “That is where you will find the vampire.”

Angelus roughly pinned the woman against the convent wall. “You again. How is this possible, witch?”

“I am no witch, but one of the Moirae,” Klotho shrieked as he held her down. In this form she was no more vulnerable than any other, but it was fun to play the game. Only rarely did she or her sisters venture out of their protected hall to interact with those mortals whom they held interest. “It is time for you to fulfill the next part of your bargain. Only then will you take the next step toward your destiny.”

“My destiny?” Angelus laughed coldly. “I am a vampire. You think I need you to create some glorious future for me? If I want it, I’ll make my own.”

“Believe that if you will, vampire, but the Moirae are not finished with you yet.” Klotho told him as Angelus buried his face in the crook of her neck.

He seemed confused by what he sensed. “You smell human. Your heart pumps. Blood courses through your veins.”

“It is illusion,” the Fate informed him. “Partake of me if you will, vampire, but only if you give me what I need.”

“Omigod!” Buffy gasped as Angelus buried his fangs in Klotho’s bare throat.

Watching himself with the willing Fate, Angelus knew all too well what was coming next and he demanded that Klotho take them away from the scene. He didn’t want Cordelia to have any more reminders about his past. “Don’t look,” Angelus cupped her face turning it away from the scene. “Baby, I don’t want you to see that.”

Tears glistened in her eyes as she heard the material of Klotho’s gauzy dress rip away and the voice of her mate tell the other woman that he wanted to hear her scream.

Whipping around to face the Moirae guide, Cordelia demanded to know what was going on. “Why was this necessary?”

“I am creating a champion for the Powers that Be,” Klotho gave her a gentle smile. “My methods may appear strange to you, but they exist as such only because you comprehend it to be this way. The Moirae are not corporeal entities, but we are if you believe us to be such.”

Cordelia watched Klotho’s hand circle around her hugely pregnant belly. “Creating a champion with Angelus’ help? He’s a vampire. They don’t—”

“There is much you do not understand, daughter,” Klotho’s smile was empathetic. “Be patient. When this night is through, you will understand the fullness of my meaning.”

Focusing on anything except the screaming in the background, Willow pointed out, “I’m sensing a pattern. First Liam. Then Angelus. Is the third visit to Angel?”

Klotho made an elegant gesture with her hand and London fell into a fog behind them to be replaced by more familiar surroundings. A city with tall buildings and old-fashioned cars. “Los Angeles circa 1952. That large building across the street is the Hyperion Hotel.”

“Never heard of it,” Cordelia commented. “Not exactly the Regent Beverly Wilshire or the Ritz Carlton, I take it.”

“Not exactly,” Angel found himself frowning at the sight of the hotel.

Cordelia started to walk across the street, “Let’s go.”

Angel latched onto her arm pulling her back to the sidewalk. “We don’t need to go in.”

“Why not? If Klotho made me watch Angelus getting bitey and groiny with her, I’m sure she’s not planning to let you off for good behavior.”

“I’m not at the hotel when she comes to me,” Angel explained and realized that there was no real reason why Klotho had to bring them to this spot other than to make him look at the Hyperion again. “Why are we here?”

Klotho arched a dark eyebrow at the question. “Does it have to mean something? Perhaps I am putting things into context for your companions.”

“Doubtful.” Angel wasn’t feeling excessively patient at the moment. “I’ve had enough of your games, Klotho. Take us to the planetarium.”

“There’s nothing going on over there. The hotel is more interesting,” she pointed out. He growled at her causing the Moira to huff in response to his temper. “Very well, vampire.”

Klotho brought them up close and personal. The Angel of 1952 was only a few feet away staring out at the Los Angeles skyline and the glittering stars shining overhead. The city’s famed planetarium was behind him bathed in light and making the white stone of its structure gleam. Angel was not here for the show that night, but the view was a different story.

The sound of footsteps behind him caused him to throw his cigarette to the ground as he whirled around, “I told you to go inside—”

It wasn’t the tearful Judy who had seen him standing there and come over to talk about the suicide at the hotel or to thank him for her interference with the man she claimed was her boyfriend. Klotho stood before him, her long hair and gauzy lilac gown blowing in the breeze. The people who had been milling about the outside of the planetarium had all vanished, either by her power or the simple reason of going in to watch the show.

“It is time, vampire,” Klotho extended her hand. “Share of your essence and you will find your heart’s desire. Destiny will be yours to claim.”

Angel took hold of her arms, his hands gripping the woman more tightly than necessary. “I thought you were done with your games. What destiny? I am a vampire cursed with a soul. You’ve interfered long enough.”

“Longer than you know,” Klotho told him. “From the moment of your conception have I spun the thread of your existence and when Atropos snipped your life away, I spliced it together again.”

Shaking her by the shoulders, Angel barely contained his anger. “Get away from me. You have no right to use me as your pawn.”

“You gave me the right,” Klotho reminded him, “with your promise and by accepting my terms to three visits.”

“This visit is over.”

Angel released her and turned back to stare out at the view. Only the woman did not leave as he hoped. She stepped up behind him to say, “Fate will find you, vampire. Wander where you will, brood and glower in the darkness of your own existence, but know that one day I shall have my way.”

He ignored her in favor of watching the moving lights of the cars along a boulevard, but Klotho’s words still sounded in his ears. Placing something in his pants pocket, she told him, “This charm is yours. Safeguard it for it will call you to the hall of the Moirae when you are ready. I desire completion of my mission, vampire. Come to me and I will assure your request is fulfilled.”

After a moment or two of silence, Angel asked, “What request?”

Spinning around, he realized that Klotho had vanished.

Cordelia stalked forward before Angelus could stop her and was now standing directly in front of the 1952 Angel who was staring at the charm he had removed from his pocket. In an instant, his expression returned to that blank stare that Cordelia used to associate with Angel’s deepest brooding sessions.

“You’re so sad,” Cordelia reached out to touch Angel only to find that her hand passed directly through as if she was completely intangible. “So lonely.”

Joining her, Klotho reminded her that this was only illusion. Then looking back at Angel, she added, “It is a broken man who stands before you. A vampire cursed with his human soul. One who cannot separate himself from the pain and anguish he has caused time and time again.”

“You did this,” Cordelia accused as she turned on Klotho unable to stay silent. “Fates or Moirae or whatever you are. You arranged it all to suit your own plan. Darla. The gypsies and their curse. They’re all part of some big picture.”

“They are part of the tapestry of the vampire’s existence,” Klotho admitted. “Just as you and your companions have your own life threads, so too does the vampire. It is the eternal task of the Moirae to maintain the balance between Order and Chaos, Good and Evil.”

Buffy had been silent for a long time, unable to find her voice after the shock of seeing the soulless version of her former boyfriend in action during his heyday. Now things had finally started to gel together as she put all of it into the context of her own circumstances and existence. “Are you saying that he was Chosen?”

“In a way.”

“Chosen for what?” asked Angelus.

Angel sounded out a dark laugh as the question drew a look of surprise from the others. “You’ve been watching what happened. Why would you think we know any more than you do? Poor Liam never stood a chance. Some seductive witch comes along, promises him a grand future and all she wants in return is a roll in the hay and two more liaisons.”

Giles had the decency to blush as he admitted, “No doubt difficult to turn down.”

“Pfft!” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “From what I’ve been told, Liam would’ve been looking for the second and third hay rolls right away.”

“Cordy!” gasped Willow.

The brunette shrugged matter-of-factly. “It’s true. Just ask Angelus.”

Green eyes darted in the vampire’s direction. She wondered what stories he had told his mate about his human years and his days as the Scourge of Europe.

Klotho interrupted them, deciding that it was time to move on. “Discuss these pittances at another time. It is time to return to the Great Hall and rejoin my sisters.”

Just as before, the scene faded to a white haze only to be replaced by a new location as the fog cleared. Lakhesis and Atropos greeted their sister upon her return with a silence that seemed full of questions.

“It is as I feared,” Klotho revealed. “They have seen all, but know nothing. These lower beings are so difficult to reach.”

“You reached my vampires easily enough,” Cordelia muttered.

Lakhesis held up a hand to beacon them forward. “Come, my children. Gather before us and I shall impart to you the knowledge you seek.”

“Why don’t I ask the questions,” Giles suggested to the rest of the group.

Cordelia glared at him for suggesting it, but saw no reason not to let him give it a whirl. That wouldn’t stop her from jumping in if necessary. Flashing him a grin, “Go ahead.”

Angel and Angelus were of a similar mind. Let the Watcher talk, gather information and step in if they weren’t getting the answers they needed. “Fine” and “Fine” were their responses. Seeing no reason to disagree, Buffy, Xander, Willow and Oz nodded their consent.

“You have shown us images of the past,” Giles began after a nervous tug on his collar. “Klotho has revealed that Angel and Angelus are part of some long-term scheme to create a champion.”

There was no denial by the Moirae. Lakhesis merely continued to give the Watcher her full attention.

Glancing over at Klotho’s huge belly, Giles commented, “By the looks of things, I’d say your plan seems to have worked.”

Again, there was no confirmation or denial. The three Fates were now seated on their stools again in the same positions as when they first arrived. Noting that neither one seemed to be responding, Angelus leaned over to the Watcher. “They’re waiting for an actual question.”

“Oh!” Giles realized he hadn’t actually asked one. “Angel obviously used the charm given him to contact Klotho again. He asked for your help in securing his soul and to separate him from Angelus’ influence. You warned him of the dangers ahead and now we are seeing sequelae in the form of psychological manifestations.”

