Long Time Coming. 12-13

Part 12

Six weeks later …

Cordelia placed the four cups on a tray. She picked up the drinks – some orange juice for herself, a glass of milk for Faith, a cup of tea for Wesley and a mug of blood for Angel – and headed towards the basement to join her friends, the four people she now thought of as family.

Cordelia slowly descended the stairs, taking in the activity below her as she did so. Wesley was seated at a small table in the corner of the room, with his glasses perched on the end of his nose. He was making notes on a pad, whilst consulting a large volume on the desk in front of him. Faith and Angel were training, their bodies a blur of movement as they sparred with each other.

It had become a familiar scene over the last few weeks. Angel had ventured out to join in the research at the School Library a couple of days after their night out, but it had been awkward to say the least. Buffy had looked on the verge of tears the whole time and the strain was also evident on Angel’s face. After that, it had been silently agreed that Angel and Buffy needed to keep their distance from each other for a while and so the two groups had formed with Faith and Wesley serving as the go-betweens.

Cordelia hadn’t been able to control the feeling of hurt that ran through her at the sight of Angel’s pain over Buffy. She realised that Angel could have taken her into her bedroom six weeks ago, and had sex with her without fear of a moment of pure happiness. Cordelia would have let him; she knew that. Instead, Angel had chosen to stop things before they went too far. It showed a respect for her and her feelings that she’d not experienced from the men in her life before.

Things had been a little awkward between them for a few days, but then they’d both relaxed and slipped back into the easy friendship that had previously been developing between them. The attraction was always there, but they had been able to set it aside and concentrate on building that friendship. Cordelia was glad in a way; she realised that she was learning things about the man she was falling in love with, that she might not have done otherwise.

That was not to say that their amazing kiss didn’t haunt her – she had gotten used to waking up at night drenched in sweat from the remembrance of it. Cordelia had never experienced this level of desire for anyone before; she was sure it must show on her face whenever she was within a few feet of Angel. Even though she technically wasn’t doing anything wrong, Cordelia felt uncomfortable when she was in Buffy’s presence. She all but avoided the Scooby Gang because of her guilt and consequently hadn’t stepped foot in the Library for weeks.

“Hey Guys! Drinks are up” she called, as she reached the bottom of the staircase with her tray.

“Thanks C.” Faith crossed the room, and picked up her glass of milk downing it in one go.

Angel reached out a hand for the mug of blood and took a small sip. His deep brown eyes twinkled as he noticed Cordelia watching his movements intently. A slow blush crept over her face as she realised she’d been caught red-handed in her ogling of the sexy vampire. Setting his mug aside, Angel crossed his arms over his chest and removed the white skin-tight T-shirt he was wearing, exposing his bare chest to the cheerleader’s scrutiny. “Phew – hot in here, isn’t it?”

Angel turned away with a grin, noting with satisfaction Cordelia’s now flaming cheeks. He sauntered back over to where Faith was stretching out on a mat on one side of the training area. Cordelia was transfixed by the way the muscles in Angel’s back rippled under his pale skin with his movements.

Geez Cor – get a grip on yourself. You know he’s doing it on purpose.

Cordelia stopped as that thought registered in her brain; Angel had been deliberately teasing her over the last few days. A warm feeling began to burn in her belly – he was blatantly flirting with her, it hadn’t occurred to her until now. Oh boy!

Cordelia took a deep breath to steady herself, tightened her grip on the tray and crossed the room to where Wesley was seated at the table near the bookcase. She placed the cup of tea on the table besides him.

Wesley looked up at her in gratitude; he looked tired with dark circles under his eyes. The research wasn’t going very well. The only thing they’d discovered about Styjasimok was that he was a magician born in the 12th century. The demon activity around the Hellmouth had been steadily increasing over the last few weeks – Buffy, Faith and Angel were only just managing to keep on top of it. The signs all pointed towards a coming apocalypse, but so far they hadn’t been able to find out anything about Styjasimok’s true intentions.

“You should take a break.” Cordelia told him. “Look at it fresh tomorrow. Sometimes, it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees.”

Wesley nodded, knowing she was right but he still felt driven to continue. The desperate need to know was eating away inside of him. Faith had reamed him out about it a couple of weeks back, when he’d almost collapsed from the lack of sleep and missed meals. After that, Wesley had made an effort to distract himself by getting involved in Angel and Faith’s training sessions. His internal watcher instincts had protested against some of the moves the vampire was teaching his slayer, but his common sense realised that Faith was becoming a stronger and more resourceful fighter as a result.

