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Getting to Know You. 17   Leave a comment

Part 17

Rupert Giles leaned back in his chair and rubbed his weary eyes as the young girl left his office. It had already been a tiring and stressful day and Willow’s unexpected visit had now added to the feeling of it being just too damned long.

Vague thoughts of weeks passed were now coming to the forefront. All because of a visit the girl had made to Cordelia Chase’s home. He sighed, removing his glasses to absently polish them as he went over their chat.

“I’m probably making something out of nothing, Giles, but I can’t get over the feeling I’ve missed some kind of bad hoojoo that’s had a gigantic bubble above it saying ‘Look at me!’ And I’m usually pretty good at noticing stuff, yaknow.” Willow chewed at her bottom lip staring pensively at the ex-Watcher. 

“Have you any idea what triggered this, um… unexpected behavior?” Giles asked. His eyes narrowed slightly as the young girl’s face reddened; a quick flicker of guilt in her eyes before she looked down. “Willow, I can’t help if you keep things from me”, he reminded her; his tone sharp enough for her to meet his gaze.

Giles still couldn’t quite believe what had come pouring out of Willow’s mouth. It was like a dam that had held too long before breaching with a whoosh as she gave  a very detailed account. Which took longer than it would have without the insertion of apologies after every sentence.

Did no one tell him anything? It made him wonder what else they kept from him. What kind of role model was he for his charges, that they felt the need to what- protect him from imagined hurt feelings?  Good God! Did he really come across as a weakling who’d fall apart at the slightest mention of the vampire… that had almost destroyed him. His heart, mind and body.

Or was it simply that they believed he’d delayed the original ritual at the Library deliberately. Which was, in fact, true. So why tell him that they’d tried again? He dropped his glasses on the desk and rubbed his face tiredly. As it happened, Buffy had won the battle anyway. But it could have gone completely arse up. Because of his delaying tactics.

But the foolishness of their second attempt still took his breath away. Not only because the girl’s concussion at the time had been pretty serious. The success of such an ill-thought venture could have caused terrible repercussions. Willow’s relaying of the brunette’s summation of the whole affair was, frankly, pretty much spot on.

There was absolutely no chance, in his opinion, of even the consideration of allowing the vampire back into the fold if he’d have survived.  The thought that Buffy, of all people would betray him like that after all that had happened … it didn’t bear thinking about.

His first instinct had been to confront Buffy- but was she aware of the second attempt?  What if she weren’t and his anger drove her away? It hadn’t been that long since his Slayer had returned. Could he risk the possible fallout? Honestly? No. Shaking off the annoyance, Giles began tidying his desk in preparation of leaving the office.

The rationale Giles had finally given regarding the scene described seemed to calm Willow’s anxiety, and she’d left with a lighter step.

Pointing out the fact that Cordelia had arrived late to a group who’d had more time, thus experience, in dealing with the harsh realities they’d been plunged into. This, he suggested, also explained very clearly the marked difference in both girls’ reaction to their frightening interaction with Angelus. The older girl hadn’t been involved long enough to really accept a vampire as an ally – never mind to take the time to differentiate between a ‘Good’ vampire and Evil Vampires.

The fact that Angel was himself a rare anomaly hadn’t helped. Logic seemingly skewed when it was deemed right to eradicate all vampires – except for one.  Angel had possessed a soul, yes- but he was still a vampire. Giles had experienced that particular quandary himself, so Lord knows how anyone expected a seventeen year old girl to deal with it.

A long and weary sigh drooped his shoulders. So many regrets. Allowing the involvement of young innocents. Not doing more to nip his Slayer’s unhealthy relationship with Angel in the bud. Frowning with the realisation that it would have made no difference. Knowing Buffy as he did, that would probably have made her even more determined to hang on to Angel. So young and insecure. And a first love to boot.

As for Cordelia… Giles had to admit to a stirring of suspicion and concern when it came to the happenings on that God-awful night. Willow was most likely right. Some things just didn’t add up. He recalled that last time they’d spoken- just before she’d left for the holidays. It hadn’t sat well even then.

But what could he possibly do? The well of strength Willow had described… he’d witnessed it himself, and he seriously doubted Cordelia Chase would welcome his interference. Because it worked out so well the last time!

All that could be done until there was tangible evidence to work on, was to do what he did best.

Watch.

Part 18

Califi

(Sorry it’s short. unbeta’d, so forgive rusty writing. Cx)

Posted July 20, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. 6b   Leave a comment

Part 6 Continued…

“So let me get this straight. Wolfram and Hart tried to buy Cordelia’s eyes, hired Faith to kill Angel, and brought his evil ex-girlfriend back from the dead to haunt his ass?”

Buffy nodded as Xander ticked off the firm’s list of offenses. “Yeah.”

“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “suddenly I have a lot more respect for that place.”

“Xander!”

“Kidding, I’m kidding.” He patted Buffy’s knee. “You used to have a sense of humor.”

“You used to be funny,” she shot back. Xander jaw dropped and he clutched at his heart, as if mortally wounded. “Seriously though, I feel bad for him. He’s been through a lot.”

“It hasn’t exactly been Easy Street for us,” he reminded her.

“We had each other,” Bufy said quietly.

“You’re right. All Angel had was his cool car and his brooding good lucks. Poor poor Angel. Oh, and now he’s got an even cooler car and millions of dollars. I feel so bad for the guy. We should send flowers. Or maybe one of those giant cookies.”

Buffy simply shook her head, trying to stiffle her giggles. Suddenly Xander shot out of his seat. “Hey look!” He ran over to the antique desk by the window. “It’s a list of extensions.” He grinned at Buffy, suddenly looking about 10 years old. “We can call any room in the hotel!”

“Xander,” she warned.

He ran his finger down the list, looking for a lucky number. He picked up the phone and dialed. 2. 1. 1.

“Yes,” a woman answered, sounding slightly flustered.

“Yes,” he began in what was distinctly not his normal voice. “This is the bridal suite. Would you send up a couple of cucumber sandwiches and a bottle of Dom Perignon?”

Buffy had to slap her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Xander never failed to amaze her.

“What?” said the woman on the other end of the line.

Xander took a deep breath. “Your days are numbered,” he shouted into the phone. “To the seventh son of the seventh son!”

This time Buffy couldn’t hold back her giggles and Xander abruptly slammed the phone down.

* * *

“Um, okay,” Fred said, confused. She stared at the phone for a minute before finally hanging it back up.

“Who was it?” Cordy asked, blowing on her nails.

“I think it was Lorne.” Fred frowned. “Something about cucumbers and seven sons. Isn’t it a little early in the day for him to be drinking?” Cordelia raised an eyebrow. “Never mind. Stupid question,” Fred said.

“He’s not the only one who could use a drink,” Cordy said, leaning back on the couch and tucking her feet under her. “This wedding is completely stressing me out.”

Fred swallowed the urge to point out that the only thing Cordy had to do for the wedding was fit in her dress and show up. “It’s a very stressful time,” she said mildly.

“You’re telling me. Trying to fit in all these appointments for the wedding…”

Fred double-checked her Palm Pilot. “All you need for the marriage license is a blood test.”

“And a facial. Deep tissue massage. Spray-on tanning. Chiropractic adjustment. Mud wrap. Deep-conditioning.”

Fred‘s lips pressed into a thin line. “Yes, I can see how it’s very tough on you”

“I know.” Cordelia grabbed a lock of her friend’s hair. “Speaking of deep conditioning, your ends are completely fried. You should really find some free time and get these taken care of.”

“Free time?” Fred repeated slowly. She wasn’t sure she remembered what free time was.

“Well sure. I told you, there’s going to be a lot of eligible men at Lorne’s party tonight and at the wedding tomorrow. And no man wants a woman with poorly hydrated hair.”

“Thanks, I appreciate your concern.”

“Anytime,” Cordy said breezily, not quite catching the sarcastic edge in Fred’s voice. “My stomach’s starting to feel a little rumbly, are you almost ready for lunch?”

Fred rolled her eyes. “Do you really have to ask?” From the other room they both suddenly heard Connor talking. “What did he just say?”

Cordelia shrugged. “I don’t know. He probably killed the bad guy or stole a car or won a race-whatever the purpose of that game is.” She checked out her nails, silently debating whether to add a clear cover coat.

Then they heard Connor again, this time much louder.

“Am I crazy, or did,” Cordy began, before Fred interrupted.

“Did he just say -”

* * *

“Angel.” Connor’s voice was barely more than a whisper. The video game controller fell to the floor, forgotten. He blinked rapidly, testing to see if the man before him was real. If that was really his father.

“You’re dead,” Angel said in a low voice.

“Huh?” Time stopped. Connor wasn’t sure what was going on. Angel’s soul had been secured years ago. This couldn’t be-

“You died,” Angel said, pointing at the large flat screen TV.

Connor let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. He smiled. “You’re bad luck.”

Angel shrugged. “But I’ve got great fashion sense.”

“You sound like Cordelia.”

His father grinned wryly. “I’m going to choose to take that as a compliment.”

He was back. Angel was back. Connor wasn’t sure what to do. He hadn’t seen his dad since he left. The only contact they’d had were quick cursory emails, and those were few and far between. Should he wave? Shake hands? He clearly needed to make the first move, because this was Angel after all. Cordelia had taught him that much.

Before he was even consciously aware of making a decision, Connor was on his feet. “Angel,” he yelled. Three long strides and he was pulling his father into a tight hug. In his left ear he heard Angel suck in a ragged breath Connor knew he didn’t need.

They stood like that for nearly a minute before finally stepping back, shooting identical awkward smiles at each other. Neither entirely sure what to say.

“You’re late,” Connor blurted out.

Angel ran his hand over the back of his neck. “I know.”

His son gestured to the door. “They’re in the living room.” Angel nodded and started to follow his son out. Suddenly Connor stopped and spun around.

“Did you bring me anything?” he asked, beaming.

* * *

Cordelia slowly stood up. Her knees felt weak. “What the hell…” She turned to Fred, who’d gone pale.

“It couldn’t be,” her friend muttered, even as the door opened.

“…so Clem said you all were down in the office,” Angel walked in, one arm casually slung around Connor’s shoulders. They both froze when they saw how the two women were staring at them. “But it appears you’re all right here,” Angel added weakly.

The bottom dropped out of Cordelia’s stomach. Emotions swirled up in her so fast she couldn’t catalogue or identify them.

“Don’t you dare PRETEND that you know me.”

“I know you Cordy. Better than you know yourself. I know you’re scared. I know you wanted me to make you feel safe again, and that I somehow failed. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I failed you Cordelia.”

“Look guys,” Connor said in a stilted voice, fully aware of the tension in the room. “It’s Angel.”

He looked good. Cordelia hated the part of herself that recognized that. But he did. Dressed all in black. That same old leather jacket, which was so ridiculous in L.A. in July but also so very Angel that Cordy felt like weeping.

His hair was longer. And he looked too pale, which tugged at something deep inside of Cordelia that she thought was long gone. But other than that, he looked exactly the same. Just like he had that last night.

He cupped the side of her face. Softly, the way a lover would. And it was then that she flinched. Because the easy caress hurt far more than any right hook ever could.

“You’re so beautiful Princess.” Angel’s voice was thick with emotion. Cordelia’s mouth went dry.

“But you’re such a fucking bitch,” he told her. This time Angel’s voice betrayed no emotion. Then, calm as day, he pushed her into the bushes and walked away.

She’d dreamed and feared and fantasized about this day for God knew how long. Tried to imagine how she would feel, what she would say. And now here Angel was, her errant ex. And she had nothing.

Fred was the first to move. Hands clasped, she scurried over to the vampire. “Um, Angel, you do know that there’s a wedding tomorrow, right?” she asked quietly.

“I heard a rumor.” He answered in that dry confident way of his and finally Cordelia could recognize at least one of her emotions. Anger. He was standing there, arm around Connor, gazing at Fred fondly, looking far too comfortable in her home and looking far too good than any man had a right to be. It was too much to bear.

“I don’t know why you’re here and I don’t care,” she announced, nearly shaking with the effort to sound unbothered. “You just go back to whatever Wolfram and Hart office you came from-”

“I missed you too darling,” Angel smoothly interrupted, letting go of Connor. Their eyes caught and Cordy really did start shaking, because Angel always saw too much. No one was allowed to see her like that anymore. She quickly glanced down at the ground.

“You look great,” Angel told Fred, gathering the small woman in a warm embrace that she tentatively returned. “I heard from We-” Connor coughed discreetly, hinting not to go there. “Anyway, you look great,” Angel recovered smoothly, before turning back to Cordelia.

“Princess,” he said, moving toward her. She brought both of her freshly manicured hands up, poised to attack him with her still-drying nails. “Ahh, Cor, I’m hurt. You didn’t think I’d miss your wedding, did you?” She gave him a disgusted look. “I have to say, I was a little put out when I didn’t receive an invitation. Must have gotten lost in the mail.”

“Figures.” She shrugged blithely. “I wasn’t sure how many stamps I needed to send a letter all the way to hell.”

Fred suddenly latched onto his arm. “Angel, please tell me you’re not gonna…I mean, you wouldn’t…” He took the hand clasped around his bicep and squeezed it firmly. “No Fred, I wouldn’t,” he assured her. “I just figured the bride would need someone to give her away.”

Cordelia guffawed. “I’d rather be walked down the aisle by the Scooby Gang.” Angel chuckled. “What’s so funny?” she demanded, moving to put her hands on her hips, remember her wet nails in the nick of time.

“Funny? Oh nothing,” Angel told her. “Well, since you don’t need me, how about I offer my services as best man?”

“I need to sit down,” Fred said to no one in particular. She walked slowly over to the couch, Connor right behind her.

“Sorry Angel,” Cordelia said. “I’m afraid Spencer might prefer a non-evil actual man for the job.” Her ex-husband’s face remained passively blank at the caustic remark. For some reason, this made Cordy even more annoyed.

“So, uh, did you bring Gunn with you?” Connor asked. “Or W-” he darted a look at Fred, “or anyone else?”

“’Fraid not,” Angel told him, slipping out of his leather jacket and putting it on the back of a chair. “Gunn’s, ah, Gunn is…tied up overseas.”

“That sounds kind of vague,” Fred said.

“It’s actually not as vague as it sounds,” Angel told her, thinking that in all likelihood Gunn probably was tied up. “Anyway, I don’t think he’s gonna make it. But I think you guys might like the people I did bring.”

“People?” Fred gulped, already despairing over her headcount.

“I know Cordy’s just gonna love them.” Angel’s tone indicated that Cordelia would most certainly NOT love them.

“Let me get this straight,” Cordy said. She started pacing around them, partly to keep her anger in check and partly because she just couldn’t stand next to him anymore. “You, an uninvited guest, brought two more uninvited guests.”

“When you put it that way it sounds rude,” Angel said.

“Ha ha Angel.” Cordelia wagged her finger at him. “Not funny. Now, if you’re done, we have things to do.” She stalked over to the door and held it wide open. “Get out and get gone.”

Angel reached down for the open water bottle on the coffee table and took a long drink, ignoring Cordy’s squeak of protest. “I think your guests are waiting for you on the third floor. You’ll have to decide which rooms you’ll be putting them in.”

“Rooms?” Cordelia repeated dumbly.

He waved the water bottle, HER water bottle in her direction, offering it. It didn’t even register on her radar. “Not just rooms. I’m sure they’ll have all sorts of questions for you. Black tie or just black tie optional. Chicken or fish. That sort of thing.”

Fred immediately reached for her cell. The caterer was number four on her speed dial.

“So who are these people?” Connor asked Angel.

“Old friends,” he said succinctly.

“Pfft. You don’t have any friends Angel.” Cordy snatched the phone out of Fred’s hand and flipped it shut. “And they certainly aren’t crashing my wedding. What the hell are you trying to pull?” Despite her best judgment she moved to stand in front of him. “You show up, out of the blue, with two randoms who…” The light dawned. “This has Wolfram and Hart written all over it!”

Angel raised an eyebrow. “I’m impressed. I thought you lost all of your superpowers.”

“That’s it.” Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. She could almost feel her blood start to boil. “I’m calling them right now.” She flipped Fred’s phone open.

“Whoa.” This time Angel ripped the phone our of Cordy’s hand. “Wait. Just wait a second.” She made a grab for the cell, shooting him a glare when he easily held it out of her reach. “You’re slipping Princess. That look used to work on me.” She reached again and Angel simply raised his arm higher. “Remember how it was Cor?”

“I’ve tried my best to forget the nightmare that was our life together.”

“You’d look at me and I’d be lost. Stunned into silence by the withering glance of a goddess.” Angel’s voice was harder now. Gone was the smug, relaxed man from before. “Those days are over now Cordy. We both know you’re no goddess.”

“I never said I was,” she hissed, darting around him and briskly walking out of the room. Angel tossed the cell to Fred and followed Cordy, out into the hall, around the corner.

Cordelia wasn’t sure where she was going. It was just too much. Ten minutes ago she was on her way to the wedding of her dreams. Then Angel walked through the door and nothing made sense anymore.

* * *

“How long?” Xander asked tonelessly.

“It’s two minutes after the last time you asked,” Buffy murmured. Xander gently jabbed her in the side. “Owww,” she said, mostly for effect, before glancing at her watch. “Ten minutes. We’ve been waiting ten minutes.”

“Feels like it’s been ten years,” he whined.

Buffy reached into her purse, grabbed what was easily five grand worth of surveillance equipment and dumped it in Xander’s lap. “Since you’re bored, why don’t you start setting some of this stuff up.”

He unceremoniously put it back on her lap. “That’s your job.”

“What?”

“That’s your thing. You’re the Sydney and I’m the Vaughn.”

“I repeat, what?”

“You do the spy work and wear the tight pants while I offer comfort and support and exude a manly sexuality.”

Buffy opened her mouth to protest and then immediately shut it. Xander did exude a manly sexuality, in between sarcastic remarks. And she did like her pants tight.

She picked up a tiny camera and went to work.

* * *

Angel had known this wouldn’t be easy. Coming back. Dealing with the firm. Cordelia’s wedding. He had been more than aware that his was an uphill battle. One that required patience. Finesse. A detailed plan.

And then he saw her. And it nearly brought him to his knees.

She was everything Angel remembered, everything he had dreamed about during those endless days and lonely nights. The few pictures he’d managed to take with him, the sketches he’d been compelled to draw, the sordid dreams that left him aching – none of them had done Cordy justice.

She wore a simple sleeveless light blue shift that clung in all the right places and gave him an appreciative view of those long tanned limbs of hers. Her hair was longer now. Pulled back away from her face in a smooth low ponytail, it made her seem younger than she was.

One look at those flashing hazel eyes, at her brightly painted mouth – wide open in shock – and it took everything Angel had not to toss the patience idea out the window. Not to grab Cordelia and take her away. Somewhere, anywhere, where they could be alone and he could show her, with lips and sweat and touch and tongue, that he was back. And he wasn’t going anywhere.

But Angel hadn’t let himself do that. Not just because he knew she would probably try to kill him. Because he knew it wouldn’t work.

Cordelia was still locked away in her anger. Still angry at him. The firm. The Powers. Hell, she was still angry at Wesley for making a deal with Holtz and that was a million years ago.

But mostly, even though she would never admit it, Cordelia was very very angry at herself.

Angel couldn’t do anything but stick to the plan. He had to wait until she was ready.

So instead of grabbing her, he had set about pushing her buttons. Because, honestly, he’d missed that. Chasing after her now, watching the short dress flare out over that perfect ass of hers, Angel had to smile. He’d missed that too.

Suddenly Cordelia stopped on a dime and spun around. Angel ran right into her, nearly knocking them both down in the process. He grabbed Cordy’s arms to steady her and they both gasped.

He could feel her, practically vibrating under his fingers. She was all righteous anger and pounding blood and it had been so long since he’d been able to touch her. Too long. His grip tightened. Her hands, caught between both of their chests, clutched his shirt.

Angel wavered, grinding his teeth, struggling for control. Finally he let her go. After a few beats, Cordy stepped back.

“I can’t believe they thought this would work!” Her voice was unnaturally high, as if she was trying to cover for whatever that almost moment had been. “I can’t believe YOU thought this would work. Sending two spies to my wedding. Angel, they’re probably bugging the sitting room right now!” she whined.

“Shhh,” he said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Cordelia nervously took another step back. “They’ll hear you and think you don’t want them.”

“Good! Cause I don’t want them. I want them – and you – and any little spy toys they brought with them to pack up and head back to Wolfram and Hart.”

“Whatever you say your majesty.” Angel bowed sarcastically. “But first, could I interest you in some blackmail?” He hadn’t planned on telling her so soon, but she would need to know eventually.

Cordy’s mouth dropped open. “No!”

“Yes.”

She waved her hands in the air. “They wouldn’t.”

“They would.”

“They couldn’t.”

“They did,” Angel said matter-of-factly. He reached into his back pocket and handed her the creased letter Lilah had sent him while he was in South America. It had been pretty funny actually. The Fed-Ex van had pulled up two minutes after the entire Wolfram and Hart Buenos Ares satellite office had blown up.

Cordelia quickly skimmed the letter. “Is this true?” Angel nodded. “They won’t help Gunn?”

“Or release Wes from his contract.”

“Unless…”

“Unless,” Angel confirmed.

Cordelia stared at him intently. “Who’s behind this?”

“One guess.”

“Lilah,” she ground out. Cordy closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. “That bitch.”

“No argument there.” He joined her against the wall, closing his eyes as well. “She’s convinced it’s in the firm’s best interest to know what’s going on over here.”

“But you don’t live here anymore,” she reminded him needlessly.

“It’s not about that. The big bad law firm-”

“That you work for,” Cordelia cut in.

Angel decided to wait on clearing up that fact. “The firm likes to keep tabs on the white hats. Same old same old.”

“This isn’t even about good and evil,” she muttered. “Lilah’s still pissed about losing Wesley to Fred.”

“Whatever her reasons…”

Cordelia was so quiet for a moment that Angel got worried. When he opened his eyes, she was standing in front of him. “Angel, you simply have to fix this.”

She was whimpering in her sleep. She’d kicked off the top sheet but her entire body was bathed in a cold sweat. Twisting the sheets in tightly clenched fingers, gasping for air. Crying out blindly for help.

This wasn’t the first time. Nightmares were commonplace, ever since she woke up from the coma. They never talked about them. He wasn’t sure Cordelia was even aware of the things she said, the quiet confidences she uttered in that hazy place between asleep and awake.

“Come back to me Cor,” he crooned. Angel grabbed her shoulders and shook her gently. When that didn’t work, he hauled her up into his arms, rocking her like a child.

Even in the darkness of their bedroom, he could tell the minute she came out of it. Her eyes flew open, dilated and glassy and she mumbled something he couldn’t quite hear. “What baby?” He brought her head up.

She was trembling. “Fix it. Please Angel, fix it,” she begged as tears started to roll down her face.

“Fix what? Angel asked, but he had a sinking feeling that he knew. Knew that he couldn’t fix it, that maybe no one could.

“All of it,” she whispered brokenly next to his ear. “Me. Everything. Fix it,” she pleaded.

