Angel lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling; he’d been in the same position for the last four or five hours, unmoving, unwilling to get up and face the day and confront the reality of the slow disintegration of his relationship with Buffy.
“No!” Cordelia’s raised voice intruded into his consciousness, disturbing his brooding. Angel shot out of bed at the panic he could hear in the cheerleader’s voice. Grabbing a shirt, he exited his bedroom and crossed to the top of the staircase to observe the scene below him.
Cordelia stood in the centre of the room, dressed in a pair of turquoise pyjamas, a white robe, plus a pair of big blue fuzzy slippers. Her long dark hair was tied back in a haphazard ponytail and her arms were folded across her chest in a noticeably defensive gesture. Opposite her was a distinguished older gentleman that Angel didn’t recognise, but given his resemblance to Cordelia, the vampire guessed that this was the infamous Mr Chase. Cordelia seemed to suddenly sense Angel’s presence at the top of the stairs and she shot a quick look in his direction, before visibly relaxing her posture.
“I said – go pack your things. It’s time to end this charade. I am your father and you *will* do as I say.” Mr Chase repeated in his strong authoritarian voice.
“How did you find me?” Cordelia asked, her voice quaking slightly at her father’s domineering tone.
“The school gave me your new address.” Malcolm Chase glanced disdainfully around the room. “Is this what you’ve lowered yourself to? I thought I’d brought you up better.”
Cordelia’s body went rigid as a flare of overwhelming anger ran through her. How dare he insult Angel’s home like that? Angel had shown her more affection in the past few days than her father had in nearly eighteen years. Cordelia was suddenly no longer afraid of him; this man had dictated the course of her life since infancy, and there was absolutely no way she was going to let him do that as she entered into adulthood. This was her life and Cordelia Chase was finally going to take it back.
“No, Mrs Franklin and various nannies brought me up better.” she snapped caustically. “You had no hand in my upbringing whatsoever. If you think you can come here, throw your weight around and I’ll just come running back like Daddy’s good little girl then you’ll have a very long wait! I’m not coming home and I am *definitely* not marrying that creep. If you were any sort of parent then you wouldn’t expect me to – most fathers would do anything to protect their daughters from perverted men like that.”
“That is enough! You will obey me, young lady” Mr Chase’s eyes blazed with anger as he reached out to grab his daughter’s wrist in a bruising grip.
“No, I won’t” Cordelia’s hazel eyes burned with rage as she tried to extract herself from his hold. “Let me go!”
“I think you should do as she says.” Angel’s calm, cool voice penetrated the battle of wills going on between father and daughter.
“And who are you?” Malcolm Chase’s attention focused on the handsome vampire who was slowly descending the stairs. “She doesn’t have any money you know – I will cut her off without a dime if she doesn’t return home and fulfil her obligation to her parents.”
Angel fixed the man with a cold stare. “I’m not interested in money” he stated flatly.
“So this is about sex then? How old are you – 28, 29? There’s a name for men who go around seducing innocent young girls, you know.”
“Yeah and there’s a name for fathers who sell their daughters to such men.” Angel retorted. “So let me tell you how this is going to work. You will get out of my house and if you *ever* go near Cordelia again, then you will have me to answer to.”
Mr Chase snorted. “I’m not afraid of you, young man.”
“That would be a serious error of judgement. You should be afraid – very afraid.” Angel stalked across the room and forcibly removed the man’s grip from Cordelia’s wrist. He then planted himself between the two of them, shielding the young girl from her father’s wrath.
Malcolm Chase glared at his daughter “This is what you’ve given up your privileged lifestyle for? A romp in the hay with this young punk? Have you no shame – do you want to leave your parents destitute?”
“If you end up destitute then it’ll be your doing Daddy. You were the one who didn’t pay his taxes if I recall.” Cordelia replied, her voice strong and sure. “And Angel is my friend, he offered me a place to stay when I had nowhere else to go; when you tried to force me into a marriage that I don’t want. I’m not sleeping with him; some people are just decent human beings who help others and don’t ask for anything in return. I know there is no way *you* could possibly understand that, but it does happen.”
“I’ve had about all I can take of your insolence, Cordelia. Now get your things – you are coming home. Ryan Lauper is coming to dinner tonight and he expects to meet his future wife.”
“I really don’t think you heard me. I said – Get out of my house and stay away from Cordelia.” Angel repeated, a threat of violence implicit in his words.
“And what are you going to do about it if I don’t?”