He was also secretly looking into gypsy curses for Angel. At least that research was yielding results he thought, glancing at the folded bit of paper that he had tucked into a slim volume of spells that morning before making his way over to Angel’s mansion.

“Hey C – can I use your shower? I’m all hot and sweaty.”

“You’re not the only one.” Cordelia mumbled under her breath as she sat down at the table.

“What was that?” Faith called from across the room.

“Nothing, doesn’t matter.” Cordelia replied, raising her voice a little. “Go ahead and use the shower.” She turned to Wesley as Faith took the basement stairs two at a time. “What do you want me to do?”

“I need you to cross-check my references in this.” Wesley placed a book, and a pad with notes on it in front of her on the desk. “Make sure I haven’t missed anything.”

Cordelia nodded. “Okay, I can do that.”

“Don’t you need a shower yourself?” Angel materialised out of thin air behind her chair.

Cordelia nearly jumped out of her skin. “Geez Angel – give us some warning when you do that, will you? And why do I need a shower? I don’t smell.” She glared up at him indignantly.

“I thought you were all hot and sweaty.” Angel shot her a wide-eyed innocent look as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

Cordelia blushed furiously again. Damn him and his super-vamp hearing. “I’m fine.” she replied from between clenched teeth, as she looked down at the table to hide her burning cheeks.

“Okay.” Angel said breezily, winking at a smirking Wesley. “Just checking, that’s all.”

Wesley took pity on the mortified girl. “Angel, can I have a word in private please?” he asked, picking up the book of spells that he’d brought with him.

The two of them crossed to the other side of the basement, where Wesley removed the slip of paper from the book and handed it to Angel.

“What is this?” Angel asked, unfolding the parchment.

“Your curse.” Wesley explained, pointing to the spell written in black ink. “And that’s a modified version of it.” The watcher indicated the second spell penned in blue.

Angel clutched at the piece of paper in his hand. If his heart was able to beat, it would be hammering in his chest right now; Angel could almost feel the sensation of it.

“Now all you need is a witch who is willing to perform the spell.” Wesley continued.

“Willow?” Angel’s voice cracked on the name.

The watcher sighed. “Are you sure she’ll do it? Considering …” He nodded at Cordelia to emphasise his point.
Angel turned and glanced over to where the object of his desire was sitting at the table, with her attention focused on the book in front of her. He was ready, he realised. Buffy would always be special to him – she was his first true love after all, but Angel knew, without knowing how, that the slayer wasn’t meant to be part of his future. It was finally time to move on.

He looked back over his shoulder at Wesley. “I’ll go and talk to her tonight. She’ll do it – she has to.”

***

Faith sat on the sofa and watched as Angel paced back and forth across the floor in impatience. The vampire had been on tenterhooks for the last couple of hours, his eyes constantly going to the drape-covered windows, obviously waiting for sundown.

Faith wasn’t stupid – Angel and Wesley were clearly planning something. Their conversations had broken off many times in the last few weeks when she had entered the room. Wesley had refused to tell her anything when she’d questioned him about it, saying it was a private matter between himself and Angel. Well private or not – Angel was not leaving the mansion tonight without filling her in on what the big secret was about. The slayer did not like to be kept in the dark, especially with an apocalypse fast approaching.

Faith leapt to her feet and moved swiftly to obstruct the doorway as Angel reached for his jacket. “Where are you going?”

“Out.” was Angel’s short reply and he moved to step around her.

Faith blocked his path again. “What for?”

“Faith.” Wesley said warningly.

“No, Wes. I’m not dense – something is going on and one of you is going to tell me what it is.”

“It’s nothing you need to know about.” Wesley informed her.

“Yeah, well I beg to differ – we shouldn’t be keeping secrets from each other at a time like this.”

Angel sighed. “It’s okay, Wes. I don’t mind if they know now.” He turned away from the door and sat down on the arm of the chair that Cordelia was curled up in. “Wes has found a way around my curse.”

Faith sank back down on the sofa. All right, so I wasn’t expecting that. “A way round? I’m not sure I’m entirely liking the sound of that.”

“It’s not a way round per se.” Wesley explained. “More a method to negate the perfect happiness clause.”

“How?”

“After a good deal of research, I’ve rewritten the gypsy curse. Angel will still be cursed with a soul, but it will be permanent.”