“I did fix it,” Angel told her quietly. “I agreed to all of this.” He shook his head when she sent him a pleading look. “It’s the only way Cor. And come on, it’s not that bad. You know about it. You can have the entire hotel swept for bugs, top to bottom, once this mess is over with.”

Whatever softness that had been blooming in her gaze died. “You want me to LET them spy on me? I’ve been trying for two years to get away from that horrible place and you want me to just welcome them with open arms?”

“It’s two days of your life Cordy. It won’t hurt. Although it might put a damper on the wedding night.” Angel couldn’t keep the tiny edge of glee out of his voice.

“You’re just loving this, aren’t you?” Cordelia accused.

“Am I Princess?” he shot back solemnly.

Sighing, she wordlessly turned away and headed back to the living room. When they got there, she paused just outside the door and Angel seamlessly reached around her and opened it. A small, simple thing. Something he had done hundreds of times for her.

Cordy studiously ignored the fissions of bone deep recognition that swirled through her.

“Owww!,” Connor howled. Angel and Cordelia looked down and saw the young man sprawled on the floor, clutching his shoulder. “Have you never heard of knocking?” he whined.

“Have you never heard that eavesdropping is rude?” Cordy shot back. Angel nodded, offering him a hand up. “Uh,” she huffed, stepping around them both. “It’s your fault Angel,” she accused.

“Excuse me?” he said, taking his hand away just as his son was reaching for it. Connor groaned and pulled himself up off the ground.

“You never bothered to teach your kid any manners!” Cordelia said, her voice rising, still tense from the way just being around Angel affected her.

“Hey!” Connor said, brushing off his pants.

“You think he learned this kind of behavior from me?” Angel exclaimed. “Refusing to admit when something is none of his business, sneaking around, GETTING CAUGHT sneaking around,” Angel ticked off the list. “Which one of us does that sound like?”

“Hey,” Connor shouted. “I get it. I’m sorry. Now what’s the deal?”

“Yeah,” Fred added, ending her phone call, voice slightly hoarse from yelling at the caterer. “What did I miss?”

Cordelia shot another angry glare Angel’s way. “I guess we should get presentable and go introduce ourselves to Angel’s ‘friends’,” she air-quoted.

“So they don’t work for Wolfram and Hart?” Fred asked.

“Oh no, they do,” Angel told her.

Connor moved his arm experimentally, trying to assess the damage the door had done to his elbow. “So they’re not old friends of Angel’s?”

Angel bit his lip. “Actually -”

“No, they’re not,” Cordy cut him off. “It’s just a poorly researched cover story. But for now, we’re going to pretend that they are his friends, and let them come to the wedding and spy their little hearts out.” She took a deep, dramatic sigh. “I don’t know why Lilah even bothers anymore. I certainly could care less about what that stupid law firm is up to these days,” she said airily, for Angel’s benefit.

“So we let them spy and pretend we don’t know?” Connor said, before Angel could rise to the bait. “But what are we supposed to do? How do we act?” he asked.

“Act normal,” Angel said.

“Wait!” Cordy grabbed Angel’s forearm. She had an inkling of a plan. “Don’t act normal. Act MORE than normal.”

“Right!” Connor said. “Uh, what does that mean?”

She licked her lips. “It means we give Spies R’ Us exactly what they need to see to get them off our backs as soon as possible.”

Fred tapped her on the shoulder. “In case you don’t remember, there’s supposed to be a wedding tomorrow. We don’t have a lot of time for games.”

“It’ll be super easy,” Cordy assured her. “We just make ‘em think we couldn’t possibly be a threat to their incredibly powerful evil law firm. I’ll play flighty rich party girl. Fred, you dig deep and play a combination of head-in-the-clouds scientist and distracted wedding planner.”

Fred rolled her eyes. “Well, it’ll be a stretch, but I think I can make it work.”

“What about me?” Connor was practically bouncing with excitement.

Cordelia smiled. “Connor, you just channel a little of that psychotic rage you had when you first came back from Quartoth.” She brought her finger to her chin thoughtfully. “You don’t still have those animal skins, do you?”

Fred coughed. “I think the Peter Pan outfit is a little much. Let’s not go overboard here.”

Connor rubbed his hands together. “This is gonna be so much fun!”

Cordy patted his back. “You and I will go get changed and then pop in and meet our new friends.”

“Old friends,” Angel corrected, finally speaking up.

Cordelia frowned. “I thought the story was that they were YOUR old friends.”

“That too,” he said enigmatically.

“Then I…” Her frown turned petulant. “What are you not telling me?”

“Well, it’s actually pretty funny Princess,” Angel said. “Remember how you were just joking about the Scooby Gang walking you down the aisle…”

* * *

During the requisite snooping that was required when one was tapping a phone while one’s partner in crime set up a miniature hidden video camera, Xander had uncovered an old deck of cards in one of the desk drawers. He was kicking Buffy’s ass at “Go Fish” when suddenly a blood-curdling scream echoed through the building.

Buffy and Xander glanced at each other and then back down at their cards.

“Buf?” he said.

“Hmmm?”

“Got any fours?”

TBC

Kelly22

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. 6   Leave a comment

Part 6

“Here we are,” Clem announced, opening the large, oak-paneled door. “Third floor sitting room. Pretty nice, isn’t it?”

Buffy agreed, it was lovely. Tastefully decorated, everything about the room looked expensive, yet it somehow retained a comfortable, welcoming feel. The walls were pale lilac, lending the room an aura of cheerfulness despite the heavy plum curtains that hung on the windows, shutting out the suns rays.

Purple, Xander noted, fighting the urge to groan. The color of royalty.

“Is there anything else you two need?” Clem offered.

“We’re fine,” Buffy assured him. “Thanks for bringing us up.”

“No problem. Any friend of Cordelia’s is a friend of mine.”

“You met us first,” Xander reminded him bluntly.

“And I still can’t believe you were that awful high school boyfriend Cordy told me about!” Clem exclaimed. “A love spell Xander? Come on.”

Xander clenched his teeth. “I already told you that-”

“Thanks again Clem,” Buffy said, grabbing Xander’s arm and tugging him into the room. “We’ll take it from here.” The demon nodded, padding off down the hall.

“You know, it’s not like the spell even worked,” Xander whined. “And it actually brought us closer.”

“Get over it. That was years ago.” She let go of his shirt and began wandering around the room. There were white roses everywhere, all in beautiful crystal vases that had to be Waterford and probably cost more than her rent.

“Then how come, whenever people find out, they act like I slipped roofies in her Diet Coke? How come no one understands that the spell was in fact very romantic?”

“Yeah, I don’t get why more people don’t see the brighter side to mind control,” Buffy quipped.

“Exactly!” Xander completely missed the sarcasm.

“You’re hopeless,” she told him affectionately and went back to perusing the room. Xander glanced to the right and left, as if some form of entertainment was going to magically appear. Finally he just sat down on the couch.

On the wall, in between two large windows, there was a beautiful painting hanging in an ornate silver frame. It was a woman sitting in a garden, drawn as if the artist had been looking down at her from high above. Buffy moved closer to get a better look. The woman’s face was only slightly visible in profile, but Buffy could tell, by the softly curling hair, the delicate curve of her waist, that she was beautiful.

A pretty girl in a pretty garden. It should be a happy little portrait. And yet…it wasn’t. The woman, she looked, well, she looked sad. The set of her shoulders, the way she held herself, the slight downturn of her lip. Not sad. She looked lost.

Acting on a hunch, Buffy hooked a finger around the heavy window covering and tugged it aside, peeking out. The courtyard below was an exact replica of the garden depicted in the painting. Which would make the woman in the painting –

“What are you staring at?”

Buffy turned back to Xander, now leaning back on the couch, feet propped up on the coffee table. She shrugged. “Just checking out the artwork.”

Xander half-heartedly eyed the picture behind her. “Well, it’s no ‘Black Velvet Elvis’ but yeah, it’s all right I guess. If you like that sort of thing.”

“Cordelia obviously does.”

“Cordelia can afford to like that sort of thing,” Xander remarked.

Buffy simply nodded, even though she was almost positive that that particular painting hadn’t cost Cordelia a dime. Instead of pointing that out, she opted to join Xander on the couch. For a few moments they sat in comfortable silence. “Do you think she’ll be different?” Buffy finally asked.

“Who? Cordelia?” She nodded and Xander shook his head. “Naaah.” After a minute. “Why? Do you?”

Buffy sighed. “I’m not sure. Last time I was here, which was admittedly a pretty bad day for me, she seemed…I don’t know. When I first saw her, she was smiling and laughing and Xan, I’m not kidding you, I had never heard her laugh before.” Xander gave her a disbelieving look. “I’m not talking about laughing at someone. Just laughing. Making with the happy happy joy joy. It was…”

“Creepy?”

Buffy snorted. “Yeah,” she admitted. “Kinda.” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “Was she like that with you? When you two were -”

This time Xander was the one who snorted. “Are you kidding me? It was all whine, fight, make out, whine, fight, make out. A vicious, but entertaining cycle.”

“Hmmm,” Buffy said noncommittally. After all, who was she to judge anyone’s high school relationships. Thinking about what she was like then, about Angel, about everything made her a little queasy. Although not as queasy as thinking about Xander and Cordelia together. It must have showed in her face.

Xander put his arm around her and hauled her up against his side. “Don’t let it bother you too much Buf.” Her mouth fell open. Noting her expression, he dropped a quick kiss on the side of her temple. “They’ve been divorced for, like, ever. Queen C is no competition for the Super Slayer. And if Angel can’t see just how amazing you are, then he’s completely clueless and doesn’t deserve you.”

Buffy smiled weakly and leaned her head on the shoulder of the only man more clueless than Angel.

* * *

Angel had no clue where everybody was. He could see that they were not, in fact, in Cordelia’s office like Clem had said. Despite all the renovations the hotel had undergone after they got married, Cordy had chosen to use the same space where the office had always been. His, then Wesley’s, and finally, rightfully, hers.

She still had those same glass windows. He’d tried to talk her out of those.

“I like them,” she said, leaning back against his solid frame, sighing happily when he wrapped his arms around her from behind. One hand gripped her just under her breasts, the other palming her stomach, that soft little belly that always jutted out slightly, no matter how many sit-ups she whined her way through.

“I don’t,” he grumbled. “How am I supposed to molest my wife in her office when the entire world can see in?” The construction workers had left for the day; they were finally, finally alone.

Cordelia craned her head back to see his face, eyes sparkling. “You have a hundred other rooms here to molest me in,” she reminded him.

“True.” Angel nuzzled her cheek. “But I had plans for that office,” he whispered gruffly in her ear. He took the lobe in between his teeth and gave it a gentle nip, smiling at the resulting tremor that ran through her.

“Shades!” Cordy squeaked out, as Angel shifted his attention to her neck. “I’ll call the decorator tomorrow.” He pulled her tighter against him, rolling his hips so she could feel all of him. “Big…big…shades,” she stuttered.

The shades were up now, the office obviously empty. Angel didn’t feel an ounce of compunction at walking right in.

It was like walking back in time. Papers piled messily on the desk. Invoices slipped between the pages of In Style. The muted sounds of Sam Cooke coming from an unseen CD player.

Angel closed the door behind him and leaned against it, inhaling deeply. Lemon scented pledge. Old coffee and fresh flowers. The remnants of a spicy perfume. She’d switched scents, Angel noted. His chest felt oddly tight and he rubbed his hand over it absently as he ambled over to her desk.

She’d gotten herself a new perfume to go with her new life, her new man. Playing a hunch, Angel tugged on the handle of the middle drawer. He gave an empty chuckle when he took note of the blue and gold bottle and a familiar scent drifted up. He recognized it immediately. Dior’s Addict. He’d bought her that. Handed it to Cordy, made some stupid joke about being addicted to her.

Angel abruptly shut the drawer, wondering what other reminders of him Cordelia had stashed away. Out of sight, but never out of reach.

* * *

Cordelia suddenly shivered, nearly smearing OPI Bogota Blackberry all over her pinkie finger. “Is it cold in here?” she asked Fred, wiping at the tiny smudge.

Fred held up her finger, signaling ‘one second.’ “I know what I told you last night,” she shouted into the phone. “Now I’m telling you 102.” She paused briefly, offering Cordy an apologetic smile that was in direct contrast to her harsh tone.

“I refuse to believe that, with the money I’m paying, you can’t figure out how to feed an additional three people. Find a way!” Fred flipped her cell shut and flopped down next to Cordelia.

“What were you asking? It’s not cold. Why? Are you cold?” Fred’s words came out in an endearing jumble.

Double-checking to make sure her nails were perfect, Cordy slid the cap onto the bottle. “I don’t know. All of the sudden I got this chill, out of nowhere.”

Fred sprang back up and raced over to the thermostat. “But it’s 76 degrees in here. And you’re chilly? Oh my god, what if you’re coming down with something. This wasn’t in any of the bridal manuals. Should we call a doctor? No, that will take too long. I know. An ambulance. Connor! Clem!”

Cordelia laughed. “Fred. Relax. I’m fine. It was just a weird feeling. I’m perfectly fine now.” She patted the seat on the couch next to her. “Seriously. Sit down. You’re the one who’s not looking all that hot at the moment.”

“What’s wrong?” Connor yelled from the room next door.

“Nothing,” Cordy shouted back, thankful that the walls were thin enough that they could communicate without actually moving. “Fred’s just crazy.”

“You’re both crazy,” Connor responded. “Now shut up, I’m trying to kill something.”

Fred shot a perplexed look at her friend. Cordelia shrugged. “I told him he could set up his X-Box in the den.” Fred gasped. “Geeze Fred, he’s just taking a break.”

“No, not that. It’s just…what if that chill was a premonition.” Fred reached for Cordelia’s hand.

Cordy smacked her on the arm. “Watch the nails! And you know I don’t get visions anymore.”

“Not a vision. A premonition.”

“Huh?”

Fred made a tiny frustrated sound. “You said you had a weird feeling. How was it weird?”

“No weirder than you’re being right now,” Cordy mumbled.

“I mean, was it scary?”

“No scarier than you’re being right now.”

“Cordy!”

“I don’t know, it was just a feeling.”

“Would you call it foreboding?”

Cordelia nibbled her lip. “Maybe?” Hoping that was the answer Fred was looking for.

“Oh God.” Fred put her head in her hands. “Something horrible is going to happen. I just know it.”

Cordy reached out to wrap her arm around the young woman before remembering her wet nails. Grimacing, she rubbed small soothing circles on Fred’s back, using just the flat of her palm. “Nothing is going to happen. This wedding will be perfect. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because you’ve planned this thing down to the smallest detail. We’ve got extra security. Lorne already cast the non-violence spell. And we’ve got back up plans in case of rain – both the normal kind and the firey kind. I know you Fred. Nothing’s going to happen that we are not fully prepared for.”

Fred looked up. “You think?”

Cordy grinned. “Hey. I don’t think, I know.”

* * *

“So what do we actually know?”

Buffy frowned. “Not much.”

Xander got up and started making with the pacing. “Cordelia currently lives here with Angel’s son -”

“Connor. And he doesn’t live here,” Buffy corrected. “He’s got his own apartment, I think he’s just staying here for the wedding.”

“Right,” Xander started ticking them off. “Cordelia, Connor, and that friend of hers-”

“Fred.”

“Fred. Who used to be married to some guy real high up on the Wolfram and Hart Tower of Power.”

“According to the file, Fred still is. Married that is.”

Xander froze mid-pace. “What file?”

“The giant black file on Lilah’s desk that I was reading while she was outside talking to Angel and you were picking your nose.”

“Scratching! I was just scratching!”

“Whatever you say.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “I was skimming the file. Part diary, part evil plan to rule the world.”

Xander sat back down. “You’re good. You are very very good.” His voice was full of admiration.

Buffy shrugged and resumed leaning on his shoulder. “I’m the Slayer Xander. It’s my job.” Xander smelled nice, she noticed. Like the aftershave Dawn had bought him for Christmas and the fabric softener she always liked. Xander smelled like home.

Experimentally, Buffy shifted her head slightly so that her nose was nuzzling his neck. Xander didn’t appear to notice. “So. The file?” he prompted.

She sighed. “It was chock full of all sorts of interesting information.”

“Like what?”

“Everything. It went back at least 5 years. Copies of emails, transcripts of meetings. There was a memo from a private detective informing her that Fred still hadn’t filed for divorce. IQ test results on a guy named Charles Gunn.”

“Charles Gunn? Yeah, like that’s his real name,” Xander mumbled.

“She even had Cordelia’s credit card statement from last month.” Buffy made a face. “You don’t want to know how much she spent on shoes.”

“You’re right, I don’t. So what else was in there?”

“I don’t know. Documentation of all the hundreds of ways the firm has tried to bring Angel down.”

She could feel Xander smile. “Ooooh, stories about bad things happening to Angel? Tell me more!”

* * *

MORE INSIDER DETAILS ON CORDY’S WEDDING! Angel couldn’t help but grin at the lurid headline. Connor had mentioned in an email the tabloids’ fascination with Cordelia, and her increasing displeasure.

He wasn’t entirely sure why he was casually flipping through “People” Magazine. Only a few floors separated him from the family he hadn’t seen in years and instead of searching for them, here he was hiding in the office.

It had taken so long to decide to come back. Even longer to prepare himself. Maybe that’s why Angel was hesitating. So much was riding on this weekend.

Those first few months in Argentina had been a blur. All he had done was work. Work and grieve. Trying to come to terms with the life he had lost. Trying to get over all that had happened to him.

And then one night, it hit him. An epiphany, minus the chest pains of last time. He’d spent years trying to get over things that were lost to him, without ever really trying to find them. So many times he’d accepted the things that happened to him, instead of actively choosing a different path.

Angel was a fighter. That’s what he did, who he was. He’d fought to save the world. Fought to save innocents. Fought for Wolfram and Hart.

Had it just never occurred to him to fight for himself? For his own happiness? That night, outside looking up at the stars, Angel had come to the startling realization that it hadn’t. She’d told him to leave and he had. It had never occurred to him to stay. To fight.

He’d given up on Cordelia. Just as he had when Groo had shown up the night of the ballet, or when Skip had taken her from them, or when she came back and he’d known something was wrong. He’d given up again, just like he had when they told him she would never wake up…

The call came early in the morning, right as he was drifting off to sleep.

“Mr. Angel? Sorry to bother you sir, but we thought you would like to know. She’s awake Mr. Angel. Cordelia Chase woke up.”

She was down in the sub-basement of the building, in a high-tech hospital room the firm had retro-fitted just for her. In the four months that she’d been there, Angel had visited only once. Alone, in the elevator, he cringed, wondering how he would explain that one to her.

There was so much to explain.

The doors opened and Angel didn’t move. How would he explain everything? What could he say, what could she say, that would make everything okay? And then he heard it, bouncing off the walls of the long empty corridor. The tinny echoes of someone screaming out in pain. Cordelia.

He started to run. He instinctively remembered the way, navigating the maze-like halls with inhuman speed.

Angel burst into the reception area of her suite panting like a wild man. Her screams were louder now and Angel was assailed by an overpowering sense of déjà vu. They’d played this scene before.

“Mr. Angel!” The nurse ran around her desk and grabbed him by the arm. “Sir, you can’t go in there. She’s with the doctors right now.” Angel looked at her brokenly. “You can’t go in there,” the nurse repeated gently.

“I, I have to,” he whispered, flinching when Cordelia’s shouting increased in volume.

The older woman edged him into a chair. “You can see her as soon as the doctors are done.”

“But she-”

“I assure you Mr. Angel, Miss Chase is in no physical pain right now.” Angel gave her a doubtful look and the nurse bit her lip hesitantly. “It seems that, upon waking, all of her memories of the previous year returned, all at once.” She smiled grimly. “the doctors’ are sedating her now,” she added quietly.

So Angel waited. Long, interminable minutes. Staring at the wall. Listening as her screams faded to soft cries. He didn’t notice anyone had entered the room until Wesley sat down next to him.

“I’m shocked to see you here,” the other man said. Wesley’s tone was censorious and Angel wasn’t surprised. They all knew just how rarely he’d been down here. He was aware what they thought of him. He’d always told himself he didn’t owe them any explanations.

“Years ago, before Jasmine, even before Pylea,” Angel began abruptly, surprising both Wes and himself. “Back when I first noticed that she, that I had these…”

“Feelings?” Wesley suggested.

“Stirrings. When those first feelings started, I wondered why. What gave her that power over me? Why her?” Angel paused, running a hand through his sleep-mussed hair.

“It wasn’t beauty; or at least it wasn’t just beauty. I’ve had beautiful women before.” Wes snorted but Angel ignored it and continued. “It certainly wasn’t her singing voice or her secretarial skills or-”

“Or her utter disregard for subtlety?”

“Exactly.” Angel nodded. “She had nothing in common with the other women I loved. Darla was a, a temptress. Everything was a seduction with her. And Buffy, she had this, I mean, despite who she is, she had this fragileness. This very desolate, innate vulnerability. It, I don’t know, it called to me.”

“Cordelia never had that,” Wesley commented.

“No. So I couldn’t figure out why. I couldn’t figure out why it was so important that I got her back. I mean, I wanted to win you and Gunn back too but…” Angel trailed off.

“It was different with Cordelia,” Wes filled in succinctly. “It always has been.”

“And then she had a vision and I caught her and I knew. I knew why. Wesley, being near her, feeling the pressure of her hand, catching her scent right before she walked in the door, even just watching her across a crowded room. It was the closest I ever got to feeling alive.” Angel sucked in an unnecessary breath and exhaled slowly.

“She does have a certain vitality,” Wesley said after a while.

“Not in there she didn’t,” Angel gestured to the closed door across from them. “In that box,” he hissed. Wolfram and Hart had the most expensive medical technology available to them. Instead of hooking her up to a bunch of uncomfortable tubes, they had put Cordelia in a glass incubator of sorts.

Like Snow White, Fred had once told him, and she was right. In that room, incased in glass, Cordy was his pale, untouchable fairy tale princess.

“I couldn’t go back again, not after I saw her like that,” Angel told Wesley. “That wasn’t her in there, in that coffin. That wasn’t the woman I-” He abruptly stopped. He still hadn’t said it. He’d never let himself say it aloud.

“Yes Angel? Wes stared at him intently. “The woman you what?”

He could hear her in there, whimpering like a wounded animal. His heart, the heart that she had owned for years, broke for her and the answer came easily. “Love,” Angel blurted out and Wesley grinned.

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, now was it?”

Angel shook his head. “I love her.” Not only did it come naturally, he found he liked saying it.

“To quote our girl, ‘well duh’.” Wesley had the good graces to look sheepish. “I’m sorry, but your feelings have been quite apparent for some time now.”

“I love her Wes,” Angel repeated. “And now she’s back. Now that I’ve got her back, I’m never letting her leave me again.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” the nurse said timidly. “You can see her now. Mr. Angel?”

“Mr. Angel?” Angel’s head whipped around, startled to see Clem standing just outside the office. “Sorry sir, I was almost positive they were back here.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Angel put down the magazine and straightened his shoulders. Preparing for battle.

“They’re on the second floor,” Clem said. “Cordelia and Fred are in the living room and I’m pretty sure you’ll find Connor playing video games. You want me to show you the-”

Angel was already walking out the door. “I know the way.”