Cordelia grabbed the sleeve of his tweed coat, “Questions. Ask them. Now.”

“What did you do, why is this happening and can you fix it?” Giles blurted.

“Sheesh! I could’ve asked that myself,” Xander grumbled having expected a tough inquiry from the Watcher.

The Fates were smiling, even toothless Atropos. Speaking for her sisters, Lakhesis told them, “Your questions are not unexpected nor are they unworthy of answers. The vampire appeared in our halls and made his plea. As was the understanding, his arrival came with a price which he paid.”

“Wait a second,” Buffy strode forward and whirled Angel around to face her. “Is she saying what I think she’s saying?”

“Back off, Slayer,” Angel growled removing his arm from her powerful grip. Cordelia immediately stepped over to try to keep him calm. Buffy’s presence wasn’t exactly one to help maintain his cool these days. “You heard Klotho’s terms. I did what I had to do. It got you what you wanted.”

Buffy’s lower lip trembled under the weight of his stare. “Until you went wacko on me.”

“All is as we designed it to be,” Lakhesis revealed. “Before his human birth, this entity drew our attention. Through Liam’s human life and death we watched and observed. As a vampire, Angelus made a name and built a reputation amongst his kind like few before him. Until the interference of a gypsy curse waylaid him.”

“It always comes back to the curse,” Xander pointed out as he sat down on the ground.

Lakhesis looked at him with disdain. “That is hardly showing respect for superiors. Be seated properly if you must.”

Xander suddenly found himself in a large leather recliner with his feet propped up. Giles was next to him in what looked like the chair from his living room. In a similar chair, Oz and Willow were sitting together with the witch on his lap. Buffy was stretched out on a chaise lounge while Cordelia sat between the two vampires on a small sofa.

“Comfy?” Lakhesis asked Xander.

Nodding, he gave her a show of thumbs up while silently vowing to keep his mouth shut for a while. “This is great.”

Returning to her oration, Lakhesis described the events leading up to the curse. Cordelia suddenly found herself confused as to which vampire she was supposed to feel sorry for. Was it Angelus who was cursed or Angel who had to live with the results? The past was past, but this discussion couldn’t be pleasant for either one of them.

Cordelia leaned over to kiss Angelus. Giving her an encouraging smile, he took her hand into his. “It’ll be okay, baby. We’ll get through this together.”

“All of us?” The questions came as a whisper from her lips still overtly conscious of the fact that she had no opportunity to talk to her mate about Angel.

“We’re still a family,” Angelus answered only to find as he lifted his head that Atropos was staring in his direction catching him talking no doubt.

Swiftly, Angelus turned his attention back to Lakhesis. She was much easier on the eyes than the old crone who appeared to be waggling her eyebrows in his direction. “The curse not only returned the human soul to the vampire, but it did so in a way that created two primary personalities, one that was pure Angelus and the other who was forced to endure the existence of the first.”

Giles turned to Angel, asking, “You were aware of this? That Angelus existed separately from your own personality.”

“When I asked for the Moirae to remove Angelus’ influence,” Angel told the Watcher, “I wasn’t asking them to take away my past. I wanted him out of my head.”

Angelus pointed out, “I had to put up with you, too.”

“The curse caused disparity and imbalance where none existed before.” Lakhesis sighed, “The vampire proves my point.”

Giles sat up and tugged at the lapels of his jacket upon hearing the information about the curse. “Imbalance was my theory, too, except I didn’t realize that it happened with the curse. I assumed that it was a result of your separation spell.”

“You assume quite a lot, Watcher,” the Moirae speaker pointed out. “Sometimes that is a necessary task. However, now you seek to interfere in a process which has taken centuries to unfold.”

Angel’s eyes narrowed upon Lakhesis with sudden clarity. “You knew this would happen when you agreed to my terms.”

“You are dealing with the Moirae, vampire,” Atropos cut in, “not with some simpleton soothsayers or sorceresses.”

Protesting at the reference, Willow heard herself shout, “Hey!”

The old crone’s piercing violet eyes turned to the redhead. “Do not take offense, witch. We are as far beyond your censure as you are beyond being a simpleton or a sorceress.”

Lakhesis smoothed things over and waited until Atropos resumed her seat. “We Moirae are not all-powerful though our abilities can bend events and situations to our will. It was our desire that the vampire’s request be granted despite the danger to our own plans.”

“Why would it interfere?” Buffy asked, still irritated that Angel had gone to the Fates when she would have told him not to do so. “He already agreed to keep his promise to Klotho. Miss I’m-Creating-A-Champion. This only happened a few months ago, so why does she look like she’s having a baby elephant?”

“Buffy!” Giles gave her a harsh stare. Insults and accusations were not likely to get them the answers they needed. “The pregnancy is metaphorical. Remember what Klotho told us about the Moirae?”

“No,” Buffy admitted blinking in confusion. A metaphorical pregnancy? Huh?

Giles removed his glasses and cleaned them with the end of his tie. “The Moirae are not corporeal beings.”

“Do not concern yourself with such, Chosen One,” Lakhesis suggested. “These matters are no longer within your purview.”

The Slayer followed the Moira’s glance which had settled upon the three occupants of the couch. With slow dawning, Buffy realized she had just been told by Lakhesis to mind her own business.

“Our intention was to restore a balance,” Lakhesis explained to the group. “By separating the form of the vampire, we forced an unnatural polarization of the personalities. Good and evil. Souled and soulless. Conditions were made and assurances given. During the difficult time ahead, we Moirae arranged for the vampire to return to Sunnydale and take up the Good Fight at the side of the Chosen One.”

“Something went wrong,” Cordelia complained explaining to the Moirae that Angel had turned into Psycho Vamp while Angelus seemed to be able to control his demonic urges for the most part.

Lakhesis found the confusion amusing. “Nothing went wrong. All is as we intended. The vampire exists in two forms with layered connections between them, foremost the soul.”

“Angelus has a soul?” Cordelia gaped at the implication.

“He is influenced by it now as I’m certain you have seen, daughter.”

Cordelia glanced up at Angelus with a new understanding. “He loves me.”

“The separation created a temporary balance, but this did not allow the fruition of our plans. For true balance to be achieved it requires each personality to experience that which is unique to the other.” Lakhesis allowed herself a moment to enjoy the starry look in the hazel eyes of the vampire’s mate for it would not long remain.

“Unique?”

Lakhesis provided the details with patience. “The demon must experience emotions and love to an extent only those with a soul may possess. The soul must experience the harsh realities of the vampire’s true nature unfiltered by the influence of the other personality and keep those urges in check.”

“Do you see the genius of it all?” Klotho spun around in a circle despite her girth letting out a merry laugh. “Soul and demon. Order and Chaos. Opposites existing together as a tool for Good or Evil. A champion fashioned for the Powers that Be from the purity that was the human Liam and the demon Angelus with the essence of unrealized potential in Angel.”

With a growing sense of dread, Giles rose out of his chair to face Lakhesis. “What is your intent?”

“Our intent should be clear to you, Watcher, just as it should for all of you,” Lakhesis told them. “Destiny’s path remains unchanged as we have described it. Come the dawn the balance shall be restored and only the vampire who is our champion shall remain.”

Chapter 38

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 37   2 comments

Chapter 37: Confronting the Moirae

Cordelia’s heart thudded with such fear and excitement that it seemed to echo in her ears. Summoning the Moirae meant getting answers. Explanations were due and she intended to get them no matter what it took. Despite her enthusiasm to have them fix the vampires’ problems, a strange sense of dread clouded the whole situation.

Tonight’s decision came so suddenly, rattling her nerves. Given the same news, Cordelia would not have delayed the casting of this spell, but it left no time to speak to Angelus about her talk with his brother. Postponing it until after the Moirae came and went. Until they took care of the mess they made. Once Angelus and Angel were out of danger, only then would Cordelia tell her mate that she discovered feelings for his twin.

She couldn’t understand how her heart could be so contrary when she loved Angelus the way that she did. After the incident at Harmony’s house, Cordelia truly thought she hated Angel. The discovery that her emotions went beyond the scope of their friendship and the concern she felt for his strange behavior shocked Cordelia. The feelings exposed after the demon battle and during their recent time alone together completely opposed that hate.

Loving Angel left a constant raw ache in her chest. Though undeniable, their love would go unfulfilled because it had to be that way. Other than acknowledging the fact that their feelings existed, nothing could be done. Not anything Cordelia could determine anyway. Angelus deserved to know the truth before he made the discovery on his own. Especially if became necessary to continue with Giles’ alone time theory for maintaining Angel’s psychological equilibrium.

Skirting the powdered edge of the circular symbol on the foyer floor, she headed directly for Angelus. The vampire had showered and changed clothes sometime between meeting up with Giles about the spell and now, a sign that patrol had been eventful. Cordelia ate him up with her eyes as she crossed the room finding the urge to touch him like needing air to breathe.

Powerful arms left bare by his black muscle shirt wrapped around her as Cordelia stepped close. Their bodies leaned into one another as their lips met in a long drugging kiss.

Interrupting, Giles cleared his throat and announced that he wanted everyone to head into the living room. “We must all be prepared for what is to come. Summoning the Moirae is not an easy task or one without dangers.”