“Don’t ask questions that you don’t want the answer to.” Angel let his vampire features erase his human face to emphasise his point.
Mr Chase stumbled back in horror. “What are you?”
“Someone you don’t want to cross, if you’re intelligent enough to know what’s good for you.”
“He’s a monster.” Mr Chase implored his daughter.
“No, he’s a good man – you’re a monster.” Cordelia fired back at her father, stepping between him and Angel again. “Leave now Daddy. Go home and tell Mother you failed to force me to come back. Better start packing your stuff – the IRS are going to be after you soon.”
Mr Chase looked between a defiant Cordelia and an angry Angel, realising he had lost the control that he once had over his daughter. “You will regret this.” he informed her confidently.
“I seriously doubt it.” Cordelia replied, just as assuredly. “Goodbye Daddy. Close the door on your way out.”
Mr Chase glared one last time at his daughter, then slammed out of the mansion, the door closing with a bang behind him. Cordelia let out the breath she had been holding and sagged back against Angel’s broad chest in relief. The vampire’s arms rose to encircle her middle. “You okay?”
Cordelia nodded. “Yeah, I did it. I actually stood up to him; I can’t believe it.”
Angel pulled back the sleeve to her robe. “That’s going to bruise.” he said, gently touching the red mark on her wrist. “You should put some ice on it.”
“I’m fine.” Cordelia replied, then a thought struck her. “What about you? You were so beat up last night.” She turned in his arms and pulled open his shirt, running the tips of her fingers over the almost healed wounds on the vampire’s chest.
Angel looked down into her hazel eyes and gave her a small smile. “Vampire healing abilities – they’re the business.” He reached out and tugged playfully on her ponytail. “I’m okay – be right as rain in no time.”
Cordelia grinned up at him, then suddenly realised where she was and hurriedly stepped back out of his arms. Another knock rattled the door and Cordelia turned to open it. “Buffy – Hi! Come in.”
The petite slayer stepped through the door and looked around, taking in Cordelia’s bedroom attire and Angel’s unbuttoned shirt. “What’s going on?”
“Geez – suspicious much!” Cordelia exclaimed. “Nothing is going on Buffy – why can’t you get that through your head? I was kind of exhausted last night because all the energy was sucked out of me by Willow’s spell, so I only just got up. Believe me, if I was trying to seduce your boyfriend, I’d be wearing something a bit more sexy than this. I was just checking on Angel’s wounds; you do remember what happened last night, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I remember.” Buffy said softly turning her hurt blue eyes on Angel, who looked down at his feet avoiding her gaze.
Oh great! Here we go again – another chapter in the ‘Buffy and Angel’ love saga. They really ought to get their own TV show – it’s just like watching a soap opera.
“Do you mind?” Buffy glared at Cordelia. “I would like some time alone with *my* boyfriend.”
Just stay cool, Cor. Rising to the bait right now would be a bad idea. “Sure, I’ll just go and …. well be anywhere other than here.” The cheerleader retreated back upstairs to her room.
The blond slayer took a deep breath and launched into the little speech that she had rehearsed a hundred times before she had ventured over to the mansion. “Look, I guess we were all kind of stressed last night, what with everything that was going on. Everyone was overreacting to everything. I know you didn’t mean what you said so let’s just forget it – okay?”
Angel however, had finally plucked up the courage to tackle their relationship head on; he couldn’t let things drift and hope for the best anymore. “I’m sorry Buffy, but I did mean it. I don’t regret what I said, only the way I said it.”
Buffy’s lower lip began to quiver “Why are you doing this to me Angel? Is it because of what happened the other night – because I wouldn’t let you touch me in that way?”
Angel shook his head. “No, of course not. I just can’t be the person you want me to be. I tried so hard to fit into your idea of the perfect boyfriend because I loved you so much and was so terrified of losing you. In doing that though, I’ve lost who I really am and I can’t keep up the pretence anymore, it’s just too hard.”
“When did you stop loving me Angel?” Buffy sobbed, her heart breaking at his use of the past tense.
“I haven’t.” Angel replied, taking her face between his hands. “I do still love you, Buffy, but this relationship is not going to work if we carry on the way we are. I need it to be honest and real, not a hearts and flowers teenage fantasy.”
The blond slayer wrenched herself away from his grasp. “You call everything that we’ve been through ‘hearts and flowers’?” she spat out.
“No, but the pain, the heartache, it’s still all part of an illusion of perfect love – a Romeo and Juliet scenario.”