Continue on…

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. 5   Leave a comment

Part 5

If the day before at Wolfram and Hart had been strange, this was somewhere in a realm beyond strange.

Xander didn’t know what to do with himself. Buffy was sitting up front, in the passenger seat next to Angel, so at least, if she wanted to, she could busy herself by playing with the radio. He, however, had been relegated to the back seat. Like a child. Xander might not be able to see Angel’s face in the rear-view mirror, but something told him the asshole was smiling.

His own horrible mood surprised him. After the meeting yesterday, he had been almost cheerful—in fact he hadn’t been able to stop gloating. Xander knew it bothered Buffy, but he couldn’t help it. After nearly ten years, he was finally getting a chance to say ‘I told you so.’ He had been right all along. Angel was a jerk.

It all just sort of slid into place, sitting there next to him in Lilah’s office. The bad-guy checklist was complete. Vampire? Check. Vicious killer? Check. Obscenely and undeservingly good looking? Check. Bad-breaker-upper? Double-check.

That was all the same as before, but now Xander could add divorcee and willing lackey of evil law firm to the list. Irrefutable evidence that the guy was no good.

Not that Xander needed confirmation. His opinions had been formed by Angel’s original sin. He simply wasn’t good enough for Buffy.

“Xander?” she said right then.

“Yeah Buf?” He imagined what she was going to say. ‘Thanks for being here Xander, I don’t know how I would do this without you.’ Or perhaps ‘could you please grab a stake and get Angel out of our lives for good?’ Or maybe—

“Can you please quit with the tapping?” Buffy begged suddenly, both apologetic and annoyed.

“I’m tapping?”

Buffy sighed. “Yes.”

“I wasn’t aware I was tapping.”

“Hands and feet,” she informed him.

“Well, who wouldn’t be tapping along to these kick-ass tunes that Angel picked out?” Xander joked, reaching forward and playfully smacking Angel on the arm. It was a subtle dig at the classical music they were listening to.

“You weren’t even tapping to the music,” Buffy told him.

“Are you sure?” Xander asked.

Angel answered by simply turning off the radio. Conversation died back down again and now the car was a vortex of uncomfortable silence. Xander started fiddling with the door lock.

He knew it wasn’t completely rational, his violent aversion of all things Angel. It was immature, and petty and…and who was Xander kidding? Angel hurt Buffy. Doing it once was bad. Doing it over and over, time and again, turning it into an art form? That was unforgivable.

And yet somehow, Buffy seemed to be doing that. Forgiving him. Xander couldn’t see her face but he was intuitive enough to know that the waves of apprehension radiating off her yesterday were gone. She was stuck in the car with her ex and yet Buffy seemed, oddly, comfortable. There was no anger, no fear, and, thank god, no more of the sexual tension that previously characterized her relationship with Angel.

Xander had no idea what to make of this.

There hadn’t been anyone else. Not since Sunnydale. Buffy had effectively put that part of her life on hold since then. And, whether intentionally or not, so had Xander.

It made sense at first, the waiting. They were grieving. And then later…well, Xander wasn’t sure what happened. Did they just get too busy? The weird part was that his utter lack of a love life didn’t bother him as much as he thought it would.

It should bother him. Not having someone to hold. Someone to make pancakes for. Someone’s fingers to kiss. Someone to slow dance in the kitchen with while he hummed an off-key rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Xander knew he should miss all that, knew he should be tired of being alone. It had been three years. But it honestly wasn’t that bad.

Maybe cause he wasn’t alone. He had Buffy. They had each other.

Whatever it was that “they” were, Xander was grateful they had it.

“Xan,” Buffy whined. “You’re tapping again.” He looked down and saw that, with the pointer and middle finger of his right hand, he was indeed tapping. Whoops.

He cleared his throat. “So Angel, meet any senoritas while you were down south?” No response. “Tough crowd,” Xander murmured. He went back to twisting the door lock. Taking a deep breath, he tried again.

“This, uh, this car’s not too shabby.” It was the truth, Xander conceded; Angel did have a very nice ride. Black Chevy Tahoe. All leather interior. Tinted windows—no surprise there.

“Thanks,” Angel said. It wasn’t much, but Xander decided to find it encouraging.

“You know, wearing my sunglasses and riding around town in this bad boy,” he said, twisting the lock even harder, “everyone’s gonna think I’m Secret Service.”

Buffy’s cough sounded suspiciously like a laugh, but Xander decided to let it slide.

“I don’t think a lot of people will make that mistake,” Angel said. That time Buffy definitely laughed. Looking down at his hand, Xander realized he had twisted the door lock right off. Oops.

“So, ah, didn’t you used to have another car?” Xander asked brightly, leaning forward so much that he was practically sitting between Buffy and Angel. “A convertible? I thought you said he had a convertible?” Buffy shrugged and, as nonchalantly as possible, Xander tossed the tiny piece of plastic behind him, into the very back of the car.

“If by convertible you mean a classic 1957 Plymouth GTX 440 convertible, then yes,” Angel answered, seemly unaware of the undercover backseat maneuverings. Xander grinned. He so could have been Secret Service.

“So what happened to it?” Buffy asked.

“What happened to what?” Angel said, not following.

“The convertible,” Xander huffed.

“Oh.” Angel nodded. “ I left the car here, with Cordelia.”

Xander was shocked. “Let me get this straight. You just left it here?” For a second he thought he saw Angel flinch. But then he decided it was probably just the car going over a pothole. “You gave up a beauty like that!”

“I didn’t give it up,” the vampire said.

“Ah, you sure about that pal?” Xander chuckled.

“I didn’t give anything up.” It was impossible to miss the edge in Angel’s voice. “I left it here while I was gone. It’s still mine. It will always be mine.

Suddenly, Xander wasn’t sure if they were still talking about the car. He decided to quit while he was ahead.

Buffy couldn’t help but notice how tightly Angel was clenching the steering wheel. For whatever reason, the conversation was really getting to him. She turned around to signal to Xander that it was time for a subject change, but apparently he’d already figured that out and was back to quietly fidgeting.

Xan was nervous, that much was obvious. Was it that he still felt uncomfortable doing this last job for Wolfram and Hart? Or was it sitting in the backseat while Angel chauffered them around town? Buffy was almost sure that was it. Almost sure. But a small, annoyed little part of her worried that Xander’s unease had another cause. One that started with a C.

He hadn’t seen Cordelia since graduation, and Buffy could count on one hand the number of times her name had come up since then. She and Xander had a different life, together, that Cordelia wasn’t even aware of, let alone a part of. And yet…

Those two and their crazy mixed-up relationship had always bothered Buffy. There was a tension between Cordelia and Xander, an energy that crackled and shifted and made everyone else in the room disappear. In high school they had played off of each other, pushed each other’s buttons, danced around that thin line between love and hate.

Even though that was a million years ago, and everyone had grown and changed, and Cordelia herself was engaged, Buffy couldn’t help but worry that they would pick up the dance right where they left off. If they did, she just might have to do something crazy. Like throw Xander up against a wall and have her way with him.

Or rip Cordelia’s hair out. One or the other.

Buffy shifted in her seat and glanced over at Angel again. He was focusing a little too intently on the road in front of him, and she knew not all of that rigidity could be attributed to this forced reunion. That was about Cordelia too.

Buffy recognized that fact and was pleasantly surprised when all she felt was relief. It was kind of nice to NOT be the one making Angel miserable. Sure, she felt bad for the guy, felt his pain and all that; it was just rather refreshing to not be the cause of it.

In fact, despite the niggling doubt that this whole scam would work, and the maddening undefined-ness of her relationship with Xander, Buffy felt pretty good.

Sure the situation wasn’t ideal. But it was a lot better than the last time she’d driven around Los Angeles with Angel.

Angel cleared his throat uncomfortably. “This, uh, this shouldn’t take too long. The psychics at the firm said it was just a couple of vamps.” When Buffy didn’t say anything, he went on. “You, you don’t have to come. I mean, if you don’t want to…”

Buffy choked by a dry laugh. “Don’t worry about it Angel. It’s not like I have other plans.” Plans had gone out the window twenty minutes ago, up in Angel’s office, listening to his stuttering explanations. Seeing that ridiculously nervous smile on Cordelia’s face, on his WIFE‘S face, which was so obviously an act, because even a fool could tell she was gloating on the inside.

A fool. That’s what Buffy was. She’d been a stupid, naïve little fool, to think, to think…whatever she had thought.

Buffy had been an idiot to think she would ever get a chance to be happy.

Angel, not party to the inner-workings of Buffy’s mind, was still rambling. “So, I mean, this stuff, the missions, it’s not really my job. I mean, not officially. But I still like to get a little fieldwork in. So I’m not, uh, office guy all the time. I mean, I need a little healthy aggression every now and then, you know me…”

She knew him? Riiight. Buffy leaned slightly to the left so that the wind whipping past the car hit her directly in the face, hoping it would bring some clarity to the situation. Because right now? She could use a little clarity. Everything inside her head was so jumbled and crazy and incredibly close to exploding.

“But I guess you could say I run the place,” Angel continued, unaware he was sitting next to a human land mine. “I mean, there are the senior partners, and even I’m sorta hazy on what they are, but, uh, basically, outside of the realms of hell, I’m number one. The go-to guy.” He darted a quick glance over at her and gave her what had to be the tiniest, fakest, smile Buffy had ever seen.

All she could offer him was an unblinking stare, and he quickly turned back to the road. “Yeah, so that’s what I’m doing. We. We’re doing. I mean, Cordelia’s not completely comfortable with the firm, but, I don’t know, it’s, right now, it’s good.” Deep down, under the awkward babbling, there was pride in his voice.

And right then her heart broke a little more. As the car slowed down and pulled into the deserted parking lot of a strip mall, it hit her. It wasn’t that he was married. It wasn’t that he was married to Cordelia.

Angel had a life. A real honest to goodness life. Not only did it not revolve around her, it didn’t involve her.

And that chapter of her life, the one of girlish dreams and fantasy love, the one she thought would never end, was over.

So Buffy did the only thing she could do. She threw open the door, hopped out of the car, and started running. Angel immediately slammed on the brakes and turned the car off, but by then she already had a substantial lead. “Buffy!” she heard him call out as she rounded the corner. “Buffy I’m sorry!”

By the time he caught up with her, in the darkened alley behind the Chinese restaurant, the three vamps were dust, the young delivery boy sat sobbing on the ground, and Buffy was leaning over, hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.

Angel came sprinting down the alley. “Buffy please don’t—oh.” He skidded to a halt when he took in the seen around him.

“Please don’t what?” Buffy asked, not looking up.

“I thought…”

“You thought what?” she said, extending an arm and helping the kid off the ground. “You thought I was back here crying my eyes out?” The delivery boy mumbled his thanks and ran off, but neither Buffy nor Angel was in the frame of mind to notice, let alone respond.

“What did you think Angel?” Buffy pressed. “That I was bawling like a child just because you’re with her now?” It hurt too much. To say her name. It hurt to know her name.

“Of course not,” Angel said, trying to sooth, stepping toward her with his arm outstretched. She quickly stepped out of his reach.

“No! Don’t, for God’s sake, don’t touch me!” Buffy briefly struggled for composure, fought to keep her tears in check, then realized just how futile it was.

“I ran back here to do my job Angel,” she sniffed. “Because that’s what I always do. No matter what. It’s what I do.”

He approached her again, cautiously. “ I get that. That’s what I—”

“Don’t,” Buffy yelled. “I mean, do you really think it would matter to me? Do you honestly believe I care?”

“You’re crying” Angel stated quietly.

“Of course I ‘m crying!” Buffy exploded, knowing she wasn’t making any sense. Sense had long since left the building. “You went off and got married to Cordelia fucking Chase! Without telling me!”

“That was wrong. I know that and I’m sorry for not making sure you found out differently.”

“I don’t want you to be sorry about that,” Buffy hissed, tears streaming down her face now. “I want you to be sorry for lying. I was your girl. You were supposed to always be there.”

“I’m still here,” was all Angel managed to say before Buffy pushed him hard into the wall.

“You and me Angel. Always. No matter what else was going on in our lives, we knew that. And now, you’re replacing me—”

“No one could ever replace you—” Angel interjected.

“With her! You replaced me with some sociopathic beauty queen.” Buffy was pummeling him now, throwing frantic punches and slaps. Everything inside of her was bleeding and she’d be damned if she’d do it alone. “The idea, of you two, together, it makes me sick. You couldn’t hurt me more if you tried!” She kept hitting him, and Angel just stood there, allowing it.

“Is that it Angel? Were you trying to hurt me? Picking her, that stupid, trite, ridiculous b—.” Angel finally stopped her brutal attack, grabbing both of her wrists and holding them up, so they rested against his chest.

“I love her.”

Buffy’s anger deflated, leaving only a tidal wave of sorrow that threatened to bring her to her knees.

“Why?” she asked brokenly. So many questions all wrapped up in that one little word. Why Cordelia? Why not her? Why couldn’t he have waited, until she was ready? Why couldn’t he have waited forever?

Angel somehow knew not to try to answer that. Instead, he did the only thing he could do, the only thing that in that moment Buffy needed him to do. He wrapped his arms around her, her hands still clasped tightly in between their bodies, and held her while she cried.

He squeezed her tighter when the sobbing petered out into silent tears. He stroked her hair and whispered comforting nothings in her ear while Buffy took deep calming breaths. And a lifetime later, when the crying was done and Buffy wiped her nose against his sweater, he made a joke.

“Go ahead,” Angel said. “After all, it’s only cashmere.”

He did everything right and it felt so wonderful, being cared for, being comforted, being held in his arms. If felt so right and perfect that all rational thought skittered away and suddenly Buffy found herself going up on her toes, leaning in and pressing her lips to his.

It was like falling off a cliff and landing in your childhood bedroom. Thrilling. Familiar. She may not have known the man anymore, but she knew this. The startling coolness of him. The shape of his lips, the indefinable taste. Buffy slid her hands out from between them and clutched at his shoulders, bringing him closer, eager to capture his mouth as well as a piece of the past.

“No” Angel exclaimed, wrenching his mouth away and forcing her back a step. “No,” he repeated when she reached for him again, raising his hands in a defensive pose. Warding her off.

“Angel,” she began but he stopped her.

“I can’t do this,” he told her. When he saw the look in her eyes, Angel clarified. “I don’t want this.”

The hurt sliced cleanly threw her, pain so hot it burned. All she could do was stare down at the ground.

“We should head back,” Angel said after a few minutes. She didn’t answer.

“Buffy? I, uh, I need to get back.” To Cordelia. It was unsaid, but implicitly conveyed and dear God, it stung.

“Go,” she finally choked out.

“I can’t just leave you here.”

“Go!”

She didn’t look up, and finally, mercifully, Angel did as she asked. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Buffy just stood there, listening to the sound of his footsteps on the pavement, the roar of his engine starting up. “Why?” she asked again, long after he had left.

Why did everyone she loved always, always leave?

“Buf?” Pulled out her reverie, Buffy glanced down at Xander’s hand on her shoulder.

“Yeah Xan,” she said, turning around to see how he was doing in the back seat.

“Angel was just saying that we should be there in a few minutes,” Xander said. Silently he mouthed ‘are you okay’ and it was so thoughtful and adorable and so very Xander that it was all Buffy could do to not crawl back there. But that was probably a bad idea. It might freak Angel out. Hell, it was more likely to freak Xander out.

Glancing sideways at Angel, Buffy found he was staring at her with an odd expression on his face. Like he knew…no. He couldn’t know. Xander didn’t even know.

“So Cordelia lives in a hotel?” Buffy asked brightly, before she could give Angel anymore cause to speculate.

“Pffft. Figures,” Xander mumbled under his breath.

“It used to be a hotel,” Angel said, checking his mirrors and merging into the right lane. “Back in its heyday, it had 100 rooms and more than a few scandals. It had basically been abandoned by the time we bought it. Used it as an office first. Cordelia moved in after all the renovations, and now she runs the agency out of it.”

“So like I said, she lives in a hotel,” Buffy reiterated.

“Trust Cordelia to need 100 closets,” Xander kidded.

“The Hyperion is right up here on your right,” Angel informed them gruffly. Buffy and Xander turned and made the requisite oohs and ahhs.

“Uh, but isn’t that the front door right there?” Xander asked. “Why are we driving right past it?”

“There’s a space right there, behind the Lexus,” Buffy helpfully pointed out.

Angel kept on driving, making a right turn at the corner. “We’re going around back,” he said.

“What, we’re going in the servants entrance?” Xander whined. “Are we not cool enough to go through Cordelia’s front door?”

Angel fought for patience. This weekend would be long enough. Choking Xander would only complicate matters. “We’re going into the garage,” Angel said brusquely as he turned into the underground facility—Connor’s idea, and a pretty good one at that. “Seeing how it’s the middle of the day, it’s pretty much the only option. Unless you prefer me extra crispy.”

“I wasn’t aware I had a choice,” Xander grumbled.

“Hmmm?” Angel asked, pulling into a space and turning off the car. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Buffy glared at Xander.

“Who me? I was, uh, just saying how I…like James Joyce.” Even Xander had to grimace at the randomness.

Stepping out of the car, Angel raised his eyebrows doubtfully. “Right then. Follow me.” He started walking to the elevator at the far end of the garage. Buffy and Xander wordlessly hurried after him. He pushed the “up” button and the doors immediately opened.

“This is all new,” Angel explained as they stepped into the elevator. “When we first got the place, I used to have to come and go through the sewers and enter the lobby through the basement.” He pushed the “L” button and continued as they started heading up. “Now Cordy has underground parking for her more, ah, nocturnal clientele and they get door to door transportation.”

As the doors opened, Angel added “There’s usually someone here to greet new arrivals,” just as one such employee came running up. Buffy and Xander’s jaws nearly came unhinged.

“Mr. Angel!” the demon gushed as Angel walked out of the elevator. “It’s wonderful to see you again sir.”

“Good to see you too Clem,” Angel said, shaking his hand. He glanced behind him, where Xander and Buffy stood frozen in place. Angel gestured for them to follow before turning back to Clem. “Do you have any idea where I might find my wi—I mean, Cordelia? Or maybe Fred? Or Connor?”

Clem tapped his finger against his chin in thought. “I’m not totally sure sir. This place is pretty crazy right now. They could be in the back office! Want me to call there and tell them you’re coming?” The hotel’s original switchboard system had been repaired and now one could call any room in the place from the front desk.

Angel hesitated before saying “No, don’t bother, I’ll just head back myself and surprise them.”

Clem eyed him speculatively. “Well, they’ll definitely be surprised.”

Angel smiled in agreement. “Oh, I forgot, Clem, this is Bu—”

“Buffy and Xander,” Clem exclaimed, finally appearing to notice them and clapping his hands together excitedly. “How are you two?”

“You’ve met?” Angel asked, unaware of their history.

Clem smiled at Angel. “I haven’t seen these guys since, gosh, when was it?”

“The day you fled, right before Sunnydale fell into Hell,” Xander said, with more than a little animosity.

“Right, right,” Clem agreed. “Good times.”

“Well,” Angel said, handing his car keys to Clem. “I’ll let you three catch up. Clem, please see that someone gets the luggage out of my car.” Then he turned on his heel and started walking back to the large first floor office space. “Why don’t you show Buffy and Xander to the third floor sitting room,” he added in lieu of goodbye.

“So,” Clem said, ushering them towards the stairs. “Should be one hell of a weekend, huh?”

PART SIX

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. 4   Leave a comment

Part 4

“Are you sure I can’t get you something, Mr. Angel?” Lilah’s secretary was polished and composed but there was a tiny bit of hesitation in her voice. She knew who he was and she was just a little bit afraid. Angel was pleased. At least he still had the intimidation factor.

It made it slightly easier to be here, in this building, on this floor. His old stomping grounds. All that had once been his.

Of course, it had never been who he was.

That’s what Cordelia had always said. It had just taken him awhile to see her point.

“Mr. Angel? There’s Pellegrino. Fresh juice. I could run downstairs to the blood bank. We have a variety of—”

“I’m fine thanks,” he assured her, before she could run through Wolfram and Hart’s extensive menu of blood types. He didn’t need the distraction. Or the temptation. He wasn’t falling into that trap again.

“Well, if you’ll just have a seat, Ms. Morgan will be out shortly.” Angel nodded but remained where he stood. The secretary waited a beat, then returned to her desk.

The sun had just set. Although drapes covered the windows, Angel knew. Even in smog-infested Los Angeles, night had a particular smell. Earthy. Seductive. 250 years and the onset of darkness still called to him.

But not the way it once had.

The needs were different now. Night brought out a more mundane type of hunger. A yearning not for the musky sweetness of blood but for the glow of a woman’s skin in the moonlight.

Tonight the pull was stronger, more powerful than it had been in the years he had been gone. Tonight they would be sleeping underneath the same sky.

Angel had missed L.A. He’d missed her, missed them, but that was a given. Los Angeles was his, it always had been. The first place he’d ever felt at home, the first place he’d ever made himself a home. In this city, in her arms.

He’d been away from home for far too long.

“Is there something wrong Mr. Angel?” This time the secretary looked downright wary.

“Why do you ask?”

The young woman nibbled her lip. “Well, you, um, you just growled.”

Angel frowned and turned away. He slowly let out an unnecessary breath, forcing his hands to unclench. It was important he project a certain image. Lilah was many things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. For this to work, Angel needed for her to continue to believe she was in control.

That’s what it had always been about with Lilah; what was most essential to her. It wasn’t an actual desire to do evil, it wasn’t about pleasing the senior partners. It was about power. That’s why she hadn’t been content to just let sleeping dogs lie. That’s why she’d come up with this latest ploy. Why she’d sent for him

Angel adjusted his position, leaning more casually against the wall and perusing the room, focusing in on the painting directly across from him.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it.” Angel turned back to the secretary. She had a small, if slightly forced smile on her face. He had to give her points for trying. “It’s a Picasso.”

“I know,” he said quietly.

Color flooded her cheeks. “Right. Of course. I forgot this was…you used to be…” She ducked her head, swiveling back to face her computer. Angel briefly wondered what she was going to say. He used to be a lot of things.

Glancing back to the painting, Angel fought to keep his expression blank. It annoyed him, even though it shouldn’t. It certainly wasn’t surprising that Lilah had kept it there. Besides, he owned other paintings, other beautiful priceless works of art, and even if he hadn’t, it shouldn’t matter.

From the minute he’d made that first deal with Wolfram and Hart, in the wake of that awful awful year, Angel had learned that you could have many pretty possessions. It wouldn’t fill the void.

And yet the painting’s presence still rankled something deep inside him. Not just the Picasso either. The entire room bothered him.

Very little about the outer office had changed. He’d been gone two long years. Made sacrifices, waited patiently. And suddenly none of it counted, because this room looked like he never left.

Angel’s painting hung on the wall and the drapes at the window were the ones he’d ordered and the couch was the one he…

“We can’t do it here,” he warned her. His blood was rushing through his veins at an inhuman speed and all she’d done was unbutton her blouse.

“Of course we can. You’re the boss Angel. We could do it at the weekly board meeting if we wanted to.” Cordy had a point. Or maybe she didn’t. The argument was rapidly becoming moot. The shirt was completely off now, and he could see the dusky pink of her nipples through the white lace of the demi-cup bra. His throat went dry.