“So he can get laid without turning all evil on us.” Faith stated with a wicked grin in Angel’s direction. “Are you sure it will work?”

“I’ve had it checked by several experts, but we won’t know for certain until the curse is actually recast.”

“How can we prove it worked though? It’s kind of risky to take a chance, don’t you think?”

Angel frowned; he hadn’t thought of that. “Faith’s right Wes. I can’t endanger my friend’s lives in any way.”

Wesley nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that. Once Willow has performed the spell, I believe I know of a way to verify that your soul is permanent. It’ll mean a trip to LA, however.”

Faith stood and reached out towards Angel, giving him a brief hug. “Congratulations. I can’t see the need for the big cloak-and-dagger routine though.”

“We didn’t know whether Wes could come up with anything and I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.” Angel explained. “So, can I go and talk to Willow now?”

“I suppose I’ll let you.” Faith replied with a smile.

“I’m *so* honoured.” Angel got up and headed for the door. “I’ll see you all later.”

Cordelia had remained silent throughout the entire exchange. She knew she should be pleased for Angel, but happy was the last thing she felt right now. Her hope’s for the future had just come crashing in around her ears. Once Willow had re-cursed Angel, there would be nothing to keep him and Buffy apart. The two of them could finally be together without the risk of Angelus ruining their happiness. Cordelia felt her eyes begin to fill at the prospect and she immediately got up, angry with herself for getting emotional. “I’m going to bed.”

Faith glanced at her watch. “It’s really early. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine; I’m just really tired and I’ve got the beginnings of a headache.” Cordelia swiftly headed up the stairs to her room before either Faith or Wesley could question her any further.

***

Willow looked up from her computer at the sound of light tapping on her bedroom window. She crossed the room and pulled open the curtains. “Angel.”

The red-haired witch unlatched the window and pushed it open, letting the vampire in. Angel stopped as an invisible barrier prevented him from entering. “Willow?”

“You’re not going to go all evil again, are you?”

“Actually, that’s why I’m here.” Angel began. Willow immediately dashed across the room and picked up a wooden cross, holding it out in front of her to ward him off.

“Willow. I’m not evil.” Angel said sharply.

“But you said …”

“Wesley found a way to change my curse, a way to remove the perfect happiness clause.”

“Oh.” Willow slowly lowered the cross. “I guess it’s okay for you come in then. Well, okay by me anyway. Mom and Dad would totally flip if they found a boy in my room.”

“I’m not a boy.” Angel said as he stepped in through the window.

“No, you’re a man *and* a vampire. Both very bad things. Not that being a vampire is bad, even though it is, but you’re different cus you’re a good vampire and I’m totally rambling aren’t I?”

Angel nodded then reached into his coat pocket and handed her the spell. Willow quickly read it through. “Oh Wow! How did Wesley …? Oh God – have you told Buffy? She’s going to be so happy. She’s been all sad lately, and now the two of you will be able to be together again, cus you can get with the big smoochies and there’ll be no sucking the world into hell afterwards.”

“Willow – about Buffy I …”

“You want to keep it secret until you know it’s worked.” Willow interrupted. “I get it; it wouldn’t be right to get her hopes up. You can have the big romantic reunion when you know for sure.”

Angel didn’t contradict her; he was too afraid his one chance to gain some semblance of a normal life would slip away because of a teenage girl’s loyalty to her best friend. “Will you do the spell?”

“You know I will. When?”

“Tomorrow afternoon?” Angel asked. “That way we’ll be able to drive to LA during the night.”

“LA?” Willow questioned, frowning a little. “I don’t think my parents would let me just take off on a road-trip with someone they don’t know.”

“It’s okay – you don’t have to come. Wesley said he knows of someone or something in LA that will be able to tell whether my soul is permanent or not.”

“All right. I’ll come over to your place in the afternoon then.” Willow reached out and gave him a quick hug. “Oh Angel, this is so great. Buffy is going to be so happy when she finds out.”

“Willow ..”

“I know – my lips are sealed.” Willow pressed her lips between her fingers to emphasise her point.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Angel turned to leave, hating himself for not telling her the truth, but unwilling to risk the prospect of a permanent soul.

***

Cordelia lay face down on her bed with her teddy bear clutched under one arm. Her cheeks were wet with the tears she had already shed and she buried her face in her pillow as a fresh wave of misery overtook her. Angel’s words were echoing around her head – I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up – she just knew by ‘anyone,’ he really meant Buffy. Cordelia couldn’t believe she’d been stupid enough to think that Angel actually wanted her – all she would have been was a substitute. A potential surrogate that could satisfy his sexual needs, without the risk of a moment of perfect happiness.