“Romeo and Juliet are the greatest lovers of all time – everyone knows that.” Buffy retorted.
Angel raked his fingers through his dark hair “But how well did Romeo and Juliet really know each other, honestly? They met at a party and got married within a few days. If circumstances had been different, would their relationship have lasted? I don’t think so. I’ve lived a long time Buffy; Romeo and Juliet are not my idea of true love.”
“Then what is?”
“Have you read Pride and Prejudice?” The slayer nodded in the affirmative so Angel continued. “Elizabeth and Darcy – two people who didn’t really like each other to start with, but got to know each other over time. Two people who became friends, who learned to accept the flaws in each other’s characters, and who eventually fell in love despite themselves. That’s a relationship that I believe would have stood the test of time; that’s my definition of true love.”
“And that’s what you want?”
“Something along those lines, yes. My life before Sunnydale shaped the person that I’ve become, I need to be able to talk to you about that; I need you to understand that, while I’m not him, Angelus isn’t a completely separate entity. I want us to be friends as well as lovers.”
“We are friends.” Buffy protested.
“No, we’re not, not really. Spike was right – we may love each other to death, but we’ve never been friends. To be that, you would have to accept me for who I am – the man and the vampire, but it’s like you wish that part of me didn’t exist.”
“That’s not true. What I said, at the ice rink that time – don’t you remember?”
“They were just words Buffy, followed by a grand gesture. Non of your actions since then have backed that up. How many times have you opened curtains, letting in the sunlight, without thinking? If you truly accepted the vampire in me, then not doing that would just be instinctive in you.” Angel caught her hands in his, forcing her to look up at him. “Tell me honestly. Can you ever look at this,” he asked, as he let the true face of his demon emerge, “and see someone that you love?”
Buffy’s breathing was laboured, her heart hammering in her chest, as she stared into his yellow eyes unable to look away. “Buffy …” Angel implored quietly, desperately.
The young slayer closed her eyes, and two tears escaped to run down her cheeks. Her blue eyes reopened and locked with Angel’s. “No.” Buffy’s voice was barely audible.
Angel staggered back; her answer wasn’t wholly unexpected, but it hit him like a ton of bricks nonetheless, ripping his heart out of his chest.
“Angel ..” Buffy reached out towards him, but the vampire waved her away, shaking his head. The slayer took a deep breath “Is that it?” she asked, her voice thick with tears.
“I think so.” Angel’s voice cracked on the words.
“Maybe we could …”
“No, Buffy. If we continue in this way, we will probably end up hating each other and I don’t want that.” Angel looked at her in sorrow, his deep brown eyes full of unshed tears.
“Oh God! I don’t believe this is happening.” Buffy cried out, her hands going to her mouth. “Tell me this isn’t happening.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry. I wish I could. I really do.”
Buffy turned towards the door and opened it, stepping out into the light. She looked up at her ex-boyfriend, crying openly now. “Goodbye Angel.”
“Goodbye.” Angel whispered brokenly, as he closed the door behind the slayer and rested his forehead against the smooth wood. He stayed where he was for a few minutes, trying to keep himself from shattering into a million pieces. Eventually, he forced his weary body to move and trudged slowly up the stairs. Cordelia’s door opened as he passed. “Hey! Buffy gone?”
“Yes.” Angel replied in a flat voice.
“But you made up right?” the cheerleader asked brightly.
“No, it’s over.”
“What?” Cordelia was shocked to the core. “You mean for good?”
“Yes, I mean for good.”
“Oh.” The pretty brunette didn’t know what to say. “Maybe …”
“Are you okay? After Willow’s spell, I mean, and earlier with your father?” The vampire interrupted lifting his gaze to hers; Cordelia reeled from the desolation she saw in his deep brown eyes.
“Yes, I’m fine, but Angel …”
“Good, that’s good.” Angel nodded inattentively, then retreated into his bedroom, closing and locking the door behind himself.
Cordelia didn’t see him again for over a week.
Saturday – a week and a half later
Cordelia groaned and stuck out a hand from beneath the bedclothes, grappling for her cell phone. She brought it to her ear. “Hello?”
“Hey C!” Faith’s bright and cheery voice sounded in her ear. “How ya doing?”
“Well, I was sleeping – what time is it?”
“About 8am.” came the reply. “I just wanted to know if you had any plans for tonight.”