“Security cameras,” he said. Surely she would stop now. She ran her nail over her right nipple in lazy circles. Stretched that long slender neck of hers.

“So,” Cordelia shrugged. She reached behind her back with both hands and he knew if the scrap of lace came off, he was a goner.

“No,” he barked. Cordelia raised an eyebrow and took a step towards him. Angel immediately took a step back and felt his calves bump up against the couch. “I’ll be damned if my security detail sees you like this.” Out came that pouty little frown of hers, and then, suddenly, it abruptly disappeared.

Hands back at her sides, bra still firmly clasped, Cordy took another step over. “You make a good point.”

Angel let out an unnecessary breath of relief. It wasn’t often she took no for answer. And he didn’t have the strength to say it again. He was already erect and every iota of his being was demanding that he push her down on the coffee table. Watch the flush spread from her cheeks to her breasts. Make her shiver when he ground against her clit.

“I am feeling kinda shy right now.” She was so close he could feel her breath against his jaw. Her scent was all around him, weaving a familiar spell. The hair on Angel’s arms rose and he swallowed reflexively. Age-old reactions, a fluttering reminder that part of him would always be predator.

She was feeling shy? Then why don’t you put your shirt back on Angel shouted inside his head. “That’s perfectly natural,” he told her.

“Well, it’s a good thing you’re not as modest as me,” she said. He was momentarily confused and then she smiled. Those glossy pink lips curved slowly up into that crazy dangerous grin that was all woman, all Cordelia.

Angel had always been a sucker for Cordy’s mouth. It took everything he had to not give in right then. He had reasons for why they shouldn’t do this here. Good reasons. He just couldn’t seem to remember any right now. His mind frantically searched for something, anything, to put her off until they got home.

“Cor, it’s been a long day. Uh, long night. Whatever. I’m really tired.”

Cordy leaned up and pressed a quick close-mouthed kiss on his lips. A split second of firm dry pressure, inexplicably soothing and exciting all at once. Angel began mentally calculating how long it would take to close up here and head back to the Hyperion. Hell, who said they had to wait until they got home? It wouldn’t be the first time they’d ended up in the backseat of the Plymouth. “I know you’re tired baby, don’t worry,” she said.

Cordelia traced his bottom lip with her finger then slid her hand to the center of his chest, right over where Angel’s heart would be beating. One gentle shove was all it took to push him onto the couch. “You just let me do all the work,” she said, dropping to her knees.

With quick economy of movement Cordy hooked her hands behind his knees and tugged, scooting his body forward and spreading his legs. Both of their eyes were drawn to the impressive bulge in his pants. Angel glanced up at Cordy’s face, and the desire in her gaze had everything in him throbbing harder and faster. Warm, humid heat was coming off her in waves, pounding against Angel like a pulse; all thoughts of stopping her skittered away.

His surrender must have shown on his face—Cordelia blew him a smug kiss and went to work on his pants. All business, she unbuckled his belt and yanked down his pants and boxers at the same time. For a moment she just kneeled there, examining his erection with nary a glance up at his face. Cordy’s tongue darted out, wetting her bottom lip and Angel struggled to bite back a moan.

He slid his body down, closer, and his hips pivoted up, offering himself, silently begging her to touch him. Need was boiling through him now and his patience was rapidly deteriorating. He shut his eyes against the onslaught.

“Please.” It came out low and unintelligible and sounded more like an order than a plea, but they both knew how much the word cost him. It went against everything he was, to ask rather than take. A measure of what he was willing to do, to be, for her.

He waited, and then suddenly there was the hot wet velvet of her tongue up the length of his cock. There was a split second of relief, before his body began to register the sparks of pleasure licking up his spine, and an all-new torture began.

Cordelia repeated the action, a long slow swipe from base to tip, swirling her tongue around the head. She ran her fingers down his inner thighs, the perfect amount of pressure, somewhere between scratching and tickling, nails leaving thin red trails in their wake.

The ache, that bone-deep ache was building. Every time it caught him by surprise. Desire, churning through and over him, making every inch of his skin tight and itchy. And the knowledge that even when it was sated, it would never really be sated. It would never really be enough.

That was the feeling. With Cordelia, he would never be close enough.

“Ah-hem,” she mock-coughed and then came the warm, slightly damp grip of her hand around the base of his cock. Soon her firm slip-sliding motions had him sucking air in through his teeth. “Thought that would get your attention.”

Then Cordy’s other hand reached for his balls, further insurance that his thoughts wouldn’t stray again. She trailed her fingertips over him lightly, teasing, then made a ring around his scrotum with her thumb and forefinger and gently squeezed. Angel couldn’t help it. He whimpered. The man who had laid siege to hundreds upon hundreds of women. Who had made a study of the whisper-thin line between pleasure and pain. Reduced to this.

Cordelia tilted forward and she wrapped those sinful lips of hers around the head of his penis. The suction, the sight of her, the searing heat…Angel was panting now, using every ounce of control to tamp down the violent bucking of his hips, to not grab her by the hair and force her to swallow all of him.

She must have sensed his tenuous grasp, or maybe she was rewarding him for letting her take the lead. For whatever reason, her mouth widened, sliding down, taking as much of him as she could.

Angel gave an incoherent growl and Cordy’s lips curved around his cock, clearly thrilled with her power. Her light giggle sent vibrations through his groin, echoing throughout his body, until Angel felt it in his toes. Her head began to move, her hand picking up the rhythm at the base of his shaft, pumping him.

He wasn’t going to last long. She knew his body too well. He was trembling now, helpless, at her mercy. The world started to fade away, until all that existed was the throbbing electric heat of her mouth.

“Cor,” he groaned. She ignored his warning, increasing her suction, running her tongue over the seam. Angel’s body jerked and he came with a shout. He felt the sides of her throat convulse around him as she swallowed and after he was done, she continued to work him gently, bringing him back to earth.

Finally Cordy straightened, letting him slide from her mouth with a soft pop. She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and then wiped primly at the corner of her mouth.

Rolling her eyes at the dazed look on her husband’s face, Cordelia cast an appraising glance at the leather he lay prone on. “Have I mentioned how much I like this couch?”

Angel stared down at the couch. Why hadn’t he taken it with him when he left? Of course, he knew the answer. He had been desperate. All that had mattered was getting as far away from Los Angeles, as fast as he could. And the last thing he had needed were reminders of what he was leaving. Why he was leaving.

The sudden click of high heels on a hardwood floor brought Angel back to reality. This was certainly not the time for trips down memory lane. He needed to be focused. After all, this latest crisis proved that one should never underestimate Lilah Morgan. The door to his old office opened and she slid out, closing it quickly behind her.

She looked the same. Lilah’s premature death had seen to it that she would never age another day. She still had that self-satisfied smirk. That slinky allure. Like a snake.

“Hello Angel.”

That old urge to walk over there and twist her head off? That was still there too.

He stayed where he was. “Are they here?” he asked quietly.

Lilah glanced over at the secretary, who quickly stood up and exited the room. Once she was gone, Lilah moved closer to the vampire.

“Why, Angel, how nice of you to ask, yes, I’m doing quite well. You might even say that death becomes me,” she said.

“Kiss my—”

“Ah, ah, ah,” she tisked, putting the pads of her fingertips up against his lips. “You had your chance to have me kiss anything of yours. I got tired of waiting sometime around your third year in L.A. You just don’t do it for me anymore Angel.” The smug look disappeared when Angel grabbed her by the throat, swinging her around so that she now had her back to the wall.

“I’m not here to play games Lilah.” Fingers tightened reflexively around the cords in her neck.

“You can’t kill me. I’m already dead,” she pointed out.

Angel leaned in. “I can’t kill you, but I can make it hurt.” He searched for it, the flare of panic in her eyes. It wasn’t there. In fact, under the lingering traces of Chanel No. 5 and the hint of coffee on her breath, arousal was blooming in the air between them. She wasn’t afraid. She was getting turned on. Angel snorted in disgust and let her go.

“Right, well, that was fun. Enough about me. How are you?” Lilah seamlessly ignored what had just happened.

“I’m not in the mood for small talk,” Angel said, stating the obvious. “I just spent the better part of a day on an airplane.”

Lilah still had that same husky chuckle. “That’s right. How was South America?”

“Hotter than hell.”

She slid to the left, moving around him to the center of the room. “I suppose you would know, wouldn’t you.” When he didn’t take the bait, she continued. “The senior partners weren’t too happy about what you did to the Beunos Aires office.”

Angel turned around slowly. “You were the one who said I could redecorate.”

Lilah shot him a look. “Angel, you blew the place up.”

He shrugged. “Well, you know what they say. Charred goes with everything.”

She was silent for a moment, crossing her arms loosely over her chest. “I don’t get it.” Her tone was more serious now, quieter.

“Well it was a play on words…” Angel explained.

“I don’t get why you’re bothering with all of this,” Lilah corrected. “Not that I don’t appreciate you going along with our plans so docilely. I just don’t understand why you agreed. It’s too late you know.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s too late,” she enunciated, slow and clear. “She’d gone,” Lilah gestured, spreading her arms wide. “Cordelia is gone and she’s replaced you with a nice, normal man. The kind she’s always dreamed of. The kind that you, can never be.”

Angel remained silent, but the obvious clench of his jaw had her chest puffing up with pride.

“And you know what I find absolutely hilarious?” Lilah asked. “She doesn’t even know that you quit the firm months ago. She doesn’t care enough to find out about what you’re doing because she doesn’t care about you. And hasn’t, judging by how often she’s appeared in the society pages, for quite some time.”

Eyes narrowing, Lilah strolled back towards him, moving in for the kill. Placed a hand on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. “And here you are, back in the place you hate, the place it took you two long years to be free of, and why? For her. To keep her psycho little family intact. To keep HER happy.”

That wasn’t entirely true, but Angel was glad to let her think that. Lilah didn’t need to know the entire truth. “Do we have a deal or not?” he asked, removing her hand from him and forcing her back.

A tiny wrinkle appeared between her eyes as she studied him, trying to figure out if he was playing her. A slight mar on her perfection that left as quickly as it had come.

“Yes Angel, we have a deal. I presume the messenger informed you of the conditions?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “You help get our two associates into the Hyperion and into the wedding. You do not interfere with their activities in any way. You absolutely do not alert Miss Chase—I’m sorry, I mean the future Mrs. Kittridge—to what they are really doing there.”

“And in return—”

“In return, Wolfram and Hart will make sure that Gunn makes it out of the situation in Paris alive and we will release Wesley from his contract.”

“No more legal wranglings?” Angel clarified. “He’ll be free to go?”

Lilah nodded. “He’ll be free to leave the firm…if that’s what he wants.”

“You know it is,” he said bluntly.

“You know, if you ever come to your senses, there will always be a place for both of you here.” Angel looked pointedly around at the office that used to be his. Lilah shrugged. “Under me, of course,” she said.

They were standing eye to eye. Angel had to fight the urge to shiver.

“Come on now, Angel, admit it. All that power. Fresh O-positive on tap. The clothes. The toys. It wasn’t all bad.”

This time Angel leaned in. “Lilah?” The low seductive rasp of his voice in her ear had Lilah closing her eyes in pleasure.

“Hmmm?”

“Working with you made the hundred years I spent in hell seem like recess.”

Lilah’s eyes snapped open. “Oh all right,” she huffed. “They’re in my office.”

Angel didn’t move. “How’s this supposed to work? Who am I supposed to introduce these people as?”

“Old friends,” she said, heading for the office.

“I ate all my old friends. And just because I vouch for them doesn’t mean Cordelia’s going to let two strangers crash her wedding.”

“Well, that’s just it, Angel.” Lilah turned back to glance at him, hand on the doorknob. “They’re not strangers.”

She turned the knob and the door swung slowly open.

The Harris boy, slumped low in his chair, looking up to see the new arrival. “Xander?” Angel exclaimed.

“Angel!” Xander squeaked.

“Angel?” That breathless voice. The door swung open more. Buffy. Standing up, quickly closing a thick black file and putting it back on the desk.

“Buffy.” Angel nodded. This was starting to make a lot more sense now. Sighing deeply, he walked into the room. Lilah followed behind him and Angel swore he heard her giggle.

“Is it wrong that I’m completely loving this?” Lilah asked gleefully.

***

The walls of Lilah’s office seemed to quiver from all the tension in the room. All four of them found a seat. Waited, without speaking, to see how this would go.

There must have been a spark of humanity left in Lilah—she buzzed the secretary. Jennifer quickly came in and silently poured four stiff whiskeys.

Xander took a gulp of the amber liquid, relishing the shocking burn as it traveled down his throat. He couldn’t take the quiet anymore. Partly because awkward silences bothered him, and partly because Ms. Morgan was enjoying it way too much for his liking.

He put his drink down on the desk, purposely placing it next to the coaster and relishing the spark of annoyance that flashed in Lilah’s eyes. He turned to the vampire sitting between him and Buffy. Angel was staring at the misplaced glass, lips quirking up into a slight smile. In the face of that disconcerting weirdness, Xander’s gaze traveled over to Buffy She looked pale. He needed to do something.

“So, Angel…” Xander’s mind searched frantically for something to say. “How’s divorced life treating you?” All traces of the vampire’s smile disappeared.

Buffy hurried to cover. “We, uh, we were surprised. When we heard. I mean, it’s…well, the last time I saw you two things were…you’d just bought her a boat, right? What was it called?”

“Vision Girl,” Angel said in a soft voice.

“That’s right, Vision Girl,” Buffy repeated, cringing at how loud and false she sounded.

“A boat? And what, pray tell, does a vampire do with a boat?” Xander couldn’t help it. There was just something about Angel that pushed his buttons. Brought out the 16-year-old boy in him.

Angel stared down into his whiskey. “Moonlight sails,” he said.

As the initial shock began to wear off, Buffy began to feel bad for Angel. He looked different. There was a darkness, an edge about him that hadn’t been there the last time. Buffy certainly hadn’t left L.A. on the best of terms, but still, Angel deserved to be happy. They all deserved to be, had earned the right to be happy. That was the main thing she’d learned in the years since Sunnydale.

They deserved happiness, no matter who they found it with.

Buffy decided a subject change was in order. “We, uh, we’ve been in London.”

“Really?” Angel glanced at her, looking, well, grateful.

“Almost a year now,” she said.

“Yup,” Xander confirmed. “I’m fully schooled in British culture. Soccer is football. Cigarettes are fags. Apartments are flats. The trunk of a car is—”

“Xander!” Buffy interrupted. “I think he gets it. Giles, he’s head of the Watcher’s Council. We’ve started this incredible slayer training program.”

“That’s great,” Angel told her. He seemed genuinely glad for her, and Buffy realized, much to her surprise, she had missed him. She would never be in love with Angel again, but it was long past time for her to learn to like the guy. Be his friend. Maybe something good would come from this horrible deal with Wolfram and Hart after all.

“Excuse me?” Lilah tapped her fingernails on the desk. This was fun, but she had a deposition with a poltergeist in an hour. “Can we begin?”

“Sure, ah, how bout we start with what Angel is doing here?” Xander said.

A horrible thought occurred to Buffy. “Was all of this your idea?” Since Angel had been out of the country, she just assumed he’d had nothing to do with the deal they had made with the law firm.

Angel raised his arms in classic “not my fault” pose. “Don’t look at me. I don’t work here anymore.”

“You don’t?” Buffy asked. That news hadn’t made its way across the pond yet.

“I get it!” Xander said, snapping his fingers. “Angel’s the inside source who’s getting us into Cordy’s.” Lilah nodded slowly and Xander waggled his finger at her. “Pretty funny with all that ‘not a man ALIVE’ talk.”

“I’m so happy you see the humor in this situation Mr. Harris,” Lilah said smoothly. “I thought I was the only one.”

“I still don’t get it,” Buffy said. “What’s the cover story?”

“That’s just it.” Lilah leaned forward, resting her elbows on the desk. “There is no story. Essentially, you’ll be telling the truth. Angel came back to see his family. On the way home, completely to his surprise, he ran into his two old friends, Xander and—”

Xander made a face. “I don’t know if I would call Angel and I—” He shut up when Buffy smacked him.

“His two friends Xander and Buffy,” Lilah went on. “Being polite—”

“Oh, yeah, cause that’s something he’s known for!” Xander spit out.

Lilah made a face. “Being polite, Angel invited his old buddies to join him at the wedding. It’s simple. It’s truthful. It’ll work like a charm.”

“As long as we neglect to mention that we’re setting up cameras and microphones that lead straight back here” Buffy added.

“Well I’d certainly keep that under wraps if I were you,” Lilah advised. “Your Cordelia isn’t particularly fond of our employees. I’m sure Angel can vouch for that.”

“Exactly,” Angel confirmed. “If Cordy finds out, she’ll kick all of us out.”

“Something I for one wouldn’t mind,” Xander said under his breath.

“Don’t forget Mr. Harris, we have a deal,” Lilah cautioned. “There will be consequences for not fulfilling your part of the bargain. Remember? Our money and research for your…services, in certain select situations.”

Xander groaned. “I never agreed to become an indentured servant for Satan Incorporated. Couldn’t we just pay you back in installments? Except for that minor incident with Columbia House, I have pretty good credit.”

All three of them turned to stare when Angel barked out a laugh. Xander stuck his finger in his ear and wiggled, making sure there was nothing wrong with his hearing.

Lilah cleared her throat. “Back to the matter at hand. Today’s Thursday. I want you to have ample time so you should probably head over to the hotel tomorrow afternoon. You’ll spend the night there before the wedding on Saturday.”

She checked her watch and stood up, clearly expecting the rest of them to do the same. Xander remained where he was. “Yes Mr. Harris?” Lilah asked impatiently. She picked up the black file folder and placed it in the open wall safe behind her, quickly entering the combination and locking it up.

“Wait a second.” Xander tapped his finger on his chin, thinking. “Something’s not right here.”

Angel snorted. “Well yeah, you’re wearing a black shirt with brown shoes. That’s not right.”

“Oh, you’ve gone and gotten yourself a playful side,” Xander gushed with obvious sarcasm. “I don’t like it,” he deadpanned. “But what I also don’t like is your role in all of this.”

“Xander what are you getting at?” Buffy asked, face scrunching up in confusion.

“Well, Angel, you said you quit the firm, right?”

“Yes,” Angel said.

“So why do this?” Xander’s arms started to flare about. “Why help Lilah? Why ruin Cordelia’s wedding? What I wanna know is, what’s in it for you.”

“Well,” Angel stalled. He didn’t even consider telling the two of them about Lilah’s little blackmail scheme, let alone his real motive for doing all of this.

“Holy crap, I just realized,” Xander said. “It’s written all over your face. You’re doing this for the oldest reason in the book!” Angel paled, wondering how an idiot like Xander could have possibly known.

“Revenge!” Xander shouted. “You must be doing this for revenge!”

Angel let out a sigh of relief. One day Xander would learn that revenge was actually the SECOND oldest reason for doing things.

“Of course you want revenge,” Xander continued, on a roll. “Who wouldn’t? You married her for the body and forgot about the acid tongue that came along with it. And now you want revenge for every single miserable day you spent with her.” Standing up, finally, he reached over and patted Angel on the back. “Hey it makes total sense to me.”

Angel shrugged off the offending hand and turned his steely gaze on Lilah. “I’ll have a car pick them up at one.” Lilah nodded, pleased, and Angel turned on his heel and walked out of the office.

“Uh, okay, bye, it was so great seeing you again,” Xander muttered to the empty space where Angel had stood. Buffy sighed and took his hand, pulling him toward the door.

“I really don’t like that guy,” Xander whined.

“I know, sweetie,” Buffy said. “He doesn’t like you either.”

PART FIVE

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. 3   Leave a comment

Part 3

There was a beautiful Picasso reproduction hanging over the couch in the waiting room. At least Buffy hoped it was a reproduction, the alternative was too unfair to consider. The painting was the spotlight of the elegantly furnished room, and she found the whole thing slightly galling. That evil should have such good taste.

That the bad guys could rest their bad asses on buttery leather couches and walk on plush dark hued carpets and have secretaries sitting behind massive oak desks.

She and Xander stuck out like sore thumbs. Especially Xander. He had dressed up for today’s meeting, which apparently meant a pair of un-pressed khakis and a black button down, over a white t-shirt. His hair was sticking out at an odd angle in the back and there was the slightest hint of sweat around his hairline, even though the room was most definitely climate controlled.

He looked rumpled and nervous and so like himself that it actually made Buffy feel less rumpled and nervous. Xander was a gratifying constant in her life, and it was only in recent months that she had begun to understand just how much that meant.

Not that he hadn’t changed over the past couple of years. Mid-twenties Xander was both world-weary and battle-hardened and it showed, in both his demeanor and his appearance. Now that all-night video game marathons and Dorito munching were a thing of the past, his body was tighter now, his shoulders broader. His face was thinner, his bones more prominent, and he had tiny laugh lines that Buffy loved. The now-ubiquitous eye patch gave him a rakish edge that was not altogether unsexy. Buffy smiled to herself. It was actually rather sexy.

“Care to let me in on the joke?” Xander’s voice was hushed, like he was in a library.

“Huh?” Buffy wasn’t aware she had made a joke.

“I’m just wondering why you’re grinning like David Duchovny just offered himself to you.”

“Oh. No reason,” she said.

Xander nodded like he didn’t believe her and looked down at his feet. He cracked his knuckles loudly.

“Xander,” Buffy chided. She’d been trying to get him to stop that.

“I’m not going to do this,” he said.

“Good. It’s a disgusting habit and I’ve heard it’s really bad for your bones.”

Xander looked momentarily confused. “No, not that. This,” he told her, raising his hand and gesturing to the room around them. “I’m sorry Buffy, but I’m not going to do this.”

The teeny tiny slice of a good mood that had been blooming inside of her died out. They’d had this discussion. Now was not the time to rehash it. “We’ve talked about this.”

“This isn’t what we do,” Xander said firmly.

“This is what we have to do,” Buffy reminded him. She didn’t like the way he was making her be the bad guy. As if it was somehow easier for her.

“Screw that.” Xander’s voice finally rose above a whisper. “I’m sick of being their bitch for hire.” Buffy smirked. “Man-bitch,” Xander corrected. “I’m sick of being their man-bitch.”

“Is that what you plan on telling Miss Morgan?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said petulantly. “Maybe. Well, I mean, not in so many words…”

Buffy sighed. Because part of her was annoyed he even suggested it and because part of her really wanted him to.

“Xander, we owe them. We knew there would be a price when we accepted the firm’s offer to help. But we had no choice. Without their info we would have never been able to close that Hellmouth in Detroit.”

“I’m still not sure we did.” Buffy glared at him. “I’m just saying, the place still looks exactly the same,” Xander mumbled.

She ignored Xander’s dig at the Motor City. “And you know that without the funds they provided, Giles wouldn’t be rebuilding the Watchers Council right now.”

“All right, all right,” Xander said, raising both hands up defensively. “I get it.”

Buffy wondered if he really did. He should. More than anyone, Xander knew how much the decision bothered her, how hard it had been to make. When Lilah Morgan had shown up last year offering the firm’s assistance, the idea of accepting seemed laughable. Getting in bed with an evil law firm, particularly the one that had caused so much trouble for their former friends.