Xander had broken her heart, but the pain was nothing compared to this. Cordelia felt like she had been plunged into a bucket of ice-water that had shocked her into seeing the stark truth of Angel’s interest in her. The vampire would have always been waiting for the day when he could secure his soul and return to the slayer’s arms.

Cordelia tried to stifle the sound of her weeping by cupping her hands over her mouth to suppress her agonised sobs. Unable to stop her cries however, she curled up in a foetal position in the centre of the mattress and gave in fully to her anguish.

***

Angel closed and locked the mansion’s heavy door behind a departing Faith and Wesley, then turned to head up the stairs to his room. He didn’t think he would be able to sleep tonight, but supposed he ought to give it a shot; it was going to be a long and momentous day tomorrow. The vampire paused as he passed Cordelia’s door; Faith had said the cheerleader had gone to bed early because she’d not been feeling well. I should check that she’s all right.

Angel pressed his ear to the wood, but the only sound to reach his ears was Cordelia’s rhythmic breathing; she was fast asleep. He slowly pushed down the door handle and stepped into the room, the door creaking slightly at his entrance. The curtains were still ajar and let in a stream of moonlight, illuminating the figure on the bed with a bluish white light.

Cordelia was fully clothed and lay curled up on top of the covers; Angel frowned as he noticed her tear-streaked face. He crossed the room on silent feet and sat down on the edge of the bed, reaching out to stroke Cordelia’s cheek with the backs of his fingers. She stirred at his touch and slowly opened her eyes to look up at him.

“You’ve been crying.” Angel said, stating the obvious. “Faith said you just had a headache – do I need to call a doctor?”

Cordelia scrambled to a sitting position, hugging her knees to her chest. “No, I’m fine.”

“So, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing!” Cordelia assured him; a statement that he would have believed if her eyes hadn’t filled with tears again immediately afterwards.

“Cordy.” Angel reached out to her, but she knocked his hands away.

“Don’t Angel. Just don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Angel was beginning to get the feeling her distress was something to do with him, although he couldn’t imagine why. He racked his brain trying to think of anything he might have inadvertently said or done to upset her, but he came up with a complete blank. “Have I done something wrong?”

“No, it’s not your fault Angel. It’s me, I should have never …” Cordelia took a deep steadying breath and lifted her liquid gaze to his. “I’m happy for you, Angel. I am. It’s just that I hoped our friendship would build into something more. This permanent soul thing has kind of put paid to that.”

“It has?” Angel was seriously confused now.

“You and Buffy can be together; now there’s no curse in the way.”

Angel stared at her, finally getting it. She didn’t honestly think he still wanted Buffy, did she?

“This doesn’t change anything between me and Buffy.” He explained gently. “We broke up for many reasons; my curse was only one of them. All the other reasons still exist; having a permanent soul won’t make them disappear. I will always care about Buffy, but I’m not in love with her anymore. I don’t want her back.”

“You don’t?” Cordelia’s heart began to beat rapidly in her chest as her tears overflowed down her cheeks in relief.

Angel reached out to cup her pretty face between his palms. “No, I don’t.” He whispered softly, looking deep into her hazel eyes. “You’re the one I want.”

Angel leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead before his mouth moved to kiss away her tears. His lips finally settled over hers. The kiss held non of the passion of their encounter six weeks ago; it was full of tenderness, comfort and the promise of love. The two of them exchanged sweet, gentle kisses for a long time until, eventually, they drew apart.

“Stay with me?” Cordelia implored him with shining eyes.

Angel cleared his throat, shaking his head. “I’m sorely tempted, but I think it would be a bad idea. I don’t have a permanent soul yet.”

“I only meant to sleep – nothing more. I don’t have a death wish – Angelus is hardly relaxing company.”

Angel smiled. “I know you only meant to sleep. It’s still a bad idea though.” He leaned over and kissed her softly again before rising from the bed and crossing to the door. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Cordelia lay back on her bed closing her eyes, as the door shut behind the vampire. It took a few moments for the implications of what Angel had said to sink in. The cheerleader’s eyes snapped open again in shock when it actually hit her.

Angel had essentially just told her that there was a possibility that he could find perfect happiness just by sleeping beside her. Cordelia didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. A few hours earlier, all her dreams had been shattered. Now though, for the first time in her life, she felt truly loved.