The group filed back into the other room. Cordelia noticed that it was stocked with some of the things they used to prepare the foyer. A white flipchart had been set up on a table-top easel on the pool table. Pulling a face, Cordy realized this was going to be one of the Watcher’s historic lessons with the added bonus of his not-so-artistic renderings. They’d be lucky to get this spell cast tonight considering that his usual background information often took longer than killing whatever demon they’d been researching.

Picking up a black marker from the easel tray, Giles pulled the cap off attaching it to the bottom of the pen. “Does anyone have any specific questions or comments?”

Willow held up her hand as if she was in class at school. When he nodded, she suggested, “Since I know all of this already I’m going into the other room to meditate.”

“Certainly,” Giles readily agreed with the girl. She needed a clear head for this spell. The summoning itself would be dangerous enough without random thoughts distracting her during the process. “Good idea.”

Xander watched her escape and muttered, “I wanna meditate too.”

As soon as Willow was out of the room, Oz was asking, “Exactly how dangerous is this?”

Cordelia heard the concern in Oz’ voice. He stood there in his jeans and t-shirt, running a hand through his unkempt blond-spiked red hair looking more visibly nervous than she had ever seen him. Awaiting Giles’ answer with bated breath, Cordelia had not realized the act of summoning the Moirae would present a danger to the witch.

“There is some inherent level of danger with every spell that is cast,” Giles commented. “Willow has never attempted anything like the spell she will cast tonight. Its powers are steeped in darkness partially because of the talisman that must be used to activate it. She is determined to go through with it and I can see no other choice in the matter.”

Oz didn’t like the fact that his girlfriend was being placed in harm’s way, but knew that the Watcher was correct. Once Willow made up her mind about something, it was very difficult to dissuade her from pursuing that course. “Just tell us more about these Moirae and explain what we can do to help.”

In complete agreement with the werewolf’s request, Giles knew it was necessary to bring everyone onto the same page. While Willow knew all of the details of his research, none of those present had all of the information on the Moirae, the talisman or the spell to be used for its invocation. While it might not be necessary to tell them everything, Giles felt it important that they understand as much as possible about the situation before coming face to face with a group of higher beings.

“Let’s start with a brief rundown on the Moirae,” he suggested knowing that most of them were quite clueless. “There is quite a bit of historical documentation to be found, but most of it is rooted in Greco-Roman mythology where they are the personifications of destiny. Cross-referencing information with ancient demon texts and tomes indicates that the Moirae are powerful immortals linked to a group widely referred to as the Powers that Be.”

Buffy glanced over at Angel as Giles continued to talk. He was standing against the wall of the living room, his dark eyes focused on Cordelia. It had been weird finding them at the video store; especially because of the way they were behaving. When she arrived at the library with Xander, planning to talk to Giles about the incident, it was to find Angelus there.

The temptation to tell the vampire that his mate was running around town with Angel was almost overwhelming. Alone time? Like she was supposed to believe Giles would tell the soulless vampire he was going to have to share Cordelia with his brother? Angelus would rip his head off. Except, Buffy had to acknowledge, the evil vampire hadn’t been quite so evil. It was Angel who had been acting like a demon lately.

Returning her attention to Giles, Buffy tried to focus on her Watcher’s words. History lessons weren’t her usual thing after successful research. Stifling a yawn, she figured she might need a caffeine infusion by the time he was finished. Her thoughts sing-songed in her head. Bo-ring!

“Homer in his great works mentions only one Fate called Moira,” Giles referenced one writer from antiquity. “However, most others including the demonic texts which predate Homer’s work by millennia all agree that there are three Fates and use a pluralization of the term: Moirae.”

Angelus offered up a confirmation, “There are three. Klotho, Lakhesis and Atropos.”

“Now that we are on the verge of their summoning,” Giles suggested, “perhaps you and your brother will now share the circumstances of the promise and prophesy to which you alluded.”

“I can’t,” refused Angelus firmly as he unconsciously threaded his fingers through Cordelia’s. “That is part of the promise. Only the Moirae themselves can reveal it.”

With determination, Cordelia commented, “Oh, they will.”

Catching the gleam in her eye, Angel warned the brunette, “Don’t come across to them as threatening. Their powers to affect fate and destiny are more than myth.”

“Well the Fates will find themselves destined for a little ass-kicking if they don’t help you.” Cordelia warned that she wasn’t going to stay silent. Pfft! Threatening? Who was he kidding?

Giles worried about Cordelia’s reaction himself. Tact was not her forte. One just didn’t demand that higher beings follow one’s desires. Fortunately, the talisman normally used a conduit for communication with the demon god normally summoned by the Morvrak clan and Giles hoped the rules would remain the same here. That meant Willow would have to act as their spokesperson, but he figured that would be better than making it open season.

Picking up where he left off, the Watcher went on to say, mythologically speaking, that the Moirae were goddesses of birth, fate and death. Prophetic in nature, they revealed themselves through oracles and soothsayers only rarely appearing in physical form to the people of Mediterranean antiquity. Rarely did they interfere directly in human affairs, rather focusing upon larger events.

“The stories are much the same throughout the demon races with the exception that the Powers that Be have some influence over events, much like a war being waged or a game being played with Earth as the battlefield or gameboard.” Giles found it all unsettling, but fascinating at the same time. There were so many questions that had come up about Buffy and the origin of the Slayer during his research, a sidebar that he hadn’t had time to explore.

Leaning over the back of the couch, Xander asked, “So are these Powers the good guys or the bad guys?”

“Excellent question,” Giles pointed at him marker still in hand.

“Ooh! Do I get a gold star?”

Buffy elbowed Xander, “Teacher’s pet.”

“Class clown,” Cordelia corrected.

Sucking in a deep breath, Giles ignored them both in favor of turning to his flipchart. With a flourish, he scribbled on the paper. “Think of this as the universe,” he told them as he drew a square.

Quickly, the Watcher added words to each of the four corners of the square. Order in the top left corner, Good at the top right with Evil and Chaosoccupying the bottom left and right corners. He drew a diagonal line from Order to Chaos and another from Good to Evil so that a large X formed inside the square.

Adding bi-directional arrows between the words, Giles then turned back to face the group expecting them to follow along. He thought the drawing self-explanatory, but considering the blank stares, they apparently needed a little interpretation.

“This explains Universal Theory,” he pointed at the chart.

Oz gave a nod, speaking up when the others remained silent or simply confused. “Order and Chaos are universal forces acting in opposition of each other. The same applies to the concepts of Good and Evil.”

“Yes,” Giles was relieved that someone understood. Pointing to the arrows, he further explained, “Order influences that which is Good and that which is Evil, but is in direct opposition of Chaos. The same works in reverse. Chaos also influences Good and Evil, but opposes the forces of Order.”

Buffy tried to follow along, but didn’t see where the Moirae fit into Giles little theory of the universe. So she rephrased Xander’s question, “Where do the Fates come in? Goodies or Baddies?”

“Just getting to that,” Giles told her as he selected a blue marker. With the motion of his wrist, he drew a circle at the center of the square so that the crosshairs of the X met in the middle. “On the chart, the Moirae occupy a spot at the center. They are neither Good nor Evil and owe allegiance neither to Order nor Chaos. They may determine and chart the path of destiny, but are subject to the whims of their own design and to the undeniable influence of free will.”

“In other words,” Cordelia’s eyes narrowed in understanding, “they play both sides of the field. That makes them dangerous.”

Confirming it, Giles answered, “Absolutely. Powerful beyond the scope of any beings we have ever encountered, the Moirae possess abilities we cannot begin to imagine. Only the fact that they have freely involved themselves with Angel and Angelus leaves us a small chance that we will not be censured for daring to summon them.”

Cordelia glanced around the room at the others, realizing that if this could get dangerous some people didn’t really need to take the risk. Straightening to a standing position, she released herself from her mate’s gentle hold and turned to face them. “Go home, Xander. You don’t need to be here.”

“What?” Xander bounded off the couch to protest.

“You either, Buffy,” she added quickly. “This may be dangerous, but we don’t need to have a Slayer tonight. If something happens, Sunnydale still needs you.”

“Forget it, Cor,” refused Buffy while crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m not leaving.”

“Neither am I,” put in Xander hurtfully. Maybe he didn’t like Angel, but that did not mean that he wanted to take the safe way out. Besides, he wanted to make sure that Psycho Vamp wasn’t going to be a threat to Cordelia, Buffy or anyone else.

Oz pointed out, “You didn’t ask me.”

“I figured you’d stay because of Willow.” The werewolf nodded silently. Cordelia had gotten that right.

“What does Will have to do to cast this spell?” Buffy asked her Watcher.

Giles told her, “It’s actually quite simple in a highly complicated way. The talisman will be used to open the dimensional gate and hold the Moirae to our plane of existence. Only Willow’s detailed study of their powers and circumstances will allow her any control to summon them at all. What she says is less important than what she believes to be within her abilities. If she thinks she can wield the talisman to summon the Moirae, she can do so.”

“So you’re also saying that if Willow doesn’t know enough about the Moirae, she’s just as likely to summon my Aunt Edna from Toledo?” asked Xander doubtfully.

Distractedly, Giles asked, “You have an Aunt Edna?” Only afterward realizing the boy was making a point, he added, “Technically, yes. That is why you must all focus your own thoughts on the success of Willow’s spell.”

“So we’re all here and informed and as ready as we’re gonna get, Giles,” urged Cordelia. “Can we get this thing started?