“You know, I have to say, we’ve done three of these little errands for Wolfram and Hart and you didn’t seem to have so many ‘ethical issues’ until now,” Buffy said.

“That’s because none of the other odd-jobs involved asking me to sneak into my ex-girlfriend’s wedding,” Xander told her bluntly. “Lilah must be certifiably insane. How are we supposed to get in, anyway?”

Buffy herself wasn’t entirely sure. “Well, we were kind of her friends. Once.”

“Buf, I scarred the girl for life. Literally. And I haven’t seen her since graduation.”

“I have,” she responded dryly.

“Oh yeah, I forgot about your little trek to L.A. When was that, right before we left Cleveland?” Buffy nodded. “Well, how’d she look then?” Xander inquired.

“I was a little too busy beating the crap out of Angel to take stock of Cordy’s appearance,” she said.

“Liar.”

“Fine,” Buffy admitted. “Yes, even in my jealous rage she looked great. Longish hair. Prada stilettos. Breasts that made me question my sexuality. And, of course, a big honking diamond ring.”

“Well at least we know that’s gone,” Xander said.

“But I bet the breasts are the same,” she grumbled.

“Maybe this job won’t be so bad,” he joked.

Buffy shot him a withering glance and turned to stare at the large closed door separating them from Lilah Morgan’s office. They’d never met with her here before. That’s not to say Buffy had never been inside that office. Because it hadn’t always been Lilah Morgan’s office.

“If you’ll just wait inside Angel’s office, someone will be with you shortly,” the tiny brunette told her, opening the door for her but remaining outside.

She wasn’t the secretary. She was the woman the icy, middle-aged secretary had called when Buffy announced her name. She was dressed in an unprofessionally short jean skirt and a simple white blouse. Rather attractive, in a jumpy sort of way. But definitely not Angel’s type, so at least she didn’t have to worry about that.

Not that Buffy should be worrying about things like that. That’s not why she came. Officially. She just wanted to know how he was doing. She wasn’t sure she was ready for anything more. Not yet. It hadn’t even been a year since Spike…left.

“Right, so, um, I’ll go now. If you, you know, need anything, I’m Fred,” the young woman offered with a smile. She hesitantly held out her hand, jerked it away before Buffy could take it, and finally settled on a shaky wave. “I’m Fred,” she repeated quietly. Another uncertain smile and she was gone, closing the door behind her and leaving Buffy alone in Angel’s office.

It was nothing like his first office, the tiny one above his apartment. This was a grown up office. Big. Expensive. Intimidating.

And a lot brighter than she expected.

There were lots of books. That she had expected. Shelf after shelf along the wall behind his desk. Buffy smirked. They were probably all first editions. Knowing Angel.

Although, glancing around the room, Buffy wasn’t sure how well she did know Angel. There were flowers. Fresh, strategically placed throughout the room. The sleek black desk—she’d been picturing a scarred old clunker, made of oak and dating back to the Civil War. The plasma TV seemed out of place on the wall, as did the open copy of Glamour lying on the couch by the door.

And the flat-screen Dell on his desk? It was a little tough to imagine Angel checking his email and forwarding a chain letter to seven friends. It was a little tough to imagine Angel having seven friends.

She smiled, suddenly picturing Angel hunched over the keyboard, pecking at letters with his two forefingers. And what kind of screen saver would an ensouled vampire choose?

After a small guilty look at the door, Buffy walked around to the other side of the desk. The screen was black. A bright yellow sun bounced from one side to another, then up and down. Why did he insist on taunting himself with what he couldn’t have?

Straightening, Buffy’s finger knocked into the mouse and Angel’s desktop suddenly appeared. Buffy gasped, blinked twice, then looked again. It was still there.

Well, that was…odd. She wondered why Cordelia was dressed like a belly dancer..

Looking around the rest of the room, Buffy noted that there seemed to be an awful lot of pictures of Cordelia. Cordelia in a long black evening dress, being handed her wrap by a tuxedo-clad Wesley. Cordelia holding a present towards a young man with shaggy hair, who couldn’t be much older than Dawn. Cordelia and Angel by the water. Cordelia and Angel in what looked to be a very crowded bar. Cordy and Angel…in front of the MGM Grand? And what was on her hand?

Buffy heard footsteps outside the office, but didn’t move. Couldn’t move.

“Hey Fred,” she heard. That familiar voice. That familiar warmth, rushing through her. But something was wrong, something was terribly wrong. In that picture, on his desk, something was sparkling and it wasn’t the bright lights of Vegas.

“Angel, thank god you’re here,” the girl, Fred, squeaked. “This is huge. You won’t believe—”

“Whatever it is, it can wait. Can’t you see? I’m carrying precious cargo here.” There was a husky laugh, that didn’t sound like Angel or Fred.

“You don’t understand,” Buffy heard Fred plead. “There’s something you have to—”

“Exactly. There’s something I have to do, something I’ve wanted to do since I woke up alone this morning and I’m not going to wait another minute,” Angel said, chuckling.

There was another muffled squeak from Fred even as the door swung open and Angel walked in, arms full of a giggling Cordelia. Her hands were clasped around his neck. She shifted slightly and the soft overhead lights caught on the diamond ring she wore. Even from where she stood, across the room, Buffy could see it clearly. Fourth finger. Right hand.

That too was unexpected.

Buffy jumped when Xander laid his hand on her shoulder. “Sorry,” she offered. “Zoned out for a minute there.”

“He should have told you Buffy,” Xander said quietly. “You shouldn’t have found out like that.”

She smiled grimly. “Yeah, well, it was years ago.” Buffy was pleasantly relieved at how easy it was to shrug the memory off now.

She knew why. She wondered if Xander did, and worried that he didn’t. She decided to test the ground. “Maybe I had it coming. It’s stupid to think that someone’s going to wait around forever for you.”

“It’s not that stupid,” Xander said softly. He suddenly seemed to realize he was still holding her shoulder and abruptly withdrew his hand. “Uh, it’s, it’s strange to think about Angel moving on from you.”

Buffy slowly exhaled. They really needed to have a talk. This undefined thing was getting a little old. “Speaking of moving on Xander—”

“Excuse me?”

Xander and Buffy both turned to look up at the slender blond secretary.

“Miss Morgan will see you now.”

Lilah Morgan was exquisitely beautiful. Xander had seen more than his fair share of lovely women. Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Anya. Faith and Dawn. That girl who’d chained him up and tried to sacrifice him that last year in Sunnydale had been a stunner. Hell, even some of those young slayers had him thinking impure thoughts. None of them affected him the way Lilah did.

She scared the hell out of him. Women were not that beautiful and that confident unless they were a little bit evil. The only person who’d come close to causing this kind of innate fear in Xander was Cordelia, back in high school, and even she was a distant second.

Lilah was seated behind a huge black desk. She looked up when they entered. “Mr. Harris. Miss Summers.” She smiled and Xander had the irrational urge to turn and run.

Buffy nodded a greeting. “Ms. Morgan.” She elbowed Xander in his side. He grunted a hello. Without looking away, Lilah discreetly closed a thick black file folder and then covered it with an innocuous looking notepad. The move did not go unnoticed by Buffy.

Xander couldn’t stop staring at Lilah’s neck. This happened every single time they saw her. As usual, she wore a scarf. Today’s was maroon, a soft-looking silk that went perfectly with her severely fitted suit.

The rumor, according to Giles, was that Lilah was neither dead nor alive. The first time they’d met her, the night she’d arrived at the door of their cramped walk-up in Detroit more than a year ago, Dawn had asked her what happened. Ms. Morgan had only adjusted the scarf and warned the girl “Never piss off an ex-cheerleader.”

There was a children’s book Xander remembered from grade school. About a woman who would never take off the green ribbon around her neck. The husband would always ask why and she wouldn’t tell him. One night, the husband waited until his wife was asleep and untied the ribbon. Her head rolled right off.

Ms. Morgan always made him think of that book. The story had scared the hell out of Xander. It still did.

Lilah made no move to stand up. “Please, have a seat,” she said, gesturing to the two chairs in front of her desk. “Or, not,” she added, when Buffy slid into the seat on the right but Xander remained where he stood.

“Xander,” Buffy hissed. Lilah smiled broadly and reached up to twist the end of the scarf around her finger, like she knew that it made him nervous. Who was he kidding? Of course she knew.

That was what made him mad enough to break the hypnotic spell of her neck. Xander stalked over and placed both hands on the well-oiled desk. He leaned down at her, over her. “Listen lady—”

The intercom on the phone buzzed, cutting him off before he even began. “Excuse me just a second,” Lilah said sweetly. Xander felt the anger-induced bravery leak out of him, and when Buffy tugged on his arm, he let himself be pulled into the chair behind him.

Lilah pressed the red button on the top of the phone. “Is he here?”

“Yes Ms. Morgan.” The secretary’s voice came out loud and clear over the intercom.

“I’ll be out in just a moment,” Lilah said, then swiftly removed her finger from the phone. “Now, where were we?” Her gaze zeroed in on Xander and he swore he felt his dick shrink just a little bit. “Oh, look at you, all fussy and glaring. You really hate me, don’t you Mr. Harris?” She seemed intrigued at the prospect.

“I, no, I don’t, I mean…” Xander felt like he was back in 10th grade, being questioned by the principal.

“What about you, Miss Summers? YOU hate me, don’t you?” Lilah inquired.

Buffy was silent for a moment, considering. “Xander and I can’t exactly afford to hate anyone right now.”

Lilah laughed. “Well said, Miss Summers. How very mature of you.”

Xander saw the small tic in Buffy’s jaw, but all she said was, “Shall we get down to business?”

Lilah gave her an appraising glance. “Absolutely.” She leaned back in her chair. “Here’s what’s going to happen. This will run just like your last three assignments. We give you directions and background. You complete the initiative successfully and all’s well that end’s well.”

“And this time really will be the end,” Buffy stated.

“You will have satisfied your debt, yes. If you no longer wish to prolong this arrangement, I certainly can’t force you. Although, I have to point out, it has been mutually beneficial. Surely you can’t deny that.”

Xander and Buffy said nothing. Lilah sighed, but didn’t seem too surprised by their decision. “Your instructions are to infiltrate Cordelia Chase’s wedding. We haven’t been able to adequately bug that place in nearly a year and the Senior Partners get antsy when they don’t know what she’s up to. You will—”

“Why?” Xander interrupted.

“Because according to the Senior Partners and despite what you or I or Miss Chase herself thinks, she’s a major player in the good and evil battle we all enjoy so much.”

“No, I mean why haven’t you been able to bug her house? Doesn’t this firm have people that are in MUCH better positions to do that for you?” Xander said, enjoying the slightly unsettled look Ms. Morgan was getting.

“I don’t know who you mean” she shot back.

Xander looked incredulous. “Hmm, I don’t know, what about Cordelia’s ex-husband?”

“Or what about that friend of hers, Fred?” Buffy added.

“Miss Burkle is no longer in our employ,” Lilah stated calmly, deftly ignoring the Angel reference.

“But what about her husband. I heard she was married to a partner here,” Buffy said, frowning.

Lilah paused. “You, you don’t know who she married?” It was the first and only crack in her armor that Xander had ever seen.

“We don’t exactly keep in touch with Angel’s little gang,” Xander joked.

“We just heard that he’s some uber-powerful Wolfram and Hart yes-man,” Buffy said. She couldn’t help but notice the way Ms. Morgan was tightly gripping her pen.

Lilah caught her stare and abruptly dropped the utensil. She seemed to force her body to relax. “That’s neither here nor there. Where was I? You will attend the wedding, as well as any pre-wedding activities you can get invited to. You will set up the equipment, according to the blueprints in that file.” She pointed a long red-tipped finger at the blue file on the right corner of her desk. “You will take accurate and descriptive notes about the people around Cordelia, particularly Angel’s son.”

Lilah stopped for a second and watched Buffy carefully. If she was waiting for some reaction to the mention of Angel’s Miracle-Gro child, she wasn’t going to get one. Xander wanted to laugh. Too bad bitch, he thought, we found out about that one years ago. Sure it was two years after the kid was born, but at least Lilah wasn’t going to get a thrill out of springing it on them.

Seeing she wasn’t going to get any response, Lilah concluded. “And finally, if for any reason, you see Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, you will page me immediately.” Buffy wondered if she was imagining the faint blush that stained the older woman’s cheeks.

For a moment all three of them were silent, the room engulfed in Lilah’s satisfaction. Then Xander exploded up out of his chair, nearly knocking it over backwards in his haste to stand. “This is awful. You people are incredible. We can’t do this. We’d have to be like you, we’d have to be evil, to do this. We’re absolutely NOT doing this,” he shouted.

“How do we get in?” Buffy asked quietly. Xander sat back down.

Lilah didn’t bat an eye at his outburst. “Come now, it’s not like you’re strangers.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Please. This firm had the skinny on The First, you had information on how to close the Hellmouth in Detroit. So I’m thinking you gotta have files on all of us. Neither of us are exactly close with her.”

Lilah seemed unperturbed. “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got someone on the inside that will help with all of that.”

“Ha!” Xander shot back up out of his chair. “You must not know Cordelia Chase very well.”

“That’s debatable,” Lilah said. She touched the scarf again.

Xander snorted. “Yeah well I guarantee you lady, there’s not a man alive who could convince that woman to let me in her house.”

“That’s true,” the lawyer agreed lightly and Buffy looked confused.

“Well then,” Xander smacked his hands together, “we’re done here.”

“Sit down Mr. Harris,” Lilah said, all humor gone from her voice. Xander complied. “I was merely agreeing that there wasn’t a man alive who could get you into that wedding.” She stood up, casually tugging on the bottom of her suit jacket and smoothing back the hair that curled down over one eye.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me for just a moment,” Lilah murmured. Not bothering to wait for a response, she walked around her desk and out the door, closing it quickly behind her. She quickly scanned the waiting area and her eyes caught on him. Lilah felt a pleasant hum of excitement as she gave the man leaning against the wall a quick, cursory once-over.

“Hello Angel.”

PART FOUR

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. 1   Leave a comment

Part 1

Connor knew the UPS man very well. His name was Harold. He was married with three kids. He liked to listen to Sinatra and he loved “The Godfather.” He didn’t like paparazzi or the shorts he was forced to work in.

Harold was at the hotel every day. For the past month, like clockwork, he showed up a little before five with an armful of packages, which Connor would inevitably have to pick up and move to several locations inside the hotel.

Harold the delivery guy was now in the best shape of his life and he’d earned enough overtime money to take his family to Hawaii. Connor now had a violent hatred for the color brown and was almost positive he was developing a hernia.

“So, Saturday’s the big day,” Harold noted as Connor signed for the delivery.

“I guess,” Connor commented distractedly.

“Bet you can’t wait. You know, I’m gonna miss this place. You and I should go out, grab a beer sometime,” Harold said as he handed Connor a gigantic pink-and-white package covered in bows and ribbons.

“Sure. Yeah. Definitely,” Connor mumbled, gritting his teeth at the familiar pressure in his lower back. He kicked the door shut without waiting for a response. He felt bad about being rude, but rationalized that he was entitled to be. The wedding was, after all, only two days away.

“Cordelia,” Connor shouted. No response. “Someone? Anyone?” Typical. The lobby always seemed to miraculously empty out whenever something large had to be moved or carried. Any other time of the day and he was practically tripping over people. Wedding coordinators. Clients. The odd group of weirdos the agency employed. But when Harold’s truck rolled up the place turned into a ghost town.

He should leave the stupid present right here in the middle of the lobby. Make someone else take care of it. But that meant risking the wrath of both Cordy and Fred. Connor was smart enough to know what that entailed. He started up the stairs. Maybe one of the girls had some Advil.

“Cordelia,” he called again when he reached the second floor. They better be here. He knew they were storing a lot of presents up on the fourth floor. He wasn’t sure he could make it to the fourth floor. He readjusted the package and started down the hall.

This floor was considered Cordelia’s private residence. Formal living room. Less formal den. A gourmet kitchen (that she never used). A training room. It was all part of the renovations Angel had initiated right after they got married. Cordelia had cried when she saw all that he had done for her.

She still slept in the same bedroom suite she had shared with Angel. Connor once pointed out that that indicated she had lot of unresolved emotions about her divorce. Cordy had kicked him in the shin. She wasn’t big on self-analysis these days.

He found her and Fred in the living room. The room itself was lovely, impeccably decorated in warm neutral tones. However, it was impossible to miss the presence of the heavy drapes on the windows. Connor thought the lack of natural light in the hotel was also very telling, but was wise enough to keep that notion to himself.

Cordelia sat scribbling thank-you notes on the couch, surrounded by a huge array of gifts. She hadn’t changed much in the two years since Angel left, in the sense that she was still as youthful and beautiful as ever. But she wasn’t the same. Cordy looked a lot like those pictures Connor had seen of her from high school, and not just because she’d grown her hair long.

There was a glossy sheen to her beauty, a placid perfectness in her Shiseido lipstick and her haute coutour uniform. Connor missed the old days, when he’d catch her racing barefoot through the hotel wearing nothing but a sweatshirt and Angel’s boxers, her husband hot on her heels.

Her appearance had ceased to be a mere weapon—it was full-fledged suit of armor now, protecting her from demons of all sorts. Connor was thinking of doing his senior thesis on the subject. But right now, he had more pressing concerns.

“Where do I put this?” he asked impatiently from the doorway.

“How do you spell omelet?” Cordelia asked, not looking up to sympathize with his plight and effectively ignoring the question. The dull ache in Connor’s back was starting to get stronger. If they would just tell him where to put the stupid thing…

“Fred?” he called out meekly.

“Ninety-three, ninety-four, ninety-five…” Fred mumbled to herself.

Connor abruptly dropped the package at his feet. There was a noise that sounded suspiciously like glass shattering. That got their attention. He shrugged haplessly and flopped down on the couch next to Cordelia.

“Thanks a lot,” Fred said. “You made me lose count.” Fred hadn’t changed much either. By turns wacky and brilliant. Pretty in that quiet, delicate way of hers. She was too skinny though. Ever since she’d moved back into the hotel. “Was I on ninety-seven or ninety-eight?”

“Does it matter?” Connor told her. “The wedding’s in the courtyard. If extra guests show up we’ll just grab some more folding chairs. Problem solved.” In Connor’s opinion, Fred was taking this whole thing much to seriously. She didn’t look like she had slept in days, and it wasn’t like she didn’t have her own problems to worry about.

“I still think we should have the ceremony in the lobby,” Fred said, standing up. She would need to call the caterer again. The man was incredibly temperamental. Telling him the headcount had changed was not going to be fun. “Cordelia, I don’t get why it’s so important to get married outside.”

Connor snorted. “Oh, yeah, I can’t begin to imagine why she wants to have this wedding at 12 noon under all that bright sun.”

“It’s a puzzler,” Cordy mumbled, staring down at the note she was writing. O-M-E…

“You know, a therapist would have a field day with you,” he told her. Cordy glared over at him.

“I’m not kidding Connor. If you take one more psych class, I am SO cutting you off,” she warned. His increasingly pointed (and accurate) remarks were really starting to piss her off.

“But what are we going to do if it rains?” Fred worried, oblivious of the tension.

“Oh it won’t rain,” Connor assured Fred, who was already dialing the weather service and wasn’t paying him any attention. “It won’t rain because Cordy won’t let it. Nothing and nobody is going to ruin this wedding, isn’t that what you said Cor?”

She shot him an icy glare that Connor couldn’t help but be slightly afraid of. Sometimes he was glad that she lost all of those superpowers of hers. Even as plain old Cordy, she could be pretty scary.

“Do you know how to spell omelet or not?” she asked him again impatiently.

He didn’t have a clue. “I think there are two M’s,” he guessed.

Cordy frowned down at the note. “I thought there were two L’s.”

Connor peeked over her shoulder at what she had written. “I don’t get it. Who gives someone an omelet anyway? That’s a pretty crappy present, if you ask me. Unless it’s a really big omelet with like three kinds of cheese and—”

“It’s a pan to make an omelet in, sweetie,” Fred explained as she hung up the phone. The forecast was predicting clear skies. Thank God. She glanced down at her gigantic To-Do list and then at the two people sprawled on the couch. “Connor, why are you just sitting there? Why don’t you go unpack all your things?”

“Already done,” he told her smugly. They had agreed that it would be easier if he spent the entire weekend at the hotel. “I’m all moved into the poolhouse.”

“Well good,” Fred said. “Cause all these presents need to be taken up to the fourth floor.” Connor’s face fell. “Now,” Fred added. Her voice left no room for argument. Fred could be scarier than Cordy when she wanted to be.

Connor stood up gingerly. “Fred, my back really hurts.”

“Quit whining,” Cordelia told him. “Suck it up,” she advised, stuffing the card into an envelope. She’d finished five. That left, what, 250 to go?

“You know Cordy,” Fred said, “we could use an extra hand.” Cordelia did not look pleased at the suggestion.

Connor couldn’t help but laugh

***

The fourth floor looked like a department store. Piles and piles of presents. Everywhere you stepped there was china and crystal and a whole bunch of other very breakable looking stuff. It made Connor nervous. He quickly put down his load and followed Fred and Cordy into the epicenter of the wedding planning. Cordy called it “the War Room.”

It was a mess. Charts and diagrams everywhere. The seating chart for the reception took up an entire desk. Books on flower arranging, magazines devoted solely to the bride’s hair, a Martha Stewart Wedding Planner that seemed to be roughly the same size as Fred.

“I’m exhausted,” Cordy said. “I can’t wait until this wedding is over.”

“You can’t wait,” Connor exclaimed. “I’m in serious pain here. I think I slipped a disk.”

“You don’t even know what that means,” Cordy shot back.

“So? I know it hurts. I know I hurt,” he pouted. Cordelia rolled her eyes. It was a little hard for her to believe Connor’s complaints. He’d really filled out since he’d returned home to them. Gone was the lanky awkward boy and in his place was a strapping young man with a much better haircut. Sometimes Cordy would catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye and she’d swear it was…well, that was beside the point.

“Hmm, that’s interesting,” Fred commented, standing over the seating chart.

“What?” Cordy asked.

“Well it looks like someone has been messing with the seating arrangement cards. Again.” They both turned accusing eyes on Connor.

He put up both hands as if to ward them off. “Hey, don’t look at me. There must be a ghost loose in the house.”

“Oh, Dennis knows not to touch anything in this room,” Cordy said in a low voice.

“Well maybe it’s another ghost,” Connor said, fumbling for an excuse. “Maybe it’s the ghost of bridegroom number one.”

“Don’t say that,” Fred admonished, “it makes it sound like Angel’s dead.”

“Angel is dead,” Cordy pointed out.

“I meant dead dead,” Fred clarified.

“He might as well be, for all SOME people seem to care,” Connor said.

“Oh, Connor, I wouldn’t say that,” Fred told him.

“I would,” Cordy announced in a perfectly serious voice.

“Cordy,” Fred warned her. They had discussed this. Cordelia was not supposed to bad-mouth Angel in front of Connor. Regardless of the fact that he’d essentially been MIA for two years, the man was still his father. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Cordy said, as she wandered back over to the presents. “I’m sorry, but if I never see that stupid vampire again it will be…what the hell is this?” she asked, distracted from her rant by a particularly ugly piece of sculpture.