Part 13

Faith sat cross-legged on a table that stood against a wall in Angel’s mansion. They had cleared the furniture to the edges of the room, creating an empty space in the centre of the stone floor. Wesley had carefully measured out and marked various points from a central spot and was now drawing a mystical symbol in white chalk on the ground. Her watcher had tried to explain the significance of the design to Angel’s new curse, but the rationale had gone completely over the slayer’s head.

Faith looked over at Angel and Cordelia; the two of them sat silently, side by side, on an old sofa on the opposite side of the room. The change in their relationship had been apparent to Faith from the moment she’d arrived that morning. Neither of her friends had said anything however, and they hadn’t shown any outward sign of affection towards each other. Faith smiled as she suddenly noticed that their fingers were loosely linked as their hands lay on the cushion between them.

There was a knock on the door and Angel and Cordelia’s fingers immediately untwined, each of them returning their hands to their laps. Faith hopped down off her perch to let Willow in. The witch cradled a square wooden box between her hands. “The Orb of Thesulah, I presume.”

Willow nodded, a beaming smile on her face. “You have no idea the trouble I had to go to steal this from Giles’s safe without him finding out.” She removed the shiny glass orb from its protective box. “So, are we ready?”

“I think so.” Faith replied. “Wes?”

Wesley nodded. “All done. Cordelia, can you take care of the herbs and incense?”

Cordelia smiled. “Sure, done it twice already. I think I can handle it.”

The watcher turned to Angel then. “Are you ready?”

Angel nodded nervously. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” He looked at Willow. “You still remember my original curse if this goes wrong?”

Willow nodded. “It’ll be fine. You and Buffy will be back in each other’s arms in no time.”

Angel moved to stand inside the symbol opposite the redheaded witch. He pressed a reassuring hand to the small of Cordelia’s back as he passed by her, letting her know without words that Willow was wrong about his and Buffy’s supposed reunion.

“Time for the stinky herbs, Cordelia.” Willow said, as she took a few deep breaths to prepare herself for the ritual. Cordelia began to wave the burning herbs around, filling the air with the smell of incense. Willow turned to Wesley then. “Ready?”

Wesley nodded and began to read from the open book he held in his hands. “Quod perditum est, invenietur.”

[Translation: What is lost, return]

Willow focused her attention on the orb in her palms and took over. “Nici mort, nici al finitei, te invoc spirit al trecerii. Te implor, Doamne, nu ignora aceasta rugaminte. Lasa orbita sa fie vasul care-i va transporta, sufletul la el.”

[Translation: Neither dead … Nor of the living. Spirits of the Interregnum, I call. I implore you, Lord, do not ignore this request. Let this orb be the vessel that will carry his soul to him.]

Cordelia watched as the Orb of Thesulah began to glow. Willow continued to chant the incantation and the light from the orb grew brighter with every word. It all sounded gibberish to Cordelia – she couldn’t tell any difference from last time. Angel’s photographic memory however, remembered back to Romania, 1898 and he caught the subtle differences from his original curse.

Willow’s head suddenly snapped back and she lifted the glowing orb higher into the air as the spell drew to its climax. “Asa sa fie! Asa sa fie! Acum!”

[Translation: So it shall be! So it shall be! Now!]

The light from the orb became incandescent then went suddenly went dark. Angel groaned, clutching at his chest and falling to his knees as he felt pain rip through his entire being. Cordelia gasped and took an involuntarily step towards him, but Faith reached out and caught her wrist, holding her back as Angel’s eyes glowed a brilliant white, then returned to their original deep brown.

Willow sank wearily to the floor, clutching the Orb of Thesulah to her chest. “Did it feel different?” she asked of Angel, once she’d caught her breath.

Angel lurched drunkenly to his feet and Wesley grabbed hold of his arm to steady him. The watcher led his friend across the room to a chair. “Angel?”

The vampire shakily ran his fingers through his spiky hair as the disorientation passed. “I don’t know – I think it feels different, but I’m not certain. Maybe I’m just imagining it because I want it so much. You’re sure this – is it a someone or something in LA?”

“Someone.” Wesley replied.

“Right, are you sure they will be able to tell if my soul is permanent or not?”

“Ninety-nine point nine, nine percent certain.” Wesley assured him.

Angel let out an unneeded breath. “Good, that’s good. So to LA we go then.”