The instructions Giles provides were simple. They were all to stand in equidistant spaces around the circle each holding a small bouquet of dried herbs and flowers. Willow was at the top of the circle wearing the Morvrak talisman around her neck. Now only the soft glimmer of the candlelight staved off the darkness all unnatural lights having been turned off.

Silence reigned for several minutes until the soft voice of Willow Rosenberg spoke with gathering power as she invoked the magick that would activate the talisman.

“Infinite Moirae, Daughters of Night and Darkness, harbingers of fate and destiny, I call you from your dwelling place in the hidden halls of the universe. Stand before those who would seek your counsel.”

Willow paused for a fraction of a second and those gathered around the circle saw an aura of golden light surround the young witch with a brighter flash centering on the talisman.

“Come forth Klotho, spinner of life’s thread…Lakhesis, apportioner of lots…Atropos, the inevitable one…I summon thee to this earthly plane. By my will and the power of this talisman, I call you to appear before us.”

Warm beams of energy passed from person to person around the circle until the outer ring shone with a strange mystic light binding them with its power. Willow and Giles met each other’s gaze across the space of the circle, both realizing that the talisman was not supposed to work this way.

“Giles,” the teenager called out in a moment of panic. “I think something is wro—”

A powerful whoosh of energy suddenly sucked everyone toward the center of the circle snuffing out the candlelight and leaving them in darkness. Not even the vampires’ vision could pierce the black void that surrounded them. Angelus felt the rubbery sole of a shoe beneath his hand. “Who’s that?”

“Me,” answered Buffy. “Angel?”

“Try again, Buff.”

Muttering under her breath, Angelus heard the Slayer complain that it wasn’t her fault if she couldn’t tell them apart in the dark.

“Are we all here?” Giles’ voice queried from nearby. “Willow?”

“Over here.” Sounding embarrassed by the whole thing she started to apologize to the group even if she couldn’t see them. In fact, the darkness made it a little easier. “Maybe I did something wrong.”

Giles rushed to assure her, “You were doing a superb job.”

“Then what happened?” Willow wailed in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

While Willow babbled on, Cordelia found herself lying on the ground with a hard body sprawled across her. Angel, obviously. If she hadn’t already known that Angelus was somewhere to her left, Cordelia would have guessed immediately which vampire this was simply because of the way he was taking advantage of the darkness.

Lifting his weight off of her, Angel’s hand followed the shapely route of her leg from ankle to thigh teasing at the edge of her skirt. Cordelia’s hand came down to stop his progress and she heard a soft chuckle in her ear as he leaned in close. “This could be fun if you let it,” Angel smiled against the soft skin of her throat as he nuzzled her.

“Move it,” Cordelia whispered back only to have his mouth unerringly find hers even under the cover of darkness.

A teasing caress, his firm lips brushed over hers causing a warm rush of air to escape from her mouth in a long sigh. Angel pulled back to help Cordelia to her feet. No matter that he’d prefer to keep on kissing her, there were more important things to figure out right now.

“Cordy and I are over here,” Angel informed the group as Giles continued his roll call.

The Watcher had already figured that out being closer than some of the others. Close enough to hear them whispering even if he couldn’t make out the details. “Uh, very good. Oz? Xander?”

Both guys responded.

“Now what?” Buffy asked the group moving in the darkness out of instinct.

Like a sudden sunrise, light filtered in the distance brightening a marbled hall at the end of a short tunnel. Obviously, they were no longer inside the mansion.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” Xander commented as he found Buffy standing by his side.

Angel and Angelus exchanged a look. Having dealt with the Moirae before, neither one found this surprising or unfamiliar. “The Fates have chosen we come to them.”

“So much for my spell,” Willow muttered again as she looked down at the talisman.

Giles patted her on the shoulder. “Your spell worked. Just differently than intended.”

“Let’s go,” Cordelia urged. “Standing around isn’t going to get us any answers.”

She was already headed in the direction of the tunnel when the two vampires caught up with her. The rest of the group followed closely behind.

Exiting the tunnel, they emerged into a large pillared chamber designed like a Greek temple. Other than a brief glance at their surroundings, all eyes were focused on the three women at the center of a dais. They were surrounded by thread, colorful cloth and piles of tattered fiber as they busily continued at their tasks until the group reached the dais.

“Sisters, they have come,” the woman in the center looked at them with eyes of vibrant violet from a face that otherwise appeared traditionally Greek. Her dark ebony hair was swept up into an intricate twist and decorous braids. A colorful tapestry lay across her lap covering much of the purple gown.

Pausing in their tasks of spinning threads and snipping them, the two other women took a long look at the new arrivals. Sitting at a huge spinning wheel, the first one looked to be a younger version of the others. Those same piercing eyes stared back at them from a face suffused with youth and beauty. Loose midnight hair fell in long waves down her back.

“They have brought my vampire,” the young one stood slowly, her lilac robes shifting and revealing a large rounded belly.

Angel and Angelus sent each other confused looks after noting the Fate’s pregnant condition. This was the first time she had appeared to them this way though, as Giles pointed out earlier, she was the embodiment of life and childbirth. Still, Angel had to ask, “Klotho?”

An amused titter filtered from her mouth as Klotho glanced toward her other sisters. It was the eldest Fate who spoke next. “Are you so anxious to meet your destiny, vampire?”

Giles watched the exchange with rapt fascination. This elderly woman with silvered hair had to be Atropos. She held her scissors in one gnarled and wrinkled hand while the other pulled at the loose threads from Lakhesis’ tapestry.

“It would be easy to arrange,” she sounded out a cackle as she snipped the scissors closed across a series of the threads. “Just like that.”

Her voice was as cold and merciless as the grave, Giles decided with morbid interest as he remembered that was what this Fate represented. The end of life. The final destiny. The inevitable outcome to all things.

Angel held up his hands cautioning Atropos against any hasty decisions. “We are here for answers and a little help.”

“Have you not had enough of our assistance?” Lakhesis asked him with distinct curiosity. “This thread must be played out to its conclusion. You—”

“Look, lady,” Cordelia cut her off, “I don’t care if you’re like the Red Cross for vampire assistance. Mine need help because your spell went wrong and is making them psycho.”

Lakhesis slowly rose to her sandled feet placing the tapestry upon the stool she had vacated. “Do not deign to threaten us, daughter. You know naught of our dealings with the vampire.”

“Clue me in.”

“Agreed,” answered Lakhesis so calmly that it diffused some of Cordelia’s suddenly hot temper. “I shall reveal all, but first I would have us formally meet those present, for there is much to say to your companions. Beginning with the one whose spell interrupted our weaving.”

Willow grabbed Oz’ arm as three sets of identical eyes turned toward her. “M-Me?”

“Know you the price for interference, child of chaos?” Lakhesis inquired finding a fearful expression on the redhead’s face. There would be more fear in the days and years ahead. Fear. Sadness. Love. Loss. Anger. “Yours will be a rocky path until your true potential is achieved.”

Giles dared to step forward. “This was my idea. Do not take it out on Willow.”

“The witch will follow her own course of destiny, Rupert Giles. Take care to focus upon your own,” Lakhesis looked deeply into his eyes as she spoke. “Fate’s path shall take you from that which you hold most dear during a critical juncture.”

That which I hold most dear? Giles asked himself what she might be referring to and could come up with only one conclusion. He glanced over at Buffy whose eyes were already trained upon him. Taken away at a critical juncture? When? How?

Too many questions rattled in his brain as Giles turned back to Lakhesis, but the woman was already focusing on the Slayer herself. “Greetings, Chosen One. You honor our hall with your presence.”

“I do?” Buffy gaped a little before remembering her manners. Maybe she could convince the Moirae to change their minds about punishing Willow and Giles. “Um, Hi.”

Before she could make her point, Lakhesis held up a hand of silence. “Do not seek to interfere in the fates of others within our hallowed halls. Know that your own destiny is unique even amongst your own kind.”

Buffy frowned and commented to Xander who stood next to her, “Kinda cryptic.”

“Xander Harris.” The sound of his name startled the teenager.

“Haven’t done a thing to bother you. Nope. Just standing here,” Xander grinned widely while hoping to avoid any prophesies that told him something he didn’t want to hear.

To his surprise, a slow smile curled the woman’s lips. Observing him for several seconds of silence, Lakhesis told him, “You are loyal to your friends.”

As her attention moved on, Xander found himself asking, “What? No sneak peek into my future?”

“Shh!” Buffy cautioned him.

Lakhesis paused, turning back to Xander. “Very well, child of order. Know that your path follows the Chosen One.”

“Oh.” Xander could deal with that. “Okay.”

“Daniel Osbourne,” called out Lakhesis drawing the werewolf out from his position at the witch’s side.

He commented politely, “I go by Oz.”

“Fate has already taken a turn in your life,” Lakhesis referred to the bite that turned him into a werewolf. “Your true nature calls to you from the depths of your being, child of chaos. Seek enlightenment or the darkness will take you.”

Cordelia watched as the cool violet eyes turned upon her. “So now it’s my turn? I’m not interested. Just tell me about Angelus and Angel.”

“Be not so hasty in your decisions, daughter,” Lakhesis cautioned. “For your fate remains entwined with the vampire. Do you not desire to know your future?”

“No.” Cordelia didn’t want to hear it, especially because Lakhesis seemed all too eager to share the information. “You already know what I want.”

“Oh, yes, Cordelia Chase. I do.”