“And you couldn’t have called to ask me that a few hours later? It is the weekend, you know.” Cordelia grumbled good-naturedly.
The slayer laughed. “Sorry, I was up with the sun this morning. Anyway, you free or not?”
“I’m free every night. Didn’t you hear? I’m persona non grata on the Sunnydale social scene right now. Having your parents flee abroad to escape the IRS does wonders for your social standing in the community.”
“You’re well rid of the bastards.” Faith asserted. “And you shouldn’t feel responsible for your folks mess, especially considering what they did to you.” Cordelia had taken the chance and told Faith her secret a few days earlier. The brunette slayer’s reaction had been unprintable, but the shared confidence had cemented the two girl’s friendship.
“I don’t.” Cordelia assured her. “So, what you got in mind?”
“Wes is getting all obsessive about the apocalypse research. I thought he could use a break, so I’ve persuaded him to come out dancing with us tonight.”
Cordelia began to laugh. “You’re going to take Wesley to the Bronze?”
“Hell no.” Faith quickly replied. “I want him to relax and the Scoobies are dragging B out to the Bronze tonight. I thought we’d grab a bite to eat first, then go to Lunar in Springdale.”
“Wesley at a club. Mmm, this I *have* to see – okay count me in.”
“Talking of B. How’s Angel?”
“Well, he’s still one of the undead; I stocked up the fridge with blood and the level is going down a bit. I haven’t seen him though; he must only venture out when I’m at school or asleep. He doesn’t even answer his door when I knock.” Cordelia sighed. “This has gone on long enough; I promised to be his friend, and the broody vamp needs a serious kick up the butt. Angel’s coming out with us tonight, whether he likes it or not.”
“You go girl!” Faith cheered her on. “Wish you luck C; you’ve set yourself one hell of a challenge.”
“Hey! A little more confidence in my abilities, please. The moping vampire will leave that room today, or my name’s not Cordelia Chase.”
“Okaay, me an’ Wes’ll swing by about seven tonight to pick you both up, then.”
“Sure, see you later.” Cordelia hung up and lay back on her bed, deciding on a suitable strategy for operation ‘Kick Angel up the butt’
Once she’d showered and dressed, Cordelia headed downstairs to the kitchen to implement the first stage of her scheme. Taking out a huge mug, she filled it to the brim with the pig’s blood from the fridge and popped it into the microwave to heat it to body temperature. Cordelia rummaged through the other cupboards and the freezer searching for the other things she required. Finally satisfied, she placed her goodies on a tray and went back upstairs, where she rapped several times on Angel’s bedroom door. As usual, there was no reply, but this time Cordelia was not going to be deterred from her goal. She transferred the tray into one hand and twisted the handle, relieved to find that the door opened; at least the vampire hadn’t locked it this time. She slowly made her way into the room with trepidation.
The room was enveloped in complete darkness with all the lights off; Cordelia could just about make out a still figure sitting in the armchair in the corner of the room. She reached out and turned on the standard lamp that stood near the door, flooding the room with a muted light. Angel was paler than usual, the dark circles under his eyes indicating a lack of sleep and nourishment. He blinked rapidly in the light, trying to adjust his vision. “Turn that off and get out” he growled menacingly.
“No.” Cordelia shot back stubbornly. “And don’t you dare get all ‘grr’ guy on me – do you know how many times I’ve knocked on this door in the last week? You haven’t answered it once – rude much!” She crossed the room to stand by his chair. “You and Buffy broke up – I get that. I know it hurts, but you can’t just switch off your life. It’s time to stop wallowing in self-pity.”
“I’m already dead; I don’t have a life.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Melodramatic much? Couples break up every day Angel; you and Buffy are not unique. You mourn the loss, sure, but then you make the effort to move on with your life.”
Cordelia placed the tray on the floor and removed one of the items, setting it on the small table by the chair. “There – yummy pig’s blood; get it down you, you’ve not been eating enough.”
She paused then, contemplating the brooding vampire. “Faith, Wes and me are going out tonight and you’re coming with us. Nuh–uuh, don’t even *think* about objecting.” She wagged her finger at Angel as he opened his mouth to protest. “You’ve got two to three more hours moping time left and then that’s it. I’m going to the mall and when I get back you better be downstairs. Here” Cordelia thrust the other item from her tray into his hands. “Make the most of it.”
Angel stared down at the bowl in his hands, bemused. “What is this?”