***

“A Convertible?”

“That’s the tenth time you said that Faith.” Angel replied as the Plymouth sped down the highway towards LA.

“I know, but a Convertible. You’re a vampire!”

“So. Does that mean I can’t have a nice car?”

“No, but I would’ve thought that you’d have chosen one that you wouldn’t be burnt to a crisp in, if you ventured out during the day.”

“I like to live dangerously.” Angel said with a grin.

“Humph! Boys and their toys, more like.” Faith retorted. “Can I drive?”

“No” was the immediate reply.

“Come on.” The slayer wheedled. “If I drive, you can sit back here and mack on C.”

Angel considered that – the prospect was definitely appealing. Wait a minute – how did Faith know things had changed?

“I’m not blind.” Faith answered both Angel and Cordelia’s unspoken question. “I saw you holding hands this morning. Besides the sexual tension has been building for weeks – about time the two of you got it on.”

“I’m not sure everyone will agree with you on that.” Cordelia said, voicing her concerns over the Scooby Gang’s reaction to her relationship with Angel.

Faith gave her friend a sympathetic look. “Look C, I know B is hardly going to be thrilled when she finds out about the two of you, but that isn’t your fault. Angel broke up with her weeks ago; neither of you are doing anything wrong.”

“You’ve really not got how the hierarchy works, have you?” Cordelia said, a bitter edge to her voice. “Buffy’s feelings are *always* the most important; Willow would have never have done that spell if she knew Angel wasn’t going to fall back into Cry-Buffy’s arms. You heard what she said this afternoon.”

“And I was the one who didn’t contradict her.” Angel interrupted. “I guess I did it for my own selfish gain and I’m not particularly proud of that. If Buffy’s a problem Cordy, then I’ll deal with her. Don’t worry about it. Faith is right – you haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Buffy won’t see it like that Angel, especially after before. Willow, Xander and Giles will all be on her side too. To them, I’ll always be the slut that stole Little Miss Slay-Happy’s adoring boyfriend, no matter what you or anyone else says to the contrary.”

“What do you mean ‘after before’?”

Cordelia mentally kicked herself; she hadn’t meant to reveal that. “I thought you were kind of hot when I first laid eyes on you, okay. You did notice all the totally cringe-worthy simpering, didn’t you? Buffy explained that you were a vampire, but, at the time, I just thought she was afraid of the competition. I told her that she may be hot stuff when it came to demonology, but when it came to dating, I was the Slayer.”

“I bet B just loved that.” Faith commented, with a broad grin.

Cordelia smiled at her friend before continuing “It was around the time Giles’s old enemy put that enchantment on the Halloween costumes; remember?”

Angel nodded. “You were a cat. A very sexy cat if I recall correctly. You still got that suit?”

“Angel!” Cordelia flushed bright red as Faith and Wesley fell about laughing at Angel’s less than innocent query.

“Oh Boy! I think we need to make haste towards LA to …. where are we actually going, Wes?” Faith quizzed her watcher, resting her forearms on the back of the front seat that he was sitting in.

“Caritas.” Wesley replied.

“And I’m non the wiser. What’s a Caritas?”

“I think I’ll let you discover that for yourself.”

Faith flopped back in her seat with an exaggerated pout. “Nobody tells me anything.”

They continued on their journey in silence for a few minutes until Faith shifted irritably in her seat. “Can I drive?”

“NO!”

***

“You have got to be kidding me.” Faith looked around with wide disbelieving eyes. “I’m dreaming, right? Places like this do not really exist.”

“It’s a Karaoke Bar.” Cordelia looked at Wesley with concern. “A *Demon* Karaoke bar. How are we supposed to find out about Angel’s soul here?”

“Through him.” Wesley pointed to a bright green demon who stood by the bar, dressed in a loud yellow suit.

“Did you receive a knock to the head recently? Hello – it’s a big green demon!”

“He’s Psychic; connected to the mystic. When you sing you bare your soul, he sees into it.” Wesley patiently explained.

“So he’ll be able to see whether Angel’s soul is permanent or not, right?” Faith interjected.

“Exactly.”

Angel frowned. “I have to sing?”

Wesley shrugged apologetically. “It’s the way it works. You sing Karaoke and the Host reads you. Come on, Let’s go and introduce ourselves.”

“Aah – new clientele I see. Welcome to Caritas.” The green demon addressed them as they approached. “Well, aren’t you, Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome?” He looked Angel up and down with his red eyes suggestively.