“Enough, Lakhesis,” growled Angelus as he placed a hand on Cordelia’s hip to draw her into the protection of his arms. “You Moirae did not bring us here on a whim or simply because Willow cast the summoning spell. There is a purpose behind it beyond our own.”

Atropos commented, “The vampire senses that his destiny draws near, sister.”

“Agreed, but the others remain ignorant,” Lakhesis concluded as she glanced from one to the other. “Perhaps it is now time to reveal what lies ahead with a look back at what came before.”

An excited sound emerged from Klotho as she clapped her hands together merrily at the idea of sharing details. Moving away from her spinning wheel, the youngest Fate approached the two vampires with a lightness of step that defied her gravid state. She gave each one a cheeky smile dimpling at their identical stares before turning her attention to Cordelia who was not at all pleased with the flirtatiousness of this higher being.

The eyes that met hers were unlike any Cordelia had ever seen, not only their violet hue, but also the mysteries hidden within their depths. Klotho’s gaze seemed to draw her in. “Shall I tell you of my first meeting with your vampire? Except that he was not a vampire then, but human like you.”

First meeting? Human? Cordelia’s thoughts were spinning as she realized that the Moirae had been even more involved than she imagined.

No words were spoken between them, but the understanding was clear enough that this was something Cordelia wanted to know. Their surroundings seemed to shift out of focus and when things settled again, the entire group found themselves at a small estate in the countryside.

Klotho told the vampires, “The sunlight shall not harm you. This is only the illusion of memory.”

“Where are we?” Xander asked Buffy as he looked over the lush greenery of the distant hills and watched as people milled about the place wearing strange costumes.

The Slayer was trying to piece all of this together. “We’re being shown Angel’s past, so my guess is Ireland.”

“Galway, Ireland,” Klotho told them helpfully. “As you understand your calendar, the year is 1750.”

Giles commented, “Three years before Darla made Angelus.”

“Do be quiet, dear Watcher,” Klotho admonished him for interrupting. “Observe and you will understand the nature of our dealings.”

Continue

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete

Double or Nothing. 36   1 comment

Chapter 36: Alone Time

Almost immediately after Rupert Giles’ departure from the school lounge, Angelus was on his feet standing directly in front of his brother.

Angel had the nerve to look relaxed and comfortable as he took up his corner of the couch. Any second now he was going to get that satisfied smirk wiped off his face.

“The Watcher is out of his mind if he thinks I’ll agree to this.” Angelus sounded cool and controlled in direct contrast to his hot-tempered, barely restrained urge to make this a physical fight. “It’s not going to happen.”

Calmly, Angel responded, “Fine. I didn’t think you’d have the guts to trust me.”

“Trust you?” The comment seemed so absurd that Angelus glanced over at Cordelia expecting to hear a ‘pfft’ or see her roll her eyes. She was doing neither. There was only a concerned expression staring back at him.

Angel caught the exchange between the two, but wanted to point out, “If you don’t trust me, then the Watcher’s judgment should have some impact on your jealous pea-brain.”

That caught his attention again, Angel watched his brother’s head snap back to send him a harsh glare. Stay focused.

“It’s not jealousy. I have every right not to want you near my mate,” he barked back with growing fury.

Clasping a hand to his chest as if promising something that came from his heart, Angel reminded, “I had nothing to do with Rup’s little theory. This is his idea. I didn’t put him up to it.”

Angel added silently, Maybe I hurried it along a little once I figured out what he was thinking. Gave an Oscar-worthy performance or two tonight. But it was entirely his idea.

“His idea sucks,” Angelus growled at the unfairness of it all.

“I don’t think so.”

Pacing now, Angelus turned back to him. “You wouldn’t, considering it lets you spend time with Cordelia. Touching my mate.”

“Hold on!” Cordelia grabbed onto his leather coat as he swept past forcing Angelus to pause in his determined path of wearing a hole into the floor. “’Scuse me for butting into my own business. Who says there’d be touching?”

Forcing himself to suppress a smile Angel reminded them, “Giles did say this didn’t require intimacy.”

The vampire wasn’t certain he liked pointing that out to them, but Angel figured he would say so upfront for the moment. Whatever it takes to get knuckle-head over there to agree.

“Time alone together,” Cordelia stressed. “That’s all he said.”

Angelus took the hand holding his coat, threading his fingers through hers. “Don’t be naive, baby. We both know that he won’t keep his hands to himself.”

With a look of innocence…well, one as innocent as he could muster, Angel assured them, “I’d try.”

Now with the eye rolling, Cordelia thought, Yeah. Pull the other one, Angel. “Like you tried the day you stalked me?”

Before Angel could answer, Angelus commented on the dangers, “He’s unstable.”

“That’s the point. I need Cordelia to balance my fragile psyche,” returned Angel with a smooth veneer. He was so completely opposite of the feral vampire he’d been just minutes ago that it should be clear to everyone which side of Angel they wanted to see on a regular basis. Asking Cordelia, “Don’t you like me better this way? Or do you prefer the fangs, sweetheart?”

“Your fragile psyche should take a few lessons from your ego. There’s nothing fragile about that,” Cordelia pounced on the question.

“Can’t help it if you think I’m hot,” Angel smirked. “You’ll just have to learn to control yourself.”

Fuming, Cordelia yanked her hand from her mate’s grasp and fisted it in the material of the couch as she turned toward him. “Control myself? Control myself! You think I can’t control myself? You’re actually suggesting I can’t keep my hands off you?”

“It’s a struggle, I know,” Angel shrugged casually while enjoying this cat and mouse game.

“Egomaniac! I can too.”

“Prove it.”

“You bet I can,” Cordelia huffed as her eyes sparkled brightly with the effects of her fury.

Angelus could see what his brother was doing. Provoking Cordelia into agreeing with this plan. She was already sympathetic to it, not wanting anything worse to happen to Angel or to himself if the symptoms worsened. Breaking through their bantering, he told Cordelia, “He’s too dangerous to leave you alone with him.”

“I’d never hurt Cordelia.” Honest anguish at the thought of it showed in his eyes.

Angelus caught the look and didn’t entirely disagree. “Not intentionally.”

Even Cordelia had to pause to defend Angel in that regard. “Angel wouldn’t hurt me. Not at all.”

Try to seduce me? Pfft! That’s another story, but he’d never hurt me, Cordelia accepted that his feelings for her kept him from causing her physical harm.

“This is weird,” Cordelia suddenly told them. A creepy feeling of déjà vu hit her while making her case. “I think I’ve had this conversation before.”

Reminding her, Angel explained, “That’s because we talked about Angelus when he begged for my permission to have you.”

“I didn’t beg.”

“Close enough,” Angel told his brother suddenly glad that Cordelia had brought up the other conversation. “Just remember, Angelus, I took a huge leap in trusting you with Cordelia when you asked for permission to have her and to bring her home to the mansion.”

“That was different.” Angelus couldn’t believe that he was trying to compare the two situations.

“You were nothing but my soulless evil alter ego wanting something that by tradition was mine, so don’t delude yourself into thinking I don’t know where you’re coming from on this. I chose to trust you. Time to return the favor, bro.”

Cordelia realized that Angel’s words were causing her mate to waver on his decision to forget the Watcher’s plan. Hearing him curse his brother for playing that particular card caused her heart to go out to Angelus. She knew the reasons why he hesitated. He loved her. He had reason to believe that Angel would take advantage of this for his own purposes. While she had made up her own differences with Angelus that did not mean the wound was completely healed.

“Damn you, Angel.”

Got you there, bro. A burst of triumph filled his chest with warmth as Angel saw Angelus giving into the idea of it. “Take a chance on me.”

Facing Cordelia, Angelus let his fingers rove over her cheek curling down to her chin as he perused her expression, silently seeking her opinion and finding resolve. “You want to do this.”

“Yes,” she confirmed, “if that’s what it takes. This isn’t just about saving Angel. It’s about you, too.”

Angelus admitted softly, “I don’t want you in the middle of this.”

That was her point too. “I already am. Let me do this Angelus. He’ll either behave or it will be over.”

“I don’t want you hurt.”

“Not gonna happen,” she assured him. “Besides, if Willow has any luck, the Moirae can fix this whole situation.”

Cordelia was too determined to listen on that score, but he had to make the request. “Reconsider getting them involved. The Fates are not to be toyed with or trusted.”

In Cordelia’s mind, there wasn’t an option. In fact, Giles’ suggestion would have to become a long-term plan if they didn’t find another cure, assuming that he was right about her presence acting as a buffer against Angel’s demonic instincts. “If we don’t summon them, I have no choice but to follow Giles’ advice. There is no other way.”

Slowly, Angelus admitted, “I know.”

“So what are you saying?” Angel demanded full clarification. He didn’t want anyone to doubt that his brother was accepting the arrangement. There was no hiding the look of victory on his face as glinting light sparkled from the black depths if his pupils and the curve of his lips gave way into an irrepressible grin.

Grabbing him up by the already abused lapels of his leather jacket, Angelus made certain Angel new he was not happy with this decision. “You’ll get your ‘alone time’, dammit. Just remember that I’m trusting you the same way you trusted me.

Quirking an eyebrow, Angel quipped, “So not too far, huh?”

“Exactly,” Angelus agreed dropping his hold. “That means I get to lay down the ground rules.”

Straightening the rumpled leather, Angel already knew what was coming. “Save your breath. I’ve got it. No touching or claiming what’s yours. Blah, blah, blah. Got it.”