“Double choc chip ice-cream with chocolate chip cookies crumbled over it. I ate that for a week after me and my first boyfriend split; I put on 10 pounds, but it made me feel better.” Cordelia headed towards the doorway.
“Cordy?” Angel called after her.
“Why are you doing this?”
Cordelia turned back to face him. “We made a deal – we’re friends remember?”
Angel nodded in understanding, then graced her with a small smile. “Thanks.”
“No problem – what are friends for anyway?” Cordelia favoured him with her wide beautiful smile. “I’ll be back at lunchtime.”
“Hey C. Wait up.” Cordelia spun around to find Faith running to catch up with her. “You shopping?”
Cordelia nodded and held up the various bags in her hands. “Last ever splurge. Got to watch those dollars now I’m self-sufficient. What you doing?”
“Just been to get myself a new tattoo.” Faith pulled down the waistband of her jeans to show the cheerleader the dolphin on her left hip.
“You just got that now? I thought they took ages to heal.”
“This tattooist has the magic touch.” Faith explained.
“You mean that literally, don’t you?” Cordelia guessed. “That’s cheating – I thought enduring the pain was part of the process.”
“Fuck that – I got the contacts so I’m gonna use ’em. Being a slayer’s got to have some advantages.” Faith replied with a wide grin. “You got time for a coffee?”
Cordelia glanced at her watch. “Sure, I told Angel I’d be back at lunchtime – there’s still a couple of hours left till then.”
The two girls made their way to a small coffee shop on the high-street, where they curled up on a big sofa at the back of the shop with their drinks. “So, what did you buy?” Faith asked.
“A dress for tonight.” Cordelia replied, reaching into one of her bags and showing the brunette slayer the garment.
“Wow! Dressing to impress are we?” Faith whistled.
Cordelia flushed. “Of course not. My life has just been turned upside-down lately, and I needed something to make me feel good about myself.”
“So catching the eye of a certain vampire wouldn’t have anything to do with it?” Faith teased with a knowing smile.
“Faith!” Cordelia blushed a deeper shade of red. She couldn’t deny that, when she’d been standing in front of the mirror in the shop, what Angel would think of the dress had been uppermost in her mind.
The slayer laughed. “Hey, don’t blame you C – he’s a major hottie and single now.”
“Yeah, but for how long?” Cordelia looked down into her coffee cup.
“I have a feeling it’s for good this time. I don’t know what happened, but B is definitely acting like it’s all over. If you think Angel’s moping, then you should see the tragedy queen – it ain’t pretty, believe me.” Faith’s expression turned serious then. “You should be careful though C. Angel’s a great guy and all that, but he’s still cursed and he has just broken up with B.”
Cordelia nodded. “I know that. I don’t want to be rebound girl. I’ll be careful, I promise.” she laughed at herself then. “It’s not like Angel would be interested in me anyway.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Faith said. “He likes you C – that much is obvious. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, and he’s *definitely* overprotective guy where you’re concerned.”
Cordelia stifled the feeling of anticipation she felt at Faith’s words. Apart from one kiss, Angel had never shown any romantic interest in her. Buffy was the love of his life; she’d be setting herself up for a fall if she let herself believe that the souled vampire viewed her as anything other than a friend.
“What about you? You and Wesley, I mean?” she said, shifting the focus of the conversation away from herself.
“*WHAT?*” Faith stared at her incredulously.
Cordelia giggled at the look of abject horror on the slayer’s face. “You’re sure showing a lot of interest in him lately.” She teased. “He might starting getting ideas.”
“It’s *so* not like that.” Faith replied, a little flustered. “He’s my watcher. I like him, but it’s more a brother/sister sorta thing – Wes knows that.” Faith’s eyes narrowed as she caught Cordelia’s amused look, finally realising that the cheerleader was winding her up. “I don’t like you anymore C.”
“Sorry, couldn’t help myself.” Cordelia grinned cheekily at the pouting slayer. “Seriously, I think it’s cool that you’ve given him a chance. It wasn’t Wes’s fault that Giles got fired; he didn’t deserve to cop all the flack for that from Buffy. Isn’t the watcher/slayer relationship supposed to be more of a father/daughter thing though?”
Faith laughed. “Maybe for B and Giles, but I don’t think that’d work with me an’ Wes, he’s a total innocent compared to yours truly and only a few years older than me too.”
Cordelia smiled. “You like it, don’t you?”
“Like what?” Faith questioned.
“Having your own watcher rather than sharing Giles with Buffy.”