“It came yesterday,” Fred told her.

“It’s hideous,” Cordy picked it up. It was hideous and heavy. “Who’s it from?”

Fred looked at the card. “I think they’re some of Wesley’s associates. This is the address for Wolfram and Hart’s New York office.”

“Oh that’s just perfect,” Cordy whined, shoving the sculpture at Connor, who’s knees nearly buckled under the weight. “Put this with the rest of the presents that are most likely cursed.” Connor hobbled over to a growing pile of suspicious gifts on the far side of the room.

“Cordy, I doubt they would—” Fred started.

Cordelia immediately cut her off. “They would and they probably did. They work for Wolfram and Hart Fred. They could be devil worshipping flesh-eaters for all we know.”

“That’s hardly fair,” Fred said.

Cordy sighed. “Haven’t we had this talk before?”

“Yes,” Connor practically shouted. “Yes, trust me, you have.” He was beyond tired of hearing this argument.

Fred was undeterred. “Wes and Angel manage to do a lot of good things at Wolfram and Hart.”

“When they aren’t off doing evil’s bidding, you mean?” Fred’s eyes shot way up at Cordy’s remark and she gestured in Connor’s direction.

For a moment, Cordy really did feel guilty. It’s not like she was trying to poison the kid against his father. After that awful year, she had sworn she would never purposefully come between the two again. Once she married Angel, he and Connor had actually started to slowly repair their shattered relationship. She knew that Connor missed him. He wasn’t the only one.

Fred stepped closer and started talking in a low voice so that Connor wouldn’t overhear. “What’s gotten into you lately? After the divorce you were barely able to say Angel’s name. You never talked about him. Now suddenly you’re tearing him down every chance you get. And don’t think I don’t notice the way you’re always attacking Wesley either.”

“You just need to face the facts like I did,” Cordy whispered.

“Maybe we both need to face the fact that neither of us were all that great at being wives,” Fred said.

“That’s ridiculous,” Cordy waved off the concern. “We just picked the wrong first husbands, that’s all! Come on, let’s not fight about this. You did the right thing.”

“You wanted me to take a stand and I did,” Fred told her.

“Well duh. What else could you do? I mean, a girl has to have some self-respect.”

Fred snorted. “Yeah, look at me now. I’m overflowing with self-respect and yet I seem to sadly be lacking a husband.”

“Fred, you had to leave. Don’t you remember? All those super-secret cases he would never talk about? That new Dark Magic hobby? Those late night meetings with Lilah?”

“You know Cor, I’m starting to think that maybe if I had just trusted him more…”

Cordy slowly inhaled, trying to keep her cool. “Trust has to be earned and neither of the men in our lives seemed to want to bother with that. You know, you’re starting to sound like you actually want the asshole back.” Her voice was getting progressively louder but neither woman seemed to notice.

“Well even if I did want him back, he probably wouldn’t come,” Fred said despondently.

“It’s better this way,” Cordy patted her on the back. “You’ll see. We just need to move on. Forget about the past.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you’ve got Spence.”

Cordy laughed. “Hey, I offered to send Dennis up to your room the day you left Wes and moved in. The things that ghost can do with a loofah…” From across the room Connor coughed loudly to remind them of his presence. Both women blushed. “Errr, as I was saying, you need to move on. You deserve a man who is willing to make you his top priority—and who’s not afraid to tell you that once in a while. A man who can have money and power without the aid of the dark arts. A man…like Spence. Who, clearly, is perfect.”

“Right. Perfect.”

Cordy did not seem to notice the heavy sarcasm in Fred’s voice, or the way that Connor rolled his eyes.

“I mean, the guy’s insanely gorgeous, and he doesn’t need brooding puppy eyes and a color-free wardrobe to make him that way. He’s smart. Popular. He’s always nice to waiters and valets,” Cordelia gushed. She wasn’t entirely sure why she constantly needed to review all Spencer’s attributes. It was almost like she was afraid if she didn’t remind herself, she might forget just why she was marrying the guy. Which was ridiculous. Wasn’t it? “Come on, admit it, my fiancée, is seriously hot.”

“Angel was hot,” Connor blurted out. Cordy and Fred gave him a strange look and he hurried to explain. “I mean, not to me. But people said he was hot.”

“What people?” Cordelia wanted to know.

“Uh, people. Some girls we saved. His secretary at the office.” Connor didn’t like the way Cordy was looking at him. All suspicious. “Uh, Fred said he was hot,” he said, pointing a finger at her, eager to get the heat off of him.

Fred ignored the accusing stare Cordy sent her way. She wasn’t going to deny it. “Hey, say what you want about the guy Cordelia, even you have to admit that Angel is an attractive man. A very attractive man.”

Cordy wanted to laugh. As if she wasn’t aware of what her ex-husband looked like. She was married to the guy. She’d seen a lot more of him than Fred ever had.

“Well,” she told them calmly, “if you two think Angel is so great, maybe you should just figure out a way to postpone the wedding.”

“How would we do that?” Connor asked, completely missing the sarcasm in her voice.

Cordy pretended to think for a second. “Gosh, I don’t know. You could lose a limb. Get a fatal illness. Dig up some crazy world-ending apocalypse.”

“Please don’t give him any ideas,” Fred requested. Connor was the kind of guy who was willing to do extreme things when the pressure was on. He was like his father that way. This worried Fred.

“Oh Connor knows better than to mess with my wedding plans,” Cordy warned, as she checked her watch. “Hmmm, I wonder where Spence is. He’s never late.”

“Cause he’s so perfect,” Fred muttered under her breath.

“What was that?” Cordelia asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Fred said.

“Spence is probably waiting for you,” Connor told her.

Cordy was confused. “Waiting for me? Where?”

“He called about an hour ago. Said he’d meet you for drinks at Caritas. Oh, did I forget to tell you that?” Connor asked, attempting to feign innocence and failing miserably.

“You little…” Cordy said, lunging in his direction.

Fred jumped in to separate the two. “I’m sure it just slipped Connor’s mind.”

Cordy didn’t believe that for a second. “If you’re not careful little man, you’re not going to make it until Saturday.”

“Would THAT postpone the wedding?” Connor wondered aloud.

“Nope,” Cordelia assured him.

“Cordy!” Fred yelled.

“The caterers are non-refundable,” she reminded Fred.

“True,” Fred agreed.

“Fred!” Connor exclaimed. “you’re supposed to be the nice one!” Fred merely shrugged.

“Which Caritas is he at? The one on Sunset Boulevard?” Cordelia asked.

Connor shook his head. “The Caritas on Sunset got sucked into a hell dimension last week. Spence said he would meet you at the one in Santa Monica.

“It’s so confusing now that Lorne’s a chain,” Fred pointed out as she sat down at the desk. “He could at least number them. Caritas 3. Caritas 4. Caritas 5.”

“Speaking of five, I’m leaving in five minutes,” Cordy said as she headed out to the hall. “Anyone who doesn’t want to stay and sort presents with Fred is welcome to join me.”

“I’ll be down in a sec,” Connor told her. Cordelia nodded and left.

“She’s so mean about Angel,” Connor said to Fred after a minute.

Fred pursed her lips. “Well Angel was pretty mean to her. Those two…I mean, they’ve always been very different.”

“Did he really hit her?” Connor asked abruptly.

“Connor!”

“Did he?” the young man asked again, sitting down on top of Fred’s desk.

“Where did you hear something like that?” Fred asked him.

“After Angel left the papers were full of innundo.”

“Full of what?”

“Innundo. You know, stuff about how Cordy was always attending charity events alone and pictures of Angel in an alley with a mysterious blonde. And how the day he left he hit her.”

Fred nodded. “Oh, you mean innuendo.”

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you…nevermind,” Fred said, shaking her head. “Those papers were wrong. I think that’s what I regret most about all of us joining Wolfram and Hart. I miss the days when we weren’t in the media’s spotlight.” Of course that wasn’t the only reason why Fred missed the old days. But that was neither here nor there. “The papers always make stuff up. Remember what they were saying when Wesley consulted on Jennifer Garner’s possession?”

“So my dad never hit Cordelia?”

“No,” Fred said with conviction. Because pushing someone into shrubbery wasn’t technically hitting. “And yes, Cordy attended some parties by herself. Because Angel was busy WORKING.”

“But what about the blonde?”

“I’m sure someone told you about that little visit from Buffy. It was about a month after Wes and I got married.”

“That’s the other thing.” Connor frowned. “She won’t even invite Wesley to the wedding. I mean, I can see why you would be mad at him, but—”

“Cordelia just has very definite opinions about certain things,” Fred said, as if that explained anything. In truth, she was just as concerned as Connor.

“She’s so different. Every since Angel left, and even before that…ever since she came back she’s been sorta, I don’t know, hard. Cold,”

“Oh Connor I wouldn’t call her…well, and even if she is, it’s because she had to be. You have no idea how difficult it was for her to recover from that year.”

“It was difficult for all of us,” Connor said simply.

Fred nodded. “Cordelia sets incredibly high standards for herself. She gets upset when other people don’t quite live up to her expectations.”

“That’s crazy,” Connor said. It didn’t make sense. None of it made sense. “I mean, she wasn’t perfect. WE all forgave her. But Cordy…I mean, it’s almost like she hates my dad. She gives Gunn shit constantly. And she’s been weird around Wes ever since…well ever since I’ve known her.

Fred couldn’t disagree with that. Connor had none of the memories that she had, of the days when there was nothing but comfort and affection between Wesley and Cordelia. Since the moment Wesley had chosen to kidnap Angel’s infant son, things were never right between him and Cordy again.

“It’s fucked up,” Connor pronounced solemnly.

Fred leaned up and brushed his hair out of his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah it’s pretty fucked up.” They shared grim smiles. “Now get out of here. I’ve got work to do.”

“I’m going, I’m going.” Connor slid off the desk, the gracefulness he had mystically inherited apparent in every move he made. He was growing up before their eyes. Sometimes Fred wondered if it was hard for Cordy to maintain such a close friendship with him, when everyday the young man seemed to resemble Angel more and more.

“Hey, Fred?” Connor called from the doorway.

“Hmmm?” Fred was already searching her Rolodex for the caterer’s phone number.

Connor paused. “If someone wanted to start an apocalypse, how would they go about doing that?

“Connor!”

PART TWO

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. 2   Leave a comment

Part 2

While Cordelia herself was loath to speak of Wolfram and Hart in a positive light, there were some benefits that were hard to dispute. Money was one, but Caritas was another. Without the Fang Gang consistently needing his help, Lorne had a lot more time to devote to business (and a lot more capital to invest).

There were currently three incarnations of Caritas—the one on Sunset may have been sucked through a portal, but Lorne had hell dimension insurance and his agent assured him the absence was only temporary.

Nowadays Caritas was packed every night of the week. Anytime after midnight and the place was usually a crowded microcosm of L.A.’s finest…vampires, tourists, drunken college kids, demons, and C-list movie stars. They came for the affordable drinks and the non-violence spell and they stayed for the old-school ambiance and the mediocre karaoke.

Still, happy hour had never really caught on with the crowd that Caritas catered to, so at 6 p.m. on a Thursday, the bar was relatively deserted. There was an elderly man channeling Dean Martin onstage and two Tevlok demons who appeared to be on an awkward first date. And of course there was Lorne.

When Connor and Cordelia walked in the Pylean was sitting at the bar, drinking a mojhito and flipping through a magazine. He spotted them when they were halfway across the room, did a double take, grabbed the magazine and whipped it behind his back.

“Hey Brown Eyes,” Lorne drawled. “You’re looking particularly Cordelicious this evening.” Flattery usually distracted her.

Cordelia raised her eyebrows. “Watcha reading Lorne?” she asked in a deceptively innocent voice.

Lorne pretended to not hear the question and stuffed the magazine behind the bar in what he hoped was subtle fashion. “You know, nobody, but nobody, fills out a pair of Frankie B’s like you do sweetie.”

She tapped her French-tipped nails on the bar. “What were you reading?” she enunciated clearly, as if speaking to a child.

Bored, Connor leaned against the bar and yawned. He knew where this was going.

“Reading?” Lorne stalled. “I wasn’t reading. You know how I feel about reading. Why read when you can learn everything you need from Access Hollywood and Dr. Phil?”

“Was it porn?” Cordelia asked, narrowing her eyes.

“No.”

Cordelia was determined to cover all the bases. “Was it weird porn?”

That got Connor’s attention. “What would weird porn be?”

“No, I wasn’t reading porn, weird or otherwise,” Lorne huffed.

Cordelia nodded, then in one quick move, leaned all the way over the bar and grabbed the magazine before he could stop her. “‘US Weekly’? You’re reading this trash?”

“You used to subscribe!” Lorne said.

“Yeah, but that’s before I found out they’re published by a subsidiary of Wolfram and Hart.” In Cordelia’s mind, it was all incredibly simple. There was a very distinct line between good and evil. Everything on Wolfram and Hart’s side was quite obviously evil.

“I don’t get it,” Connor commented. “I thought they were just a law firm.”

“But they’re a law firm bent on world domination,” Cordy informed him.

“Hey, if they keep putting the Olson twins on the cover dressed like that, they can dominate me any day,” Connor said, signaling for the bartender.

“I think what Princess meant is that the firm has a variety of business interests outside of law,” Lorne explained.

There was an almost imperceptible tic in Cordelia’s jaw. “Don’t call me Princess Lorne. You know I hate that.” Even as she said it, part of her recognized the lie. It wasn’t that she hated the nickname. She hated what the nickname reminded her of.

“But Angel always—”

“Don’t call me Princess,” Cordy said in an even voice that booked no argument.

There was a moment of awkward silence. Connor cleared his throat. This was his cue. Time to change the subject. He’d gotten awfully good at changing the subject in the last few years.

“So, they really control this magazine?” he asked.

Lorne smiled, glad the tension was easing. “Why do you think they make sure to mention Justin Timberlake in every single issue?”

“Justin’s a demon?” Connor was slightly excited. Technically, it was his job to kill demons. Well, not his job. Part time job. More like a hobby actually. But still…

Lorne shook his head. “No, but all those boybands signed a pact with the senior partners in the late nineties.”

“That explains so much,” Cordelia said. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Spencer walking in the door, the ubiquitous cell phone in his hand.

Spencer Kitteridge (“Spence” to his close friends) was a rare find. He’d attended MIT on scholarship before heading back to California, in hopes of finding a stable job in the tech industry. Instead he’d invented a brand new software, made millions, and began a virtual business empire. He was on his way to being the next Bill Gates.

But the best part was that he didn’t LOOK like Bill Gates. Just over six feet tall, with piercing blue eyes, the man was a full on hunk. His dirty blond hair was cut short enough to be professional but spiky enough to be trendy. And his body? His body was a temple. He lifted and ran six miles every day and supplemented with Spin classes and surfing and whatever the extreme sport of the week was.

Spencer’s eyes fixed on her and he gave a short wave and a smile. A pleasant warmth filled Cordelia, comfortable and calming. It didn’t light a fire in her belly or send tingles shooting up her spine. But who needed tingles anyway. Tingles were childish—they weren’t real. Spence raised a finger to say he would be over in just a minute and flicked some invisible lint off of his Polo shirt. Spence was real.

“Ahhh, there’s your betrothed. Cell phone still firmly attached to his ear, I see,” Lorne commented under his breath.

Connor ground his teeth and continued to flip through the discarded magazine.

“Shut up Lorne,” Cordelia said, but her tone was good-natured. “Even you have to admit that he is one gorgeous piece of man. I mean, can Cordy pick them or what?”

“Well, if you ask me—”

“Pretend I didn’t.” She glared at the green demon, and walked over to join her fiancé.

“Fiancé. Wow.”

Angel shot her an amused glance. “Wow what?” He sat down on the king-sized bed. It was gigantic. Roughly the size of her entire bedroom back at her old apartment.

Cordy bit her lip, slightly embarrassed to admit to being so…emotional. “It’s just, she—the woman at the front desk, she called me your fiancé. That’s the first time someone called me that.”

“Well, I only asked you a few hours ago.” Angel leaned down to tug off his socks and shoes.

“I know. And now, here we are, on the top floor of the Bellagio.” Cordy put down her purse and moved to stand in front of the full-length gilded mirror. “It’s just a little…”

“Scary?” There was that tiny hint of vulnerability in his voice, the one that always plucked at Cordy’s heart. It spoke of her ability to hurt him, and his to hurt her.

Running off to Vegas with Angel didn’t scare Cordelia. That power, that potential to inflict and receive pain, that scared the hell out of her.

But now was not the time to have that talk. She wasn’t sure there would be a time to have that talk. Now was a happy time. And if she didn’t say something soon, Angel wasn’t going to be very happy.

“No, not scary,” Cordelia said, congratulating herself on the evenness of her voice. She smoothed out some flyaway strands of hair. “I guess when she said it, it just made it, I don’t know, real.”

“Is that a bad thing?” She couldn’t see Angel in the reflection of the mirror, but she could feel his eyes boring into her. “Look, Cor, if this is moving too fast, if you, if you don’t want to marry me…”

She quickly turned around to face him, this man, this amazing man who, miracle of miracles, wanted to spend the rest of his un-life with her. She needed to reassure him, needed to say something to make Angel understand the depth of her feelings for him. “Don’t be a dumbass.”

His jaw dropped open in that adorable, awkward way of his. “Huh?”

She smiled as the fear and anxiety swirled away, locked back in the tiny box she tried so hard to keep it in. She pushed the momentary weakness into the past and all that was left was overwhelming love. Dear God how she loved him.

Cordelia took her time walking over to the bed, knowing Angel was taking in every detail. The steady rise and fall of her chest. The twist of hip, the flash of thigh. She came to stand in between his spread legs.

She tipped his chin up so he was looking at her face. “Of course I want to marry you.”

And just like that, her vampire was back. The worry clouds cleared, replaced by that clever, sexy smirk of his. “Tonight?” Both of his large hands came up to clasp her waist.

The cool pressure of his fingers was enough to speed her heart rate. Cordelia lightly ran a finger down his cheek. “Tonight.” Her voice came out low and husky and she felt it when his jaw twitched.

“Right now?” Angel asked, although she knew that he knew the answer. Cordelia had seen his eyes, knew the very second he had scented her need. During their short courtship, Cordy had learned just how hard it was to keep secrets from vampires.

“No, not right now.” She stepped further into the cradle of his body and wound her arms around his neck.

“What would you like to do right now?” Angel’s hands tightened, pulling her closer and closer until Cordelia was forced to slide each leg up on the bed so she was straddling him. Not that she was complaining. “Cordy?”

“Hmmm?” She started brushing soft dry kisses over his face. Over his left eyebrow. High on his right cheekbone. A slow series along his jaw line.

“Right now. What do you wanna do?” Angel’s voice came out growly and rough and it made every part of Cordelia damp and hot.

She leaned up, away from his face. “You.” She pushed at his shoulders, sending them both sprawling down onto the bed. Angel rolled them both so that when they came to a stop, Cordelia was firmly trapped between his body and the mattress.

“Did I mention how much I love this bed?” she managed to ask before his lips came down on hers.

When they finally broke for air, Angel had somehow managed to remove his sweater and Cordelia’s skirt was twisted around her waist. “What did you expect, this is the honeymoon suite.” He scooted down to lave his tongue over her exposed décolletage. Cordy’s legs settled around his waist, bringing her flush with his burgeoning erection. “You don’t even want to know how much this room costs a night.”

“Oh God.” Her thighs clenched involuntarily around him. He always knew just what to say to make her hot. “Yes I do.”

Angel looked up from her cleavage. “You just want me for my money,” he teased. Cordy ran one hand through his hair, so it stood up in messy spikes. Her other hand had another destination in mind.

“That’s not true honey. I want you for your money AND your body,” she informed him. His laugh turned into a groan when she curled her fingers around his hardened penis.

“Cordelia!”

“Cordelia. Cordelia?” Spence was standing in front of her, looking puzzled and slightly annoyed. “Where did you go just then?” he asked, when he finally saw her vision focus on him.

She swallowed rapidly in an effort to soothe her suddenly dry throat. Spence, good solid Spence, her good solid fiancé stood in front of her, smiling innocuously, while she fantasized about her ex-husband.

And what the hell was that about, she wondered. Angel had been gone for years. The last time they’d seen each other she’d ended up in the rose bushes. He was just another piece of Cordelia’s past that she didn’t like to think about.

But for the last two weeks, that was seemingly all she had done. Think about Angel. Remember Angel.

“Sorry honey, I guess I was day-dreaming,” she told Spencer and leaned up to kiss him. Spence had wonderful lips. Full and soft. So what if she knew he kept Clinique’s All About Lips in his glove compartment and the girlishness of the habit never failed to irk her. She shouldn’t complain. She was, after all, reaping the rewards.

“Whoa there.” Spencer’s hands grabbed her shoulders, stopping her mid-lunge. “Your lipstick,” he reminded her.

Cordelia smiled mischievously. She’d had the same problem with Angel. He was always whining about her lipstick rubbing off on him. Of course, she’d always respond by literally smothering his entire face in lipsticky kisses. It might be fun to see Spence’s reaction…

“I don’t want you to smudge your lipstick,” he clarified. “That color looks wonderful on you by the way. New?”

Cor nodded, slightly shocky. A body of an Adonis, an investment portfolio, and he noticed her lipstick? She had found the perfect man. She had grown up dreaming of a man like this. This was it. All of those years, all the mistakes…the past no longer counted. All that mattered was her future. With Spence. It would be perfect.

He gave her a light hug and brushed a cool dry kiss on the side of her cheek. “Besides, I know you feel the same as I do about public displays of affection.”

Cordelia felt her cheeks color slightly. She did?

“She does?” Lorne asked, strolling over and catching the last bit of conversation. Connor followed at his usual slackerly pace.

“Lorne.” Cordelia’s voice held more than a little warning.

“I didn’t know you were so anti-PDA,” he told her with a wide grin. “I guess I must have imagined that night you almost got arrested at the beach.”

“Probably,” she said in a flat voice.

Lorne’s eyes sparkled in that way of his, that way that made Cordy want to kill him slowly. “Just like I imagined when you got kicked out of a movie theater at the Beverly Center.”

“You were clearly hallucinating.”

“It’s been known to happen.” Lorne shrugged. “I guess I was also hallucinating when I innocently walked into the Hyperion and found you on top—”

“Yup,” Cordelia cut him off before he could do anymore damage. “You should see someone about that. It was one big hallucination.”

Lorne looked doubtful. “It was?”

She wondered how many threats it was possible to communicate by arching one’s eyebrow. “It was.”

“No it wasn’t,” Connor felt obliged to point out. “I was with him!”

“Well then you should see someone too because it appears the hallucinations are contagious.” Cordelia’s mind was made up. That boy needed a good slap upside the head. With a hammer.

Suddenly Spencer let out a hearty laugh. “I get it.” They all stared at him. “You almost had me for a moment there. You three are hilarious.”

“We are?” Cordelia asked.

“Sure. Always joking around.” Spencer clucked her on the chin. “That one was really good. It was a lot more believable than that bit about you being a demon incubator.”