Cordelia watched Angel with a hint of suspicion. He was too relaxed about this whole thing. Maybe Angelus was right to want to lay down the law, but she was the one who was going to have to put up with both of them. Standing up, she pushed at Angelus’ chest until he sat down on the couch.

“First off,” Cordelia began, hands on her hips in a no-nonsense pose, “you can cut the sarcastic routine, Angel. Your brother is serious about this and so am I. It isn’t a game. Second of all, I’ll handle the ground rules.”

Angelus started to protest.

Cutting him off, Cordelia added, “Because I have some for both of you.”

***

Groaning, Cordelia pushed at the vampire’s shoulder. “Angel, stop.”

“You’ve got to like that,” Angel saw nothing to complain about. “C’mon Cordy. I know you do. Just look at it.”

“It’s too big. Just stop trying to put it where it doesn’t belong,” Cordelia complained.

He actually growled, “I think I can figure out where to put it.”

“Obviously not,” she huffed as she watched his fingers move into place. “Don’t touch it. Let me.”

Angel protested her sudden action, “Don’t be so rough.”

“Go away,” she told him in frustration. “I should just take care of this myself.”

“No. I’ll handle it.”

Cordelia bent over watching Angel’s every move. “Gotta say, I’m kinda disappointed. I thought you’d be better at this.”

Defending himself, he grumbled, “It’s not like I do it all of the time.”

“You think I do?”

“Then let me put it where I want it,” Angel’s impatience was growing.

“Fine,” Cordelia gave in. “Just go for it, but I’d better like it.”

“The ground rules said nothing about this,” Angel complained as he moved the blue cube of construction paper to another area of the sculpture. “Helping you with your modern art homework isn’t exactly the kind of alone time I was planning on.”

“What did you expect? Candlelight and mood music?” Cordelia gave him a hard stare as she handed him the Elmer’s Glue. “Go ahead, Michelangelo. Make my day.”

***

“How’d it go?” Angelus tried to sound casual.

Cordelia walked into the small sitting room attached to their bedroom finding him on the couch reading. “You know it helps if you hold the book right side up.”

Glancing down at the novel, Angelus realized he had it upside down. Damn, she sees everything.

“I heard you coming,” he confessed. “I didn’t want it to seem like I was listening at the door.”

Pulling the book out of his hands, Cordelia sat down on his lap and looped her arms around his neck. She had purposefully arranged her first session alone with Angel to be time-limited and here in the mansion. Just in case. “What did you hear?”

“Nothing,” Angelus answered hastily. It was one thing to own up to the fact that he was eavesdropping, but not to admit that he had come close to charging downstairs because he misinterpreted their conversation. “So…how’d it go?”

“I didn’t stake him,” Cordelia grinned. “That was good.”

“Did he try anything?”

“No, actually.”

Angelus almost laughed at her surprised tone. “Don’t sound so disappointed.”

“I’m not, silly vamp,” she pressed a soft kiss onto his lips. Tracing the angles of his face with a fingertip, Cordelia told him, “It was fun in a frustrating kind of way. Angel wasn’t exactly up for constructing modern art, but he played along.”

Chuckling at the image of his brother cutting and pasting, Angelus almost felt sorry for him. “I’m sure it was therapeutic.”

“Hmm. Not sure Angel would agree,” Cordelia murmured against his mouth as she felt his hands moving along the curve of her spine. “Now it’s my turn for therapy. It involves a hot bath with lots of bubbles and you.”

“Bubble therapy?” Angelus lifted her with him as he rose to his feet heading toward the bathroom. “I could go for that.”

***

As soon as Angelus departed on patrol, Cordelia squared off with Angel from across the kitchen table. After a week of supervised-from-a-distance alone time sessions, Cordelia convinced Angelus it was time to let his brother stretch his wings a little.

Amazingly, there was no sign of Psycho Vamp during their little tête-à-têtes and so it seemed that Giles’ theory was on-target. That didn’t mean that Angel kept his hands to himself, just that he seemed to make an honest effort to avoid being too obvious.
“I’m not going to sit in the dark with you for two hours,” Cordelia told him as they discussed the plan for tonight’s outing.

There was a challenge in Angel’s dark gaze, one that she was doing her best to ignore. “It’s just a movie.”

“Right.”

“You still don’t trust me,” he glowered.

“Earn it, Angel. It’s only been a week since Harmony’s house.”

Wanting to point out to Cordelia that he meant every word he’d spoken that evening, Angel refrained from doing so. Giles little theory gave him an opportunity that didn’t exist before and Angel intended to use it to his advantage. All it took was planning and patience, although the latter seemed more difficult with each passing day.

“You don’t need to be afraid of me,” Angel assured her reaching across the table to take her hand in his own. She stared down at the connection as if that alone was crossing the line. Her fingers twitched once at the contact, but Cordelia did not move them.

Cordelia purposefully left her hand in his. It was something their friendship would’ve allowed before even if it had usually been her initiating contact. “I’m not afraid.”

That defiant tilt of her head contradicted the brisk pulse beneath his fingertips. Was it him she feared or her own responses? “I’m not going to jump on you the second we’re alone together. When you left us here at the mansion that night, it just set me off. I needed you back.”

“Don’t give me excuses, Angel. What you did to me…the things you said…I can’t just forget about that.”

Dropping an octave, the words tumbled from his mouth, “Maybe I don’t want you to forget.”

Trying not to react to the sensual thrumming that made its way from their threaded fingers all the way down to the core of her sex, Cordelia met his searing gaze. Just a touch, just the sound of his voice or a look from those deep, piercing eyes was all it took to arouse her. Forget everything he’d told her that night? Not likely. No matter how much she wished she could.

“See why I’m not planning to go to the movies with you?” Cordelia figured it should be obvious. Considering what had gone on between herself and Angelus the last time they all went to the theater, Angel probably any number of ideas in his warped brain.

“It’s just a movie, Cordy.”

Shaking her head, she pointed out, “No, it’s too much like a date. That isn’t what this is about.”

Releasing her hand, Angel sat back in his chair suppressing his growing frustration with this conversation. What he really wanted was to forget about this whole process and make Cordelia admit her desire for him. Other than the acknowledgement and the pleasure of claiming her, Angel knew his triumph would be short-lived. Angelus couldn’t stake him, but he’d no doubt arrange shackles and a cage fast enough so it never happened again.

Angel had to be satisfied with alternatives. Methodical planning, slow implementation and a tight reign over his emotions gave him the freedom he needed. He had no idea if the Watcher’s theory had any measure of truth; he could only acknowledge that he was happiest being in Cordelia’s company. Maybe he’d prefer to have her in a dark theater where they’d be alone despite the crowd, but Angel told himself that it didn’t matter.

Not as long as some of Cordelia’s time belonged only to him.

“Rental?” He suggested with a rare infectious grin that dragged Cordelia out of her stern mood.

Seeing that Angel was willing to make concessions, Cordelia readily agreed. “That’s a good idea. Let’s go.”

Angel helped Cordelia on with her brown leather jacket letting his hands linger on her shoulders a moment or two longer than necessary and taking the opportunity to soak up a little of her warmth and the strawberry scent of her silky hair. Her hazel eyes darted up as she glanced over her shoulder and for a second Angel thought she leaned back into his chest. Until Cordelia pulled away, walking to the circular table at the center of the foyer to grab her car keys.

“I’m driving.”

Grumbling at the loss of her closeness, Angel caught the look of suspicion covering it up by saying, “I want to take the Plymouth.”

Sticking out her tongue, Cordelia returned, “Some of us don’t always get what we want.”

“No kidding.”

The pointed stare made her realize their words came with a double meaning. “We can take your car, but I’m still driving.”

“Not likely, sweetheart.”

“Dontcha trust me?”

“Cordy, it’s a classic. I don’t even let Angelus touch my car.”

“You want me to trust you. Now it’s your turn. I give a little. You give a little. C’mon Angel,” she encouraged smilingly. With her hands tucked behind her back and her shoulders gently rocking, Cordelia flashed those hypnotic hazel eyes and the vampire found himself giving in to her.

Dammit, he’d accused Angelus of being pussy-whipped, but he didn’t even have the excuse of getting any. What the hell was it about Cordelia Chase that gave her the power to wrap him around her little finger? Holding out the keys, Angel watched as excitement took over her whole body.

Suddenly, Cordelia had him wrapped up in a tight hug. Stunned, Angel couldn’t move much less take advantage of the fact that her warm curvaceous body was pressed up against him. Just the feel of her arms around him, the crush of her breasts and hips, the giggle caught in her throat aroused him instantly. His sex swelled beneath the fly of his leather pants encouraged by the subtle shifting of her hips with that innocent hug.

The cold rush of air that swept between them as Cordelia pulled away brought Angel out of the fog of lust that had risen so fast he couldn’t bother to hide his expression. Fortunately, Cordelia grabbed the keys from his open palm and eagerly ran out the front door toward the garage presumably giving him no chance to change his mind.

“How do you like the ride?” Angel questioned her when they were half way to the video store. His lust-addled brain put a twist on those words picturing her straddled above him surrounding his cock in her intimate embrace so tight and wet and warm.

“It’s big,” Cordelia guilelessly responded comparing it to her Corvette. “Lots of power under the hood for something so old.”

“Old?” The question snapped out of him before he remembered Cordy was talking about the car.

Laughing, Cordelia told him, “I suppose it’s not so old compared to you.”