“I don’t think I ever shared Giles with Buffy – I was always the gooseberry in that little party. Yeah, I do like having a watcher again, despite what happened to my previous one. It’s a slayer thing, I guess – you just don’t feel complete without a watcher.” Faith wrinkled her nose in consternation. “Don’t you dare tell anyone I said that C, cus it would totally ruin my cool and fearless reputation.”
“And we can’t have that.” Cordelia murmured, in jest.
“Too right.” Faith asserted, then smiled at her friend. “So tell me – how did it go with Angel this morning?”
Angel stood in the kitchen doorway staring, aghast, at the scene in front of him. Every surface was covered with dirty crockery, or take-out boxes and the sink was piled high with washing up.
A feeling of overwhelming sadness still pervaded Angel’s mood, but mixed in with it was a sense of relief. Buffy’s unintentional rejection of his vampire side had exacerbated the already overpowering sense of guilt he felt over his past life, and he had struggled to cope with the oppressive weight of it over the last few months. This had lifted with his and Buffy’s break-up, and he now felt more at peace with himself.
He had wanted to retreat back into the shadows after last week’s events, but he knew Cordelia well enough by now to realise she wouldn’t allow that. He had therefore admitted defeat, showered and changed, then ventured downstairs, only to be confronted with the bomb-site that used to be his neat home.
Angel looked down at the blood-encrusted mug in his hand; Cordelia’s seeming acceptance of the vampire within him had helped to lift his mood as well. The brunette had handed him the mug of blood this morning without batting an eyelid, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. It hadn’t escaped Angel’s notice that she had stocked the fridge with fresh blood, without him having to ask, either.
Cordelia was a dichotomy; on the one hand, she displayed maturity beyond her years and on the other, she was just a normal teenage girl. She had given him ice-cream to help mend his broken heart, and Angel had eaten the bowl of dessert, even though he couldn’t really taste it, just to absorb the intent behind the gesture.
Angel sighed and set to work to restore order to the mansion’s downstairs living space. Within a couple of hours, the place was clean and tidy again and the physical activity had kept his mind off his troubles for a short while. He had just put the last clean plate away when he heard the front door slam. He went through into the lounge area. “You’re a slob.”
Cordelia had the grace to look embarrassed at his statement. “I’m just used to having people pick up after me, I guess.” she defended herself. “I see you’ve finally ventured out into the land of the living.”
“There were several things living in my kitchen. You are completely disgusting, you know that?” Angel replied, as the young girl off loaded her shopping onto the sofa and began to rummage through the bags searching for something.
Cordelia stuck her tongue out at him, then finally located what she was looking for. She pulled out a tissue-paper wrapped package and handed to the vampire. “Here, I got you something.”
Angel ripped open the package, shook out a bright turquoise shirt and held it up in front of him, a confused expression on his handsome face.
“It’s a col-our.” Cordelia enunciated each word slowly as if she was talking to a child.
“You got me a present?”
“Well duh! The black on black look is kinda sexy, but it wouldn’t hurt to mix some real colour in with it every once in a while. Variety is the spice of life.”
“You got me a present?” Angel repeated dumbly, his mind not really grasping the concept.
“What’s the matter – hasn’t anyone bought you a present before?”
“Not for over a hundred years – the last one was probably the gypsy girl from Darla.”
“Who you ate and ended up being a cursed broody vamp rather than an evil badass one.”
Angel smiled at Cordelia’s succinct description of one of the biggest events in his two hundred year existence. “I believe that’s how it went, yeah.” He examined the shirt again. “Thanks.”
“No problem, can’t have you embarrassing me tonight. We’re going to Lunar in Springdale. I hope you’ve got something decent to go with it.” Cordelia crinkled up her nose in thought. “Have you still got those leather pants Angelus used to wear?”
Angel nodded. “Yes, but I’m not sure about tonight. I might just stay in and … “
“Mope in the dark; no way. The leather pants will be perfect; Faith and Wes are coming over at seven, so make sure you’re ready by then.”
“You are not going to take no for answer, are you?” Angel sighed in resignation.
Cordelia shook her head. “Buffy may have thought it acceptable for you to lock yourself up in this place, but – hello – I’m not her. You should be getting out and socialising, going where the people are.”
“What did I do to deserve you?”
“You better mean that in a good way big guy, or your life will not be worth living.”
“I mean it in a good way.” Angel assured her, leaning down to press a brief kiss to the centre of her forehead. He