Wesley held out his hand towards the Host. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce – we spoke on the phone.”

“Oh yes. You’re the one who wants to find out about the vampire with soul, or should I say permanent soul? That would be you crumb cake, I take it?” The Host returned his attention to Angel after shaking Wesley’s hand. “Why don’t you all take a pew and pick a song? You’ll be up in about ten minutes.”

“I have to sing up there.” Angel asked, nodding towards the stage. “In public?”

“Suffering from a little stage-fright are we, strudel?”

“I can’t sing.”

“Well, Wes can’t dance, but he still made a spectacle of himself at Lunar a few weeks ago.” Faith clapped Angel reassuringly on the back and he and Cordelia laughed.

“Hey!” Wesley protested, a wounded expression on his face.

Faith linked her arm affectionately with her watcher’s. “We can’t all be good at everything, Wes. Come on, let’s find Angel a song to sing.”

Ten minutes later …

Cordelia sat with her chin resting in her cupped hands staring with wide eyes at the stage. “He really meant it when he said he couldn’t sing, didn’t he?”

“Kind of destroys the man of mystery image, doesn’t it?” Faith commented slyly.

“Or maybe not.” The slayer continued off the look of denial Cordelia threw at her. “Man C, you’ve got it bad.”

“Well folks. Let’s have a big hand of appreciation for Angel, the vampire with soul.” The Host stepped up into the bright lights of the stage as Angel concluded his ‘performance.’

A small smattering of applause rang out. Faith put her fingers in her mouth and whistled in mock appreciation. Angel shot her a murderous look as he followed the Host down from the stage. “Well?” he demanded of the green demon.

“Whoa – patience is a virtue, cup cake. Don’t you want your buddies to hear my reading?”

“Sorry.” Angel mumbled contritely and waited until Cordelia, Faith and Wesley all gathered round.

“So what’s the verdict, soul-reader guy?” Cordelia questioned impatiently.

“I’m thinking someone is going to get lucky tonight.” The Host winked at her impudently, causing her cheeks to flush.

“His soul is definitely permanent then?” Wesley asked for confirmation.

The Host nodded. “As permanent as everyone elses in this room. Why don’t you guys go and have some fun, take some R & R time. God knows you’re going to be needing it very shortly.”

“What does that mean?” Angel asked.

“You have some trouble brewing down your way.”

“We already knew that. What else can you tell us?” Wesley demanded.

“Nothing much. Just keep on the way you’ve been going – you are on the right path even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.” The Host straightened his suit. “Well, I’ll be seeing you – Mordred is waiting for his reading. It’s been a blast chatting with you all. Toodles.”

“Well, I guess we should find somewhere to stay for the night.” Wesley said, as the Host walked away. “There’s not enough time to drive back to Sunnydale before sunrise.”

“How about ‘The Starlight’?” Faith suggested.

“That’s one of the most expensive hotels in LA.” Cordelia pointed out. “I can’t afford a hotel like that anymore.”

“It’s only for one night and we can share rooms – you with Angel, and me with Wes.” Faith looked around at her friends. “Come on guys – we’ve got something to celebrate, haven’t we?”

Angel ignored his immediate instinct to suggest some place cheaper. Angelus had always lived in the lap of luxury when given half a chance; he supposed that’s why he baulked at excess nowadays. He did have something to celebrate though and it wasn’t like he couldn’t afford it. “Sounds like a good idea. Come on, let’s go.”

Cordelia followed her three friends out of Caritas, her stomach churning with her growing nerves. Oh Shit – this is really it; by tomorrow morning I’ll no longer be a virgin.

***

Cordelia stepped into the large hotel room ahead of Angel. She swallowed nervously as she spied the king-sized bed in the centre of the room. She quickly bypassed it and went to the huge window, pressing her fingertips to the cool glass and gazing out at the bright lights of downtown LA.

Angel pushed the door shut behind them and dropped their overnight bags in the corner of the room. He watched as Cordelia turned away from the window and opened the door that led into the on-suite bathroom.

Cordelia’s breath caught in her throat; the bathroom was huge and opulent. A large circular bath occupied the right-hand side of the room and a big shower stall was situated in the far left hand corner. The room was perfect, but the butterflies in her stomach were growing more prominent with every passing minute.

“Are you okay?” Angel asked her softly. His hands landed on her shoulders and his thumbs began to knead the tense muscles in her neck.