“The engine is in perfect order,” Angel pointed out with a glare no longer certain if he was talking about the car or himself.

“I’m sure it is. Considering all of the TLC you give it.”

“What?”

Pfft! “C’mon Angel, I’ve caught you stroking it when you think no one’s looking.”

“You have?”

With a simple shrug, Cordelia sounded a little bored as she answered, “Sure. It’s not anything to be ashamed of…just a typical guy thing.”

“Think you could handle the job?”

“Pfft! Why would I want to do that? I prefer to let someone else take care of things,” Cordelia told him as she pulled into the parking space in front of the video store. “I’m sure Angelus could handle it.”

“Whatever gave you the idea that I’d let him?”

“Geez! You’re so picky. What’s the difference who handles it? Angelus likes it too. If you won’t let him play with yours, he can certainly play with mine.”

Angel watched as she turned off the engine and climbed out of the car shutting the door behind her. He was still sitting in the passenger seat by the time she reached the sidewalk. “Just because I was driving doesn’t mean I’m gonna get the door for you, dumbass. C’mon. If we’re renting a movie, I’d like to get one before all of the good ones are gone.”

Now standing next to her, Angel held onto her elbow preventing her from going into the store. Looking confused, he asked, “Cordy, what were we just talking about?”

Cordelia blinked at him. “Grabbing a movie before only the sucky ones are left?”

“No,” he clarified gruffly. “What you were saying about Angelus.”

“Oh!” Cordelia gave him a look of surprise. Rolling her eyes, “Like I’m supposed to remember something I said two minutes ago? Since you’re so stingy with your big black convertible, Angelus is the one who takes care of my Corvette. Silly vamp. He actually spends more time cleaning it than he does the dishes. Wax on. Wax off. Not as bad as you worshipping the Plymouth, but near enough.”

Grunting in understanding, Angel turned to grab the handle of the glass door leading inside the store. His head was spinning. One of Cordelia’s little phrases popped into his head. Instant stupidity factor.

Walking in behind her, Angel adjusted his fly to ease the building pressure there. Getting through the rest of the evening was going to be torture.Damned if I’m going to be the only one hot and bothered and frustrated tonight. You just wait and see, sweetheart. I’ll—

“Hello you two!” Xander and Buffy rounded a corner of the video store nearly running into them in the process. “So how’re the May Queen and the Soulless Wonder doing tonight?”

Cordelia and Angel shared a glance realizing that Xander mistook him for Angelus. Grabbing his forearm, Cordy signaled for silence. She really didn’t want to have to explain things. Not to these two.

“We’re good, Harris,” Angel answered, playing along. Shaking loose from Cordelia’s deathgrip, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder pulling her tight against his side.

Flashing a blinding smile, Cordelia distracted them as she ground her high heel into Angel’s shoe. “Just here to rent a movie?”

“Yeah,” Buffy nodded giving her a strange look. “That’s normally what people do in here.”

Angel moved his foot out from under Cordelia’s and muttered “Don’t get nasty about it.”

Overhearing, Buffy thought he was talking to her. “I wasn’t getting nasty, Angelus. I was just stating the obvious.”

Catching a glimpse of the car parked directly out front, Xander asked, “Since when does Angel let you drive the Plymouth?”

“I was driving,” Cordelia said quickly.

“Double dittos,” Xander quipped. Adding a snort, “What’d you do, Angelus? Steal the keys from Soul Boy again?”

“Again?” Angel had to ask as sudden anger welled up. “What does that mean?”

Xander shrugged. “Don’t get all defensive. It’s not like it was my car. Giles said you drove it the night you came over to his house.”

“When was that?” Ignoring the nudge of Cordelia’s elbow, Angel continued his fury driven interrogation.

“You know,” Xander’s voice dropped off and his eyes darted in Buffy’s direction.

“Oh.” Angel realized where the boy was headed. “Well no need to tell, uh, Angel about us borrowing the car. Isn’t that right, sw—baby?”

Cordelia glowered at him through the brilliance of her cheesy smile. “Absolutely, muffin.”

“Muffin?” Buffy’s mouth dropped open. Only Cordelia would have the nerve to say that to the former Scourge of Europe.

Xander’s shoulders shook with the force of his suppressed laughter until finally a loud guffaw blasted from his throat. “Hah!”

“Oh, that’s just short for studmuffin,” Cordy winked while reaching up to run a hand through his spiky hair leaving it in a state of disarray. “My manpire is just so strong and studly I can hardly keep my hands off him. According to him, I just can’t resist such salty goodness.”

Buffy’s stomach churned at the sickeningly sweet look Cordelia sent the vampire’s way. It was almost as if they were communicating with their eyes, sharing secrets. Any irritation on his part seemed to vanish, his hand coming up to curve around Cordelia’s neck and tilt her face a little closer so that his mouth was just above hers. Glancing away, Buffy didn’t want to see it. She’d never gotten used to watching the two of them together even on the double dates.

Her heart was thudding in her chest as Cordelia watched Angel’s lips descend and part so close to hers. What started out as a little bit of fun suddenly seemed serious as he leaned in to kiss her. Then his cool breath washed over her heated skin as he asked softly, “Wanna be bad? I think it’s time for truth or consequences.”

Kiss him now or be forced to tell Xander and Buffy the truth about whom he was and why they were here together? Cover up the game and the lies with a brief embrace or face the Slayer’s wrath and Xander’s derisive wit?

Pushing at his chest, Cordelia backed away to find Angel smirking at her hasty effort to escape his arms. “Get away from me, dumbass.”

“Huh?” Xander and Buffy gaped at the two of them.

Confessing, Cordelia told them. “It’s Angel.”

Buffy’s mouth immediately shrunk into a tight angry circle. Maybe he was no longer her boyfriend, but that didn’t give him the right to flirt with someone else right in front of her. Especially Cordelia. While Buffy figured Angel to be capable of any bad behavior at this point, it actually surprised her to see that Cordelia was so willingly involved considering everything.

Was the cheerleader out of her mind? “Are you actually cheating on Angelus?”

“Wh— no!” Cordelia answered now looking as flustered as she felt, color suffusing her cheeks. “I-I just didn’t want you to think I was here with Angel.”

“At the video store?” Xander looked around them. “Real den of iniquity here. Nope, can’t risk public exposure coming to this place. Might be seen renting the latest PG-13 thriller.”

“Harris,” the vampire growled his name.

“Angel?” A gulp sounded from Xander in response to the threatening tone.

“Shut up.”

“Don’t tell Xander to shut up,” Buffy complained. “You’re the one at fault. Both of you, actually. Lying to us. Playing some game. Trying to cover up the reason you’re here together.”

“It’s not like that,” Angel growled back. “Cordelia isn’t cheating. Trust me, I wish she was, but there’s a reason we’re here together.”

“Renting a movie,” Cordelia told them and tried to pull Angel down the aisle. Only he wasn’t budging.

Buffy wasn’t sure what was going on, but nothing on Earth save another apocalypse was going to make her leave the video store without some answers. “What’s the real reason? We’re not together anymore, but I don’t deserve to be tricked or lied to.”

As Angel reeled Cordelia back to his side, he told Buffy, “We’re following instructions. A temporary measure to curb my demonic instincts.”

Xander queried, “Renting movies?”

“The Watcher told me I needed some alone time with Cordelia.”

“Excuse me?” Buffy stumbled over the words. “A-Are you s-saying that…that G-Giles actually wants you two to…to have—”

Angel confirmed despite suspecting the direction of Buffy’s thoughts. “Alone time.”

“Is that what he calls it?” Fuming at the images flooding her head, Buffy grabbed the video case from Xander’s hand and shoved it onto the nearest rack. “C’mon, Xand.”

“No movie?”

“We’re leaving.”

Cordelia and Angel watched as the Slayer pulled Xander behind her as they headed toward the exit. “Should we call Giles and warn him?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Angel asked as she turned around to face him again.

“Nowhere,” Cordelia answered angrily, her hands going to her hips. “I’m sure Giles will be more embarrassed to tell Buffy than he was to talk to us about it. That was why he told us in the lounge instead of in front of everybody.”

Pointing out to her, “You could have avoided this. The Slayer and Harris didn’t need to know a thing.”

“Avoid the truth by kissing you?” Cordelia’s breath came out in a shudder partly in anger and the rest in reaction to the memory of just how close his lips had been to hers.

Angel lifted his hand to press his thumb across her plush lower lip in a mock kiss. “I know you wanted it too.”

“No,” she denied it even though her voice was only a whisper.

“Come here.” Angel’s voice sounded in her ears as her eyes closed against the potent power of his gaze. Even though she was already less than arm’s distance away, he wanted her closer.

Cursing the fact that she took that step forward, Cordelia flattened a hand against his chest and opened her eyes. “Don’t. Just don’t even try it.”

“Only if you give me the truth, sweetheart.” Angel pulled her in to the hard contours of his body wrapping his arms around her slim form, his hands coming to rest on the upper curves of her bottom.

“Truth or consequences?” She echoed his earlier words. “Same response. I go for the truth.”

“Did you want my kiss? To have my mouth on yours? Knowing it was me and not my brother.”

What would he do when she said it? Cordelia knew there would be consequences no matter how she answered. It wasn’t her answer she feared as much as his response. Because she’d already promised herself that if Angel got out of line tonight that they would not step foot out of the mansion alone again.

Moistening her lips, Cordelia gave Angel the answer he was looking for. “Yes.”