Lorne snorted in his effort to control his laughter. Connor wasn’t quite as amused. “You thought that was a—”

“My future wife has one hell of an imagination, doesn’t she?” Spence interrupted.

“Actually,” Connor began. This time Cordelia did hit him on the head.

“So Spencer,” she said, taking his hand and pulling him towards the bar, “how was your day?”

“Perfect now that I’m with you.”

Cordelia couldn’t help herself from giving him a huge grin. “You always say the perfect thing. I think I’m going to like being married to you.”

“I’m going to spend the rest of my life making sure of that.” The vow was so sincere, so adoring, that it made her smile falter. Cordy wasn’t entirely sure why. She signaled for the bartender, and ordered the usual—a vodka tonic for her, bourbon on the rocks for him.

“Cordelia.” Spencer tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hmmm?”

“Darling I don’t drink bourbon.”

Cordy didn’t need a mirror to know she was blushing. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why…I’ll take care of it.” Spence’s cell phone rang, so he merely nodded and walked over to a spot further away from the stage.

She was such a liar. She knew why. She’d ordered bourbon because bourbon WAS the usual. Once. Because once there had been someone who drank bourbon.

“Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” Lorne sidled up to the bar next to her. Cordy shot a quick glance at Spence and double checked that he was still on the phone.

“Don’t make this a bigger deal than it is,” she hissed. “It was an honest mistake.”

“Actually, that is what we professionals call a Freudian slip,” Connor corrected, coming to stand on Cordelia’s other side.

You are a professional moron.”

“Hey Danny,” Lorne called to the bartender. “You can skip the bourbon and just get Spencer’s usual Michelob Ultra.”

Connor snorted. “He drinks low-carb beer?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Cordy huffed. “Every man in L.A. does.” That was basically true. Spencer had always drunk Michelob Ultra. And she’d never forgotten that before. So why, now, two days before her wedding, was she suddenly ordering drinks for her ex-husband?

“Sorry about that,” Spencer quickly apologized. He returned to the group just as Danny arrived with their drinks. “What are we talking about?”

Cordelia took a long slow sip of her vodka tonic while her mind searched for an appropriate topic. Finally, her eyes settled on one. She slammed the glass down on the bar. “Oh my God. Are you wearing jeans?”

Spencer quickly glanced down at his jeans. “Why yes, I guess I am.”

“But, but you never wear jeans,” she stuttered. It was true. Spencer wore suits to work, he wore beautifully fitted black pants when they hit the clubs, and he wore khaki to play golf on the weekends. Never jeans. He always worried people wouldn’t take him seriously in jeans. He called it the Ryan Seacrest effect. “I didn’t even know you had jeans,” Cordelia exclaimed.

“Well, I didn’t until yesterday. I figured I needed some grubby clothes.”

“Why?”

“Darling, I’ve been doing work for the wedding all day. I’m talking hours of back-breaking labor.”

Connor coughed. “You did hours of hard labor?” He sounded doubtful.

Spencer had the good graces to look sheepish. “Well, no, I supervised. But supervising can be very messy.” Connor nodded as if he agreed.

“They look awful,” Cordelia blurted out.

“Who?” Spencer glanced behind him, eager to see the walking fashion faux-pas his fiancé was referring to.

“Your jeans. They are wretched.” They were. “They look too short. And too new. And…and are they ironed?” Something had to be done. Cordy reached for her drink and then, cool as a cucumber, she poured it all over Spencer’s jeans.

“Hey!”

“Danny, we’ll need another vodka tonic,” Lorne hollered.

“Cordelia! These are new,” Spence said, dabbing futilely at the spots with a cocktail napkin.

“No darling, they WERE new,” she told him with a giggle. “And they look much better now.”

Spencer sighed dramatically. “Honey, half the reason I worked so hard to make that first million was so I could have clothes that weren’t stained.” Cordelia just shrugged and flashed that small guilty smile of hers, the one they both knew he couldn’t resist. Danny came and brought her second drink, placing it on the bar next to the forgotten copy of “US Weekly.”

“Say, is there anything in there about the wedding?” Spencer asked, reaching for the magazine.

“What!” Cordelia nearly dumped a second drink on him.

“I just figured there would be more publicity,” he explained. “I mean, they always print pictures of you when you go out, and I’m not exactly unknown myself.” He looked up when Cordelia didn’t answer and noticed she was now standing several feet from him. “What’s wrong?” he asked, following after her.

“Chasing people around with cameras? Obsessing over the tiniest details of their private lives? What could possibly be wrong with that? Besides Spence, you know how I feel about that magazine and you know who owns it.”

Spencer put down the magazine. “You needn’t be so dramatic about cutting that law firm out of your life. They’re not bad contacts to have. I bet they could do wonders for my business.” Cordy turned to walk away again. He grabbed her arm before she could. “Cordelia, you know I haven’t completely ruled out politics.”

“So?” She didn’t how that related to the current topic of conversation.

He put his hands on her shoulders. “So, if I’m going to set my beautiful wife up in the governor’s mansion one day, I’ll need some powerful allies. What I’m saying is, I don’t think it’s wise to completely alienate Wolfram and Hart. They’re not that bad.”

“They’re evil.”

Spencer smiled knowingly. “That’s what people say about every successful organization. Wolfram and Hart. Microsoft. The Yankees. They’re all supposedly evil.

Cordelia’s jaw dropped. “They tried to buy my eyes!”

“Honey that was just business.”

“When Connor was a baby, they wanted to dissect him” she pointed out.

“Yeah,” Connor said.

“I’m sure it was just supposed to be a check-up,” Spencer offered.

Cordelia still had plenty of ammunition. “They’re the ones who canceled ‘My So-Called Life’.”

“I knew it!” Lorne screamed. Everyone turned to stare at him. “I knew it,” he repeated in a quieter voice.

“My point is this,” Cordy told Spencer. “I’m done with that law firm and no one remotely connected to them is setting foot in my house.” She raised her glass to take a sip but Spencer grabbed her arm.

“Our house,” he corrected.

“Yes, of course,” Cordelia hurriedly brushed over. “That’s what I meant. OUR house,” she said carefully. “They’re not getting anywhere near our house.”

***

Meanwhile, across town, on the 23rd floor of a towering silver and black building…

Jennifer Braun was on edge. This was not a typical emotion for her. She’d been at Wolfram and Hart for almost four years now and she’d been Lilah Morgan’s secretary for the past two. She didn’t scare easily. Not only was Jennifer employed by a woman who was technically dead, but in the course of her work, she’d seen all types. Oily Harvard Law grads. Demons every color of the rainbow. One time there was this guy who had antlers that were dripping slime.

None of them set her on edge the way the couple sitting on the couch across from her desk did.

There were no antlers or slime. In fact, they both looked human. Jennifer struggled to rationalize her unease. It’s not that they were scary…it was power. They reeked of it. There was a quiet confidence about them that they shouldn’t have, knowing what Jennifer knew about their current situation. They weren’t exactly here by choice.

Still, there was this aura about them. Like they could snap their fingers and bring the entire building down in seconds. Jennifer had only met one other person who exuded power like they did. That hunky vampire who used to be the CEO.

Miss Morgan would want to know they had arrived. She picked up the phone and buzzed her employer’s office.

“Yes Jennifer?” Lilah’s voice was chilly and composed, as always, but there was something else to it, something new. An undercurrent of excitement. Like whatever she had planned for today was going to bring her immense joy.

“The freelancers you hired to deal with the Cordelia Chase situation are here,” the secretary said quietly.

“Perfect,” Lilah exclaimed. “I’ve got Governor Schwarzenegger on hold, give me five minutes to finish the call and then send them in.”

Jennifer hung up the phone and nervously watched the clock for the requisite five minutes. Then she took a deep breath and walked over to the sitting area.

“Excuse me. Miss Summers, Mr. Harris. Miss Morgan will see you now.”

PART THREE

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

The Los Angeles Story. Prol   Leave a comment

Title: The Los Angeles Story
Author: Kelly22 
Posted: 2004
Email:
Rating: NC-17
Category: 
Content: C/A, C/Other, Fred/Wes, hint of …ahhh screw it, there’s tons of couples or allusions to couples. Just read the damn story
Summary: Here comes the bride! And her ex-husband! And some real blasts from the past! Cordelia Chase struggles to keep her wits about her while her perfect wedding weekend turns into a comic farce, and in the process, learns that the imperfect man just might be…perfect for her!
Spoilers: Through the end of Season Four of Ats and Season Seven of Btvs. Entirely AU from that point on.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made. This story borrows LIBERALLY from “The Philadelphia Story”, directed by George Cukor, screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart. No copyright infringement is intended and there is certainly no profit made.
Distribution: Just Fic. GTC/A. Anyone else, just tell me
Notes: 
Feedback: Always appreciated.
Thanks/Dedication:


Prologue

~ 2004 ~
Cordelia Chase checked her diamond encrusted Neil Lane watch for the third time in as many minutes. He’d told her he would be out by 8 pm. It was only 7:45, but still, how long did it really take to move a couple boxes of books and a closet full of leather? It’s not like the man had a lot of stuff. Her lawyers had seen to that.

Cordelia restlessly prowled the confines of their bedroom. No. Her bedroom. It was hers now. It was strange to think of sleeping in that big bed by herself. Funny, she’d been doing just that for nearly a month now. But the prospect of never sleeping next to him again was…

No. She wouldn’t think about it. She shouldn’t be thinking about this now. In a few minutes he would be gone and she would put on her hot little Badgley Mischka number and celebrate. It was long past time she rediscovered night life that didn’t involve demon-hunting or demon goo or demons in general.

She would get dressed and go out and be the life of party. She would do this every night until it became routine and she never had time to think about the man or the life that might have been. She would do all of that. As soon as he left.

Caught up in her torment, the young woman took no notice of the opulent splendor around her. She was blind to the paintings they had playfully argued over where to hang, to the vase they had had to replace after a particularly frantic bout of lovemaking, the plush satin linens on the bed.

She studiously ignored the seductive retreat they had created, together, in this room. None of it mattered now anyway, not with him walking out the door. God, he was really leaving. Even if it was what she said she wanted. Even if it was what she had ordered him to do, she never thought he’d actually…do it. Honestly, when had the man ever listened to her before?

Cordy shook her head violently, as if she were trying to dislodge the thoughts from her mind. It was done. The papers were signed and tomorrow she was going to start a brand new life.

She’d already talked to her accountant about re-starting the agency. Although they were so going to need a new name, it didn’t seem like a bad idea. After all, whatever her quibbles with the Powers or her ex-husband, there were still helpless to be helped. Only this time, she would do it on her terms. No more being at the visions beck and call (cause, hey, no more visions). No more guilty acceptance of Wolfram and Harts resources. No more compromises. She’d already allowed herself to be compromised in too many ways. It would not happen again.

Everything was going to be fine Cordy told herself as she firmly retied the powder blue silk robe. She shouldn’t waste her time thinking about him. Shouldn’t think about what his leaving meant. That after all this time, after all they’d been through, it was over.

When she’d woken up in that sterile hospital room in the bowels of Wolfram and Hart, she’d been so mad. Four months, four months they’d allowed her to just lay there, all Coma Cordy. And before that, not once during that horrible year, where a monster with her face terrorized them, not once had they known it wasn’t her. How could they have not known? How little had they really known her? How little had HE known her? The anger only multiplied when she learned what else had transpired in her absence. Seeing her family firmly in the clutches of what they’d always fought against was too much for Cordy to stand. She’d vowed to get her family back. And in some ways, she had.

After a few awkward days, there had been that huge fight with Angel…which had ended up with them in bed together (ironically it was Wolfram and Hart’s expanded research facilities that allowed Fred to make Angel’s soul permanent). Miracle of miracles, the man actually managed to stutter out that he loved her.

When Cordy woke up, for reasons that still managed to elude them, all the memory spells ended. Slowly the gang started to work through all the lies and deception. Connor returned, sullen and hardened at first, but still there. Despite her protest, everyone was unwilling to leave the firm. Cordelia tried to understand, when Angel explained that they were actually in a position to do a lot of good, when he said that ultimately the mission was still the same. But it was too hard for Cordelia to believe in a mission when evil was writing their paychecks. They agreed to disagree and Cordy moved back into the Hyperion.

Everything was different. Gunn underwent huge changes. He had power now, power he’d never dreamed of before. He started dressing like P.Diddy and spent most of his time traveling for the firm or partying with Ashton Kutcher. Connor slowly warmed to Angel and Cordy and to the idea of “Angel and Cordy” together. Like Cordelia he refused to align himself with Wolfram and Hart, but that didn’t matter much, since fighting the big bads seemed to have lost much of its thrill. He moved into an apartment and when spring semester arrived he started taking classes at UCLA.

Fred and Wes…that was the biggest surprise. Despite the continued presence of Lilah and Wesley’s increasing involvement with the senior partners, Fred and Wes fell quickly and quietly in love. Gone were the innocent naďveté and adoring gazes that had characterized them in the past. They had both changed so much in the past year, but what they had now seemed deeper, better.

For a while there, it worked. It seemed like, for once, Angel stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop. He had the girl, friends, and a kid, well, a kid who no longer wanted him dead. One day he spent three hours describing his emotions to Cordelia before she blithely informed him that what he was feeling was happiness.

She and Angel tried to take it slow. They set limits on how often Angel would sleepover at the Hyperion. Cordelia toyed with the notion of getting back into acting, so that she could separate her business from her personal life. But the bottom line was, they were crazy in love. They were in love with the idea of finally being allowed to be in love. And the temptation to make it official proved too hard to resist. One random April evening Cordy and Angel ran off to Vegas and got hitched. A week later, Fred and Wes followed their lead and tied the knot as well, in a private ceremony at the county courthouse.

Angel had the Hyperion impeccably restored for his new bride. Fred was over constantly, Gunn always stopped by when he was in town, and once Cordy convinced Angel they needed an additional pool outside, Connor spent most weekends there. They were one gloriously dysfunctional but oddly happy family.

It lasted six months.

They’d fought. A lot. Not that she hadn’t expected them to fight, but she figured once they were married, it would be different. She’d expected him to leave Wolfram and Hart, and he didn’t. She’d expected him to make her understand what happened in Sunnydale while she was “sleeping”. He didn’t. Cordelia expected that she would learn to trust him again. But found she couldn’t. So they’d fought and their fights rivaled those of Ike and Tina and eventually even the make-up sex lost its thrill.

Somewhere along the line, they had ceased to be husband and wife, but more than that, they had ceased to be partners in the same battle. One day Cordy woke up and found she couldn’t reconcile being with, she couldn’t let herself be with, a man who so brazenly thumbed his nose at right and wrong, who saw no problem with the blurring lines of good and evil. Not after evil had so royally screwed her.

Lord knows she loved the man, but that day Cordy realized that sappy early 90’s love songs were right. Sometimes love wasn’t enough.

That’s the day she called the lawyers.

It’s not like she’d planned on it turning out like this. She’d never dreamed, when they pulled into that tacky chapel off the Vegas strip, that it would end this way. No, then she had been sickeningly naďve. Imagining it would all go back to normal. Prince Charming would marry the princess, slay all the dragons, and they would live happily ever after.

Cordelia checked her watch again. 7:50. Unable to resist the pull any longer, Cordelia stalked over to the window that faced the street and peeked out. There he was, walking out towards the car, the requisite boxes in his arms. She could clearly make him out in the dimming light.

The sky was still the inky blue of twilight, the sun had only set 15 minutes ago. He obviously couldn’t wait to be rid of her. That bastard. She was up here going crazy and he was calmly loading the car. Wait a second. He was loading the car? Oh no. He wouldn’t get away with that.

She threw open the window, chipping a nail in the process but not allowing that fact to rankle her. She had more important business to attend to.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Angel turned. His eyes immediately focused on where she stood in the window.

“I’m putting my things in my car,” Angel shouted up in an even tone. His voice did not belie the anger that throbbed through him, nor did it hint at the tightness in his heart. He refused to even think about the picture she made, glaring down at him with the light from their bedroom creating a halo around her.

“Uh-uh mister,” Cordy called back

“These aren’t my things?”

“That’s not your car.” Cordy wanted to yank out her hair. They’d been through this already. Had he thought she was kidding?

Angel couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Cordy, don’t do this. I gave you everything you wanted.” It’s not like he didn’t understand. It was such an obvious play to hurt him. As if she hadn’t hurt him enough when she tore his undead heart out and stomped on it with those red kitten heeled pumps she liked so much.

Cordy seethed. He gave her everything she wanted? Was he talking about their divorce settlement or their marriage? It didn’t matter. He was wrong on both counts.

“Please Angel, you never had a clue about what I wanted.” They both cringed at how shrewish she sounded.

“Cordy, I don’t think you know what you want,” Angel shot back. Because he didn’t feel like screaming, and because he wanted to see her face, Angel walked back towards the hotel, stopping right under where she stood.

“I think I’ve made that abundantly clear. I want you out of my life,” Cordy said. She could see his face now. It was harder this way.

“You want everything to be simple. That’s what you said. To be the way that it was before last year. Before Jasmine,” Angel informed her. He was not above pushing her buttons.

Cordelia bristled at the remark. He knew how she felt. How even hearing that name affected her. “I’m not having this discussion with you now.” Her voice was icy, her tone arctic.

“The fact is, Princess, our lives can never be the way they were before. And it was never simple.” Even with three stories between them, Angel could see her eyes narrow when he said that.

“Here’s something simple,” Cordy said. “I hate every undead inch of you!”

She didn’t realize she’d twisted off her ring until it was hurtling through the air towards him. Angel’s hand whipped out and caught the bauble two inches in front of his head.

“Well at least one good thing came out of this marriage. Your aim has improved,” Angel noted, tucking the ring into the pocket of his coat.

It rankled her, the way he took all of this in stride. She had just thrown her wedding ring at him. She’d just tossed the ridiculously expensive vintage platinum “token of their love” out the window. And…nothing.

“See, you never wanted to be married to me!” Cordelia accused.

“Oh really? Why did I then?”

“Because I was the only option available. Because Buffy didn’t want you!” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. She sounded so bitter and jealous. She always hated herself when this issue came up. And hated him for making it an issue.

“Christ Cordy, not again.” Angel couldn’t believe she was bringing this up again. Actually, he could totally believe it, it was part of their routine now. What Angel couldn’t believe was the fact that she still didn’t see how much he loved her. Completely, honestly, and right now, somewhat violently. “I’m sick of hearing about this every single day.”

“Well tough. I’ve had to go through every single day knowing that I was second choice!”

“That’s not true,” Angel pointed out, annoyed. He’d explained about Sunnydale. Many, many times.

“I saw your face Angel,” Cordelia told him. “ When she came to town after the wedding. Your face was full of regret.”

“I told you! I regretted not telling her first. I regretted that our marriage hurt her.” Angel paused, unsure of whether or not he should continue. He slipped his hand in his pocket, fingers closing around her ring. Eh, what the hell. “I have never regretted you. Or us.”

“Oh please.”

“Fine Cordelia.” It was pointless to argue. Angel knew he would not change her mind. Not tonight. “Believe what you want to believe.”

“You’ve never given me a reason not to!”

“I thought this was a pretty big reason!” Angel shouted, pulling his hand out of his jacket and raising the ring high in the air.

Cordy didn’t have a response for that. She saw the way the ring glimmered up at her through the darkness. Her finger suddenly felt naked without it.

Gotcha, Angel thought. It seemed, for now, they were done. Angel pocketed the ring and headed back to his car. He needed to finish up here and go kill something. He needed to make sure that someone somewhere was in as much pain as he was.

“Get away from my car!” Cordelia’s voice cut through the relative quiet.

“Don’t do this. Princess, this isn’t you,” Angel responded, not bothering to turn back around.

“Don’t you dare PRETEND that you know me.”

Angel stared down at the car. He could feel her eyes on him, piercing through him. He shut his eyes, collecting himself. This had to be said.

“I know you Cordy. Better than you know yourself. I know you’re scared. I know you wanted me to make you feel safe again, and that I somehow failed. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I failed you Cordelia.”

He didn’t shout so much as state loudly but Cordy heard every word. She heard it in her bones, Angel’s naked emotion wrapped itself around her heart and for a second she felt that old familiar warmth again. She quickly tamped it down. They were just words. They weren’t real.

“You need to move on Cordelia,” Angel said. “And you don’t have to do it alone. What happened last year was horrible and it changed everything. Everyone. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not still a family.” His back was still to her, she noted. Because he couldn’t lie to her face. Fed up, Cordy turned on her heel and sprinted out of the room.

Outside, Angel was still talking. “I think you’ll find it a lot easier to forgive all of this if you find a way to forgive yourself.” There was no response. “Cordy?” Maybe he was finally getting through to her. He turned around.

Suddenly she came bursting out of the door of the hotel, both arms full, robe slipping off her right shoulder. She ran until she reached the sidewalk in front of the car.

“Cor?” Angel wasn’t sure what was happening here.

“You forgot something,” she told him. Cordelia held up her left hand. In it was an ancient first edition of Pride and Prejudice.

“Actually, I gave that to you,” Angel pointed out smugly.

“Oh, that’s right,” she agreed. “I told you I would treasure it always.” And then Cordy carelessly tossed the priceless book into the middle of the street. They both watched as a garbage truck rolled right over it.

“But this is definitely yours,” she said, calling Angel’s attention back to her and off the ruined piece of classic literature. “I mean, what would I do with a Japanese hurling axe? Wait, I know what I could do,” she told him slyly, grasping the handle in both hands and breaking it over knee.

Except for the part where the stupid thing wouldn’t break. Too bad. She’d have bet money that Angel would have cried.
Angel couldn’t help but smirk. “Well, it appears that 500-year-old weapons crafted in Okinawa are built to last.”

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. She wasn’t going to lose this fight. “Hmmm, I wonder if 50-year-old steel from Detroit is as well built?”

At first, Angel was confused about what she meant. Until she took a step closer to the car and raised the axe over her head.

Enhanced senses and vampire speed were useless. Angel stood, frozen in horror, and watched as Cordelia brought the blade down onto the hood of the car. Steam billowed out of the hole she created and Angel could have sworn the vehicle made a weeping sound.

“Jesus Christ Cordelia, what the fuck did you do to my car?”

Cordy let go of the axe. “I told you. It’s my car.”

She heard the low growl that escaped, saw the way his eyes flickered a predator’s gold. She started briskly walking back to the hotel. She almost made it do the door when suddenly Angel was right behind her, grabbing her arm and yanking her around to face him. His hand came up. Cordy knew he was going to hit her and yet she didn’t flinch or duck. She waited for the blow to come.

Instead he cupped the side of her face. Softly, the way a lover would. And it was then she flinched. Because the easy caress hurt far more than any right hook ever could.

“You’re so beautiful Princess.” Angel’s voice was thick with emotion. Cordelia’s mouth went dry.

“But you’re such a fucking bitch,” he told her. This time Angel’s voice betrayed no emotion. Then, calm as day, he pushed her into the bushes and walked away.

While Cordelia tried to extract herself from the shrubbery, Angel dislodged the axe from the car and tossed it in a box. He picked up the biggest three packages, figuring they were all he really needed anyway.