Cordelia leaned back into his touch despite herself. “I’m fine. I’m just nervous, I guess.”

Angel dropped a kiss into her hair. “If you’re not ready then we don’t have to do anything.”

Cordelia turned to face him. “But your soul is permanent now.”

Angel smiled and placed a gentle kiss on the end of her nose. “Look, I’m not saying I don’t want to make love to you, but the last thing I want is to force you into anything you’re not ready for. I can wait all right?”

Cordelia slipped her arms around his middle and rested her head on his shoulder as Angel ran his fingers up and down her back in gentle caresses. They stayed like that for a few minutes before Cordelia pulled away and looked up at him. “I do want too. I’m just afraid of disappointing you.”

Angel laughed and took her face between in his hands. “Cordy – That isn’t possible.” He kissed her gently on the lips. “Why don’t you relax and take a shower while I order you some food from room service? We’ve got all night; there’s no need to rush anything.”

Cordelia nodded. “Okay – can you get my overnight bag please?”

The hot water calmed her nerves somewhat. Cordelia tipped her head back and let the spray sluice over her face and through her hair, before shutting off the shower and stepping out into the cool air of the bathroom. She dried herself with one of the white fluffy towels and wrapped another turban style around her head to soak up the water from her wet hair. She then rummaged through her overnight bag for a pair of clean panties and her night things.

After pulling on her underwear, Cordelia sat down on the floor to contemplate the two outfits she’d brought with her – her favourite night-shirt and a deep purple silk negligee with matching robe. She wanted Angel to love her for who she was, but she also wanted to make an effort for their first night together. Cordelia stuffed her nightshift back in her bag and slipped the negligee over her head letting the garment settle naturally over the curves of her body. She sprayed her favourite perfume on her pulse points then pulled on the robe securing it tightly around her waist. She pulled off the towel and ran a comb through her long dark hair to separate the strands and remove the tangles.

She was ready; Cordelia swallowed her nerves and crossed to the bathroom door.

Angel smiled at her as she stepped into the bedroom; he had dimmed the lights and lit a few of the candles that adorned the solid oak furniture. “Dinner is served madam.” He waved his hand to the small table in the corner of the room. “Just soup and sandwiches, hope that’s okay.”

Cordelia smiled nervously at him. “It’s fine. Thank you.”

“You enjoy. I’m going to grab a quick shower.” Angel caught her round the waist as he passed, placing a soft kiss on her neck. “You look beautiful by the way.” He whispered in her ear before retreating into the bathroom. Cordelia sat down and began to eat.

Angel turned the shower to the coolest setting and let the frigid water calm his aching body. The purple creation Cordy was wearing clung to her skin accentuating her curves; Angel’s mind was working overtime imagining what she wore underneath the robe. Angel shook his head; he had to keep control of himself and take things slow. Cordy was more nervous than Buffy had been and the last thing he wanted was to frighten her by coming on too strong. The vampire took a few unneeded breaths and composed himself.

***

Cordelia laughed as Angel dipped her as the song drew to a close. This night wasn’t turning out quite how she’d expected. Angel had returned to the bedroom after his shower, barefoot and dressed in a pair of black sweat pants and a white t-shirt; he had sat down next to her at the table and chatted to her while she finished her soup and sandwiches. They’d continued sitting at the table just talking after she had completed her meal. Cordelia slowly began to relax; this was similar to many evenings they had spent in each other’s company over the last few weeks.

Angel eventually pulled her to her feet, put on some music and asked her dance. His style was old-fashioned; Cordelia had been to a few ballroom dancing lessons when she was younger but didn’t remember much. Angel was a good teacher though and she was a quick study so she soon got the hang of it. Her nerves all but disappeared as they danced around the room, laughing and joking with each other as they did so.

Angel reached out to pull her closer as the first notes of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’ echoed around the room. Cordelia wrapped her arms around his neck, lay her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. They swayed slowly together letting the words of the song affect them.

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid
I remember that time you told me, you said,
“Love is touching souls”
Well surely you touched mine

Angel lifted his hand from the small of Cordelia’s back and ran his fingers through her dark silky hair, tugging gently, forcing her to look up at him. Cordelia’s breath quickened at the emotions she saw swirling in his deep brown orbs. They continued to dance gazing into each other’s eyes.

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said,
“Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed”
But you are in my blood
You’re my holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet.

Angel’s other hand rose to join the first, cupping her face, and he bent down to kiss her as the final strains of the song faded.

Part 14

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