Angel’s hands came up to cup her face and he stared down for untold moments while interpreting the glassy appearance of her eyes. Unshed tears and a hint of defiance glinted along their surface. While he wanted nothing more than to seal this small victory with a kiss, claiming her mouth with his own and tasting her sweetness on his tongue, Angel’s instincts were too strong not to recognize a trap when he saw it.

“Told you I was irresistible,” Angel rerouted his lips and pressed them to her forehead with a chaste caress. Keeping his arm around her shoulders, he moved them down the aisle pretending to ignore Cordelia’s confounded expression. “What kind of movie are you interested in? How about a nice blood and guts horror film?”

Snapping out of her own thoughts, Cordelia crinkled her nose at the idea. “Eew! We get enough of that on patrol. How about something a little less reality-based?”

“An old fashioned romantic thriller,” Angel steered her toward the classics section.

Cordelia wasn’t certain that was a good idea. “Comedy?”

“Romantic comedy section dead ahead.”

“Those are black and white,” Cordelia pointed out with a disgruntled frown. “They’re old.”

“So am I,” he joked. “Some of them are a helluva lot better than those new releases. I’ve seen them on the big screen.”

Cordelia stopped, pulling out of his casual embrace to issue an accusation. “Why did you and your brother act as if you’d never been to a theater before?”

“It had just been a while,” Angel shrugged. Specifying, “More like a few decades and I was always alone. Having you there was a new experience.”

“Oh.” Cordelia felt a strange sense of satisfaction at his answer before remembering that they weren’t there together. Angel was stuck watching that boring movie with Buffy while Angelus took her to the back row of an empty theater where he made passionate love to her.

“What was that about hot, sweaty sex?” Angel heard her mumble under her breath.

“Nothing,” Cordelia denied, blushing furiously as she realized her thoughts had once again come forth unbidden from her mouth. Still, it couldn’t wipe her grin away at the memory of her own naughty behavior that night at the theater. “You weren’t the only one having a new experience at the theater.”

They started laughing together. Cordelia knew it was hardly the safest subject, but the fact that Angel’s response was genuine made her hope that they could recapture some of easy-going feelings between them. That by some miracle her presence at his side during their time together could stem the raging tide threatening to overtake his will and replace it with instinct alone.

That once again she could tell him anything without fear of reprisal. To stand within the shadow of his towering strength feeling utterly protected by his goodness. Never once fearing the demon that was his true nature.

Just knowing he’d be there.

Cordelia went from laughing to feeling the first tear fall on her cheek in a matter of seconds. She sucked in a deep breath of air and turned her head away staring blindly at the video display.

The abrupt move combined with the scent of pure fear surrounding Cordelia caused the laughter to die in Angel’s throat. He sensed the tears though silently they fell upon her cheeks and he was clueless as to the reason. Except that somehow Angel knew he was the cause and he didn’t want Cordelia crying because of him. It was something she just didn’t do, which made it seem all the more serious.

Creeping up behind her, hesitant to speak, the vampire trailed a finger along one flowing tress of her chestnut hair letting her know he was there. Angel waited for her to turn around, to say something, anything that would give him an idea about what he’d done wrong. Other than the whole truth or consequences dare that she’d called him on, beating him at his own game even if it did tell him what he wanted to hear.

“Cordy?” Concern sounded in that deep timbre as a rolling wave that passed from his chest brushing up against her back to surround her heart in its honest purity.

The floodgates opened without warning and Cordelia could not shut them off. Not just the tears, but the emotions built up inside her over the past week. She wasn’t one to cry at the drop of a hat or a Hallmark commercial, but walling herself off with pure determination from the realities facing the two vampires in her life forced her to admit her feelings for both of them.

Angel’s arms surrounded her, pulling her close and his head came down to nuzzle her hair. “Whatever’s wrong, I’ll fix it. Go to Buffy and Xander. Apologize.”

Lifting her gaze to his, Cordelia sniffed away her tears. “What are you talking about, Angel?”

“I’ve done something wrong. Tell me so I can fix it,” he urged while gently turning her to face him. Seeing Cordelia like this was tearing him apart.

“Fix it? It’s not that simple, Angel,” she told him touching her fingertips to his cheek. “An apology changes nothing. It’s not a demon you can fight.”

His own demon reared up within him, a hint of amber in his eyes giving it away as Angel imagined the problem to be something so simple just so he could kill it and put an end to the tears still glistening on her lashes. “Then what is it, sweetheart?”

Wrapping her arms around his waist, Cordelia snuggled her face into the crook of his shoulder. That move alone startled Angel. She told him, “This whole situation. The Moirae. Whatever it is that’s happening to you and Angelus. It scares me because— because I love you and I don’t know what I would do if anything took the two of you away from me.”

As Cordelia fell silent again, Angel simply held her in his arms trying to put what she had said to him into context. The fear was natural and as such the tears were just a healthy form of catharsis, but Cordelia had said something else that caught Angel’s attention. Something he wasn’t so certain about interpreting because it brought forth a feeling the vampire hadn’t felt in what seemed like an eternity: hope.

“Cordy?”

Knowing instinctively what he wanted to ask, Cordelia confirmed it softly, “You heard me the first time, Angel. I’m not saying it again.”

“You love me. You really love me?”

“Sally Field you’re not,” Cordelia rolled her eyes as she let him move her so that they could see each other’s faces. There was some confusion on his and Cordelia realized that her Academy Awards reference might have gone over the vampire’s head. “You mean so much to me. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Nothing is going to happen,” Angel didn’t care if he was denying the inevitable just so long as the fear in Cordelia’s eyes faded away. Threading his fingers through her hair and pulling her close, Angel leaned in to kiss her only to have Cordelia’s fingers cover his mouth at the last second.

“No promises you can’t keep,” she entreated as her hand dropped to his chest, “and no kisses. I’m still in love with Angelus. He’s my mate and we belong to each other. Nothing has changed that.”

Angel let his hands fall to his side, straightening up and backing away as he fought the urge to yank her into his arms and drown her in kisses. “Why tell me? Why tell me just to keep me at arms length? To expect me to continue to spend time with you just to satisfy the Watcher’s theory. To expect me to keep my hands off you knowing how you feel?”

He waited for Cordelia’s answer watching the mix of emotions alter her beautiful features until finally they settled into a picture of perfect resolve. “I don’t expect anything from you, Angel that I’m not expecting from myself.”

Turning on his heel, Angel headed for the door preparing to shove it so hard that the glass would shatter into pieces, much like she’d left him feeling. Halfway there, he paused to look back at her. There were no more tears in Cordelia’s eyes, just love and anguish and determination. It took every ounce of resolve not to go to her, to let his human features fade away and to claim what he wanted, what he needed and what some part of her recognized she wanted and needed too.

Angel fought and won the battle raging inside him subduing the instincts that drove him to follow those desires. There was only one thing stronger keeping him grounded allowing him to hold on to his control. That was the knowledge that she loved him. Kissing, touching, claiming, all that would wait. At least until he could change Cordy’s mind about it.

Then he reconsidered while holding out his hand to her. Maybe a little touching.

Cordelia walked forward, silently meeting his gaze. Seeing that he was unable to say anything more for the moment, she slipped her hand into his feeling his cool fingers tangle with hers. “Take me home?”

“Keys, Cordelia,” Angel’s voice sounded thick as he spoke. “My turn to drive.”

***

Angel pulled the Plymouth up front not bothering with the garage. Giles’ car and Oz’ van were parked outside when they arrived. Cordelia glanced at the vehicles with a worried expression. “What are they doing here?”

“Only one way to find out,” Angel moved swiftly to her side of the car and opened the door noting the fact that Cordelia waited for him to do so despite the fact that she normally beat him to it.

Holding a hand against her stomach, Cordelia got the strange sensation that she did not want to go inside. Nerves. Just my mother’s nerves. Thanks for those genes. Not.

On the way home, Cordelia had been trying to figure out a way to talk to Angelus about this. She had to tell him no matter that she told Angel nothing would happen between them. Only Angelus wasn’t alone in there. Giles and Oz and probably the whole Scooby Gang were inside. No doubt Buffy and Xander too.

“Omigod.”

Angel paused with his hand on the doorknob. “Cordy?”

“Buffy and Xander. Are they inside?”

After a moment of contemplation, the vampire nodded. “Yes.”

“Okay. Just asking.” Cordelia wasn’t about to run away from any confrontation that they might stir up having seen herself and Angel at the video store. Especially after the whole Angel being Angelus routine. “Let’s go.”

Opening the door, they found that the large foyer had been stripped of its furniture and replaced by a large mystical symbol created from a powdery substance. Incense burned from sconces set up in the corners of the room along with candles of various sizes and colors.

From the open living room door came their friends and family. Angelus was followed by Giles, Willow, Buffy, Xander and Oz.

Angelus and Cordelia stared into each others eyes from across the room. The intense look they shared communicating more than just a greeting. Then she pulled Angel in behind her, slamming the door and demanding to know why this was happening without any warning.

“I asked them to come,” Angelus surprised her not in an entirely good way. “When Rupert told me the spell was ready to be cast, I figured that it might as well be tonight. Before anything happens that can’t be taken back.”

His gaze traveled to his brother, ready to hear his arguments against this action. Angel only gave him the go-ahead by saying, “Glad to hear it. The Moirae are the only ones who can settle this once and for all.”

Chapter 37

Posted July 9, 2015 by califi in Complete