“That didn’t hurt!” Cordy screamed as she struggled to free her robe from the scratchy branches. Angel ignored her. A cab was driving past and Angel let out an ear-piercing whistle. The taxi screeched to a halt.

“That didn’t hurt,” she yelled again as she crawled on hands and knees away from the bush. Angel got in the cab. He never looked back.

“You didn’t hurt me,” Cordy said, but Angel never heard her. The cab was already pulling away. “Nobody hurts me,” she pronounced quietly as the tears started to run down her face.

Two long years later…

The LA Times
LOS ANGELES SOCIETY AWAITS SATURDAY NUPTIALS…All of Southern California’s elite are looking forward to this weekend’s wedding between L.A.’s resident party girl Cordelia Chase and affluent entrepreneur Spencer Kittridge. Whether you are waiting for a table at Lucques or hanging out with Kirsten Dunst at Les Deux Café, all anyone is talking about is what E! News Daily is calling “a match made in million-dollar heaven.”

Cordelia Chase, or C.C as the tabloids refer her, is the West Coast’s answer to Paris Hilton, while “Spence” is the software upstart who revitalized Silicone Valley. The bride’s no slouch herself—she’s the titular figurehead of Chase Investigations, LA’s premiere detective agency for all things unexplained. The wedding and reception are taking place at the palatial Chase Investigations Headquarters, in what was formerly known as the Hyperion Hotel.
This is Kittridge’s first wedding; Cordelia was previously married to a partner at prestigious (and notorious!) law firm Wolfram and Hart—the fellas who represented Jennifer Lopez in her recent divorce and left Ben Affleck a virtual pauper. Like many of the uber-powerful (think Cher or Madonna), the former Mr. Chase goes only by his first name: Angel. Cordelia’s surname-lacking ex-hubby has been abroad for 2 years now. Word has it he’s been handling W&H’s affairs in South America…although Hollywood’s single ladies shouldn’t count the deliciously eligible bachelor out just yet. Sources say he was spotted yesterday flying into LAX. Could “the Angelic One” have returned to personally deliver a wedding gift to his former amour…or has he just heard that J-Lo is back on the market?

PART ONE

Posted July 16, 2018 by califi in TBC

What We Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Us 5-6   Leave a comment

Part 5

“You what?” Cordelia’s shrill voice rang throughout the hotel, her eyes dark. Not only had Angel not done what she’d asked, but he’d also pretty much gone ‘into the lion’s den’, “I don’t believe you sometimes,” Said the brunette, shaking her head, “Are you crazy?”

“Cordelia, calm down.” Said Angel, firmly, “Nothing happened…”

“Ohhh, I see!” Her voice dripped sarcasm, arms folded almost petulantly across her chest, “So you and Gunn pretty much went to her house and had what she would class as a sane conversation?”

“You wanna stop ridin’ us?” Asked Gunn, “We’re here, we’re fine – you gotta stop worrying, Barbie.”

Fuming, the brunette sat back and gestured for them to continue, wincing as the pain in her ribs increased. Damnit, they hurt…

“So what you’re saying,” Said Wesley, “Is that she’s working for someone?”

Angel thought for a second, she certainly wasn’t working for them by choice, whoever it was. They’d hurt her and she was terrified enough to stay where she was, to do whatever they wanted. “She knows that you did what you did because you were ordered. She said that she was only following orders too, can you think of anyone who’d want to hurt you?”

Slowly, Wesley shook his head, “Not exactly… No one other than we know here, Wolfram and Hart perhaps, to get to you?”

Angel shook his head, “This smells nothing like Wolfram and Hart. I just…” Frowning the vampire stood back and looked at Cordelia who was sitting glaring at him. “Cordelia,” He sighed, “I’m fine, alright? Stop looking at me like that.”

“Stop looking at you like what?” The brunette got up from the desk and walked, albeit painfully, out into the lobby where she busied herself with filing. Reaching up to place something in the top drawer, she cried out, her ribs rubbing painfully together. Angel was beside her in an instant, taking the file from her hands and looking at her, “What’s wrong, Cordelia?” He asked, frowning, “I’m…”

“I know, you’re fine!” She snapped, “You’re always fine, remember? Until the point where you’re actually not and then something like Darla happens. I asked you not to go over there tonight and you did anyway.”

“I never said I wouldn’t, Cordy.” He said gently, “I had to…”

“You never said you wouldn’t sleep with Darla, did you do that too?”

Thankfully, Angel couldn’t blush or perhaps he would have. “You know I wouldn’t…”

“Do I?” Cordelia’s voice was tired, “Angel, I just worry sometimes. This girl is a slayer and a vampire. Chances are, she’s going to be strong. Maybe stronger than you and…”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me.” This, was backed by a sense of promise in the vampire’s voice. Granted, it was a promise that perhaps he never could keep – no one was certain what the future held, especially not Angel – but as long as it was in his power to do so, he’d make sure that he never left her again.

Cordelia’s gaze drifted to Gunn and Wesley who stood talking in the office. Wesley looked exhausted, older than his years as Gunn explained about Kelsi. “What’s going on, Angel? Is she the one who’s trying to get to Wesley, or someone else?”

“Judging by the marks on her arms, I’d say someone else. Those weren’t self-inflicted…” Angel’s eyes darkened as he thought about what he’d seen, about Drusilla subjecting him to every torture she could have thought of, way back when Angel had been with Buffy, before Angelus… When he’d been happy. Here, was something else with the potential to wreck what little happiness Angel had built up.

“Are you brooding again?” Her voice was accusing and when he looked up, even Angel had to admit that his Seer had what was probably the cutest expression he’d ever seen on her face. The look that passed across his then, was something akin to a smile and the chuckle that resounded low in his throat made Cordelia raise an eyebrow, “No, I’m not brooding.” He said gently, his gaze drifting up as Wesley and Gunn exited the office.

“The man’s crazy.” Gunn’s words made Angel turn, look at the pair standing by the door, “What?”

“Just what I said,” Gunn gestured towards Wesley, “The guy’s thinking of going after her himself, talking to her, making her see sense…”

“Angel,” Cut in Wesley, before the vampire had the chance to speak, “Perhaps I can make her see that she doesn’t have to do this, perhaps…”

“Perhaps you’ll die.” Angel frowned, “Wesley, you walk in there and she does what she’s been ordered to do. She’s been killing council members left, right and center so that she can get near and now? She’s succeeded. She’s here and she won’t hesitate at killing you if it’s what she has to do.”

Wesley let out a sigh and ran a hand through his hair, “Why is it that I think this would have been easier if she’d just been evil?” He asked quietly.

* * * * *

“Kelsi?” His voice bounced off every wall, making her shudder. Not a lot had scared Kelsi in life, but this… This scared her in death. He scared her. She’d never encountered anyone so twisted by rage, by maddening feelings – all for one person. If she thought about it long and hard enough, the fact remained that – shouldn’t she be the one with all this rage? After all, she was the one who Wesley had killed, inadvertently or not.

“I’m here.” Her voice called out quietly and she winced as a shadow fell upon her. She could almost feel him as he inhaled, testing the air for something that wasn’t right. “You’ve had visitors today.”

Kelsi froze, her breathing ceasing completely. She didn’t need to breathe but she, like other vampires, found it was slightly comforting, made them feel… More human…

“I… I…”

“Save your explanations.” His voice was cold. “You did what I asked, yes?”

“I did.”

“And?”

“And he knows that I want revenge.” Said Kelsi, “That was what you asked.”

“So who then, is the knight in shining armour? Intent on rescuing you from my clutches?”

“I…”

“His name, Kelsi.” He intoned, “I have no time for petty, time-wasting games.”

“Angel,” She whispered, “His name is Angel.” At her answer, he stepped into the relative light of the apartment, reflected only by the moonlight, Kelsi choosing to find the dark comforting. The mask that covered three quarters of his face quirked upwards in a smile and Kelsi whimpered, “Please, I asked them to leave… I didn’t tell them anything.”

“I don’t appreciate lies.” Dodging as the first blow reigned down upon her, Kelsi got to her feet and stumbled away. She couldn’t take another beating, not like last night… The night before. She couldn’t.

“Run, child, run.” He smiled, flexing his scarred fingers, “I always did love a game of cat and mouse…”

A moment later and his arm was outstretched, pulling Kelsi back towards him from the other side of the room, “I said I loved a game of cat and mouse…” He whispered as he drew her closer, testing the boundaries of his magic, “Relax, Kelsi, you’ll be here for a while…” He whispered.

* * * * * *

“I can’t believe you’re making us stay here.” Said Cordelia, looking up at Angel, “For one, you don’t have Phantom Dennis, for two – no TV… And for three – No mirrors. Would it kill you to have mirrors in this place?”

Angel smiled slightly and glanced at his Seer who was swathed in a far-too-big pink bathrobe, perched on the end of his bed, “Y’know, Cordelia – you could take any one of these rooms in the hotel and still be as safe as you are now.”

“Are ‘ou kitten me?” She asked, through a mouthful of pizza.

“What?”

“Are you kidding me!” She said again, “You’re pretty much the only one strong enough to protect me against her…”

“It’s not her,” Said Angel, gently, “It’s…”

“Whatever. My point is, you already crushed my ribs today, you owe me buster. Where you go, I go.”

“Uhm, Cordy?”

“What?”

“I’m taking a shower, you want to join me?” He teased, smirking behind his hand as the all-too-expected, “Ewwww!” Floated through the bedroom. Smiling, Cordelia settled down on the bed, snuggling inside his warm, soft blankets as she closed her eyes. Having been doped up to the eyeballs on painkillers this was officially… Nice.

And as a hooded figure hovered outside the window of the hotel, he let a smile flit across his lips. “You should learn not to mess with the business of others, vampire.” He spat, before turning back to the battered and bruised young woman who stood on the sidewalk, “You know what to do?” He asked.

Kelsi nodded, painfully, “Yes.” She whispered.

“Yes, what?”

“Y-yes Master.” She replied as she stumbled up the steps…


Part 6

“So sleep on the floor then!”

“I live here! This is my bed and YOU insisted on staying with me.” Retorted Angel, darkly. “You sleep on the floor!”

“Geez, Angel you were BORN in the powdered wig days. I know it’s been a while since then but chivalry still exists in SOME places…”

“Says the girl who’s used to guys coming onto her for her-” He paused then, wisely. Would do him no good to piss off Cordelia.

“For her what?” She asked frowning. “I really hope you meant brains there, Angel – or else we’re going to have a huge problem. Besides, you owe me. Hello, broken ribs here.”

“That was an accident…” Offered Angel, lamely. Okay, so he had broken her ribs, but he’d been tossed into her. It wasn’t like he wanted to be on top of her!!! Uh, that wasn’t what he meant and besides…

“Angel, you are NOT sleeping with me.” Said Cordelia, breaking into his reverie.

“You’re the one who wants to sleep in THIS bed.”

“You’re right, I do.” She said, firmly.

The growl bounced around the room, the covers snapping back. “Fine… Fine, take the bed. I’ll sleep somewhere else.”

“But-” Cordelia whined, “Angel… That defeats the purpose. I want to stay with you ’cause…”

“Why?” He asked, exasperated. He wanted to get some sleep some time that night. “Cordelia, nothing’s going to happen to you, you’re safe here.”

“That would be no.” Said Cordelia, “I’m not going home, because– Angel!” He was already moving to the door and he *so* wasn’t listening to her, “Angel, this girl is working with somebody HUMAN. Which means, hello, able to get in my house! Even if Phantom Dennis stops them? Chances are they can play with matches and- Angel, if I’m here with you, then they can’t hurt me. They have to hurt you first because you’re still harbouring the guilt over leaving, which means good for me.”

“Gee, so nice to know you care.” Angel paused and turned back round, looking at her, hand on the door handle.

“Is that sarcasm?” She snapped. “Don’t use sarcasm on me, Angel, that would be MY trait, remember?

“But…”

“God! It’s not like I’m going to try to bone you! Or you bone me or- some other thoughts along those seriously scary and very creepy lines. We’re friends, not…”

“Are you saying I’m not bone-able?” He asked, “Not the way to get in my bed, Cordelia…”

“I’m not TRYING to get in your bed, Angel! I just want to sleep with you…” She paused, letting THAT thought sink in. “That came out kinda wrong, didn’t it?” She asked, smiling sheepishly.

His anger disappeared as he saw the grin, the colour creeping up her cheeks. He hefted a sigh, pretending to be severely put-upon and shook his head, “Okay, you can sleep under the covers. I’ll sleep on top.”

She grinned as she climbed into bed, giving Angel her perfected You Know You Love Me look. Briefly, Angel began wondering exactly when she’d been able to wrap him round her little finger before climbing onto the bed next to her, over the covers.

They lay there for a while, Angel finally slipping into sated slumber before Cordelia’s voice drifted to the already-light-sleeper. “Angel?”

“Mmmm?”

“Y’know, what I said today about you guys?”

“What about us?”

“That I was tired of there only being guys round here?”

“Yeah…”

“I didn’t mean it. I’d like it if it was just us from here on out. No girlies. At least none with the grrr face, anyway.”

“Cordelia?”

“What?”

“Are you trying to tell me you love us?”

“What?! No!” Said the brunette indignantly, “It’s just…” Her voice fell a little and a serious tone crept into her voice, “I appreciate what you guys do for me and I guess… Well, yeah, I love you.”

Angel smiled. “We love you too.”

“Let me say duh…”

“Cordy?”

“What?”

“Sleep.”

The brunette opened her mouth, about to protest, and promptly yawned. “G’nite, broody…”

“Night…” He smiled, finally closing his eyes.

* * * * *

Wesley had sat for the better part of an hour and a half, ever since Gunn had left the hotel and Angel and Cordelia had ventured upstairs. Every time he looked at these blasted books, he felt like there was something he was missing perhaps. Something that he just wasn’t seeing.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

It also didn’t help that some of his collection of books had gone back to the Council when he was fired, right before he came to work for Angel. Plus, carting a collection of books round on your motorbike as a rogue demon hunter was rather difficult – he’d barely managed to get the ones he still owned here when Angel began paying him for working there.

Wesley let out a sigh. The books at the Hyperion were proving invaluable in his search, having been built up since the decline of Angel’s old offices, but still nothing. The ex-watcher stood, running a hand tersely through his hair. He’d looked in every book imaginable, every one he could think of that might–

Suddenly, the answer was in front of him, without him knowing where. He picked up the phone and dialed a number he was well familiar with, waiting for the answer…

“Hello, Magic Box? How can we help?” Anya. Dear, sweet and totally tactless Anya.

“May I speak with Giles, Anya?” He asked, having no time for pleasantries. Well, not much time anyway. If his theory was right, then there was certainly a problem.

“He’s over there…” She paused, making Wesley more irritated by the second. “Would you like me to get him, or pass a message on?”

“Get him.” Said Wesley, through gritted teeth.

“Wesley?” Her voice raised, jovially, “I’d know that clacking tongue anywhere. How are you?”

“I did NOT clack my tongue.”

“You did too.”

“I bloody did not.”

“You did.”

“I di- Anya, please put Giles on? This is important.”

He heard the sigh, heard the ‘Giles, it’s Wesley’ being yelled across the Magic Box and Xander’s, ‘Spineless Ex-Watcher Extraordinaire, wonder what he wants’ – and battled the urge to throw the receiver against the wall, before Giles answered the call.

“Giles? It’s Wesley – how are you?”

The hesitance in Giles’ voice made Wesley wonder, but the reply was as he’d expected. “Good, you?”

“Not so. I was wondering if you still had the copy of the Pergamum Codex?”

He heard Giles pause a second, rummage through a box he assumed was relatively close and waited patiently. “Yes, I have it.”

Wesley held his breath. “Can you check something for me?”

* * * * *

Warmth. He hadn’t had that in a long time, not since Buffy… Not since… Holy God, this felt good. Oh, this felt REALLY good. Angel pressed himself closer, his face all but buried in the shortish-hair. Cinnamon. That spicy shampoo that Cordelia always used. The apple body lotion she lathered herself with after a shower…

He inhaled, once, deeply. Deep enough to move the bed a little and he felt her curve into his body, press against his. And suddenly he was aware of how uncomfortable a situation this actually was. In fact, he was suddenly aware that the situation was no longer just ‘uncomfortable’ – he coughed, and squirmed, causing his seer to wrap her arm almost sluggishly across the upper part of his body.

He felt her sigh, her breasts pressing into his side, the slight weight of her breath against his skin – and he could feel her heart. Thump-thumping against his chest. He’d spent a lot of the past few months missing his friends, the wonderful simplicity they brought to his life – the normalcy they brought. More than ever, Angel realised that he’d missed Cordelia – true, they’d never done this before, but without being sure what this was, could they classify it as a ‘this’ or was it just a sleep-induced haze on his part?

He lay there for a moment, his eyes gazing up at the ceiling in his room. If he moved, he was going to wake her up – if he didn’t move, she was going to wake up and find… Well, he hoped more than anything she’d just think the covers were ‘rumpled’ but this was Cordelia and if anything, his Seer wasn’t stupid. Besides, the fact that he wasn’t *under* the covers, kinda worked against him in that particular scenario.

Think of… Of… Angelus, there’s a bone-reducing thought. Think of how hurt she’d be if she knew you’d slept with Darla. Ah, damnit, sex… Angel frowned, Sex with Cordelia. Naked Cordelia… Oh God, she’s going to kill me.

She stirred next to him, opening one eye and looking up at him, sleepily. “Angel?” He watched as realisation dawned and she pulled away now fully awake, gasping, “Ohhh… My… God…”

“Cordelia…” Of course, when Cordelia had stood, she’d tossed the blankets OFF herself and onto him. It was with a not-very-stealthy grunt that Angel plunged to the floor, blankets wrapped haphazardly across his body. He growled, loudly, hearing the laughter that echoed across the room. At first, the laughter was tentative. Then, amused. Then, it sounded almost like all-out hysteria on her part.

“It was NOT that funny…” He intoned, so very much not amused, as he tried to untangle himself from the blankets.

She laughed again – and in that split second, three things happened. The lights fizzled and went out… Cordelia screamed… And Angel felt something whipsaw against his cheek… The blow to his body was almost crippling. Angel sputtered and felt feet and fists fly into his body. He coughed and tried to stumble, succeeding in only falling against the wall as his attacker rained blows down upon his body.

The last thing Angel heard before he gave into the blackness was Cordelia’s scream…

* * * * *

“What’s giving you the problem, the closed sign or the fact that there’s no lights on?” Called Lorne, frowning as he pulled his terrycloth robe around his body. This was getting ridiculous – didn’t people realise that he had to sleep?

He pressed the buzzer and listened as the footsteps came down into the main part of the club. “Oh, it’s you. Sorry sweetcakes, I was happily slumbering in the land of nod. But don’t let that bother you.”

Wesley ignored the sarcasm, taking a quick look at Lorne’s chosen outfit – a dyed pink robe. He raised an eyebrow and almost chuckled at the frown he received.

“Accident with an Armani suit, now, did you want something? I’m sure you didn’t come here to give me fashion advice so what’s the what?”

“I need you to read me.” Stated Wesley simply.

“Ah, time of the essence and all that. Don’t worry, you’ll get that later.” Said Lorne, gesturing towards the stage.

Wesley frowned, “Can’t I just… Sing here? The effect is surely the same…”

Lorne shrugged and sat down, wishing Ramon was here for the wonderful seabreeze that he so desperately needed right now. Ah, dear sweet Ramon who’d almost had Angel and his friends killed. Lord, how he missed that boy.

“Uhm…” Wesley faltered and looked at the green anagogic demon. “I…”

“What?”

“What should I sing?”

Lorne rolled his eyes, “I don’t know… A nursery rhyme? Mandy…” He caught the inevitable shudder and chuckled at the memory of his favourite vampire customer belting out Manilow. He watched Wesley a moment before shaking his head, “A jingle…”

Wesley shook his head, feeling much like a prize idiot…

“What walks down the stairs, alone or in pairs, everyone knows it’s – WHAT?!”

Lorne coughed, trying to hide the laughter, “You chose the Slinky jingle?”

“It was off the top of my head…” Claimed Wesley, raising an eyebrow, “Was that enough?”

Lorne had Wesley repeat the jingle once… Twice… A third time. Until Wesley cottoned on to the fact that he was making a fool of himself. “Lorne…?”

The Host chuckled and grinned, “That was fun… Okay, bubula… You want to know what’s happening in the world of the Watcher?”

“Yes!” Said Wesley, exasperated.

“Okay, but you better sit – ’cause the picture I’m gonna paint? Not a pretty one.”

Wesley sat down, tentatively. He couldn’t help but wonder what was about to be revealed. The Host set people on their true path – what if his true path was to do what he’d tried to do years ago? The very thing he’d believed he’d succeeded in doing? He remembered the night so clearly, the smell of smoke as it clung to his nostrils… He’d tried to do the right thing…

“So, your slayer came back and she’s doing a whole lot of damage?”

Wesley glanced up at Lorne and nodded, tersely. “She has a soul…”

“Did that stop Angel from going to the darkside?” His question was simple, but one that Wesley knew he couldn’t answer. Was Kelsi doomed? Did it matter if she had a soul or not? Lorne watched as Wesley winced and looked away. “Good.”

He hadn’t answered the question, but as Wesley looked up to ask him what he meant, Lorne continued, “You know that a soul doesn’t instantly mean that a person is good, you’re going to need that knowledge walking into this fight – and what a fight it’s going to be…”

Wesley raised an eyebrow, “You know I can’t fight her. She’s stronger than me, perhaps moreso than Angel. I can’t fight her.”

Lorne shook his head, “Not her. Him.”

“Him? Him who?”

* * * * *

“Ah, our guest awakens.”

The first thing Cordelia was aware of was a headache. The second, in a truckload of not fun, was the smell of urine.

Her vision swam in front of her until finally it focused and Cordelia moved, groaning slightly as her head pounded. Vision? No… Someone hitting her with something heavy. Ah, that was it.

“Guest?” Her mind had the presence to cough out that word and finding her figurative feet, Cordelia continued, “Does that mean your ‘guest’ can leave at any time she wants?”

The voice chuckled and Cordelia looked up to see him shaking his head, “Nope, didn’t think so.” She said with a shrug, “Any chance you want to tell me which enemy you are? We kinda have a few.” Her gaze drifted round the room until it settled on Kelsi, the girl she’d met at the hotel, sitting huddled in the corner. Blood trickled steadily from a wound in her side, making Cordelia frown. Then, she remembered… Broken ribs, the girl deserved everything she got.

Maybe.

“What’s going on?”

“Ah,” He chuckled, “So Wesley truly hasn’t mentioned me?”

“Uh, that would be NO.” Said Cordelia, frowning, “He’d mention the knowing of freak parts.”

The guy’s jaw tightened and Cordelia braced herself against the stinging slap delivered to her cheek. “Hold your tongue, girl.” He hissed, glaring at her.

Cordelia frowned, “You’re going to pay for that.”

Kelsi looked up from where she sat, meeting Cordelia’s eyes, “I’m sorry.” She whispered softly, “I never meant for it to end like this.”

“Then how DID you want it to end?” Asked Cordelia, frowning, “Looks like someone just learned the beauty of hindsight, huh?”

TBC 

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Posted July 15, 2018 by califi in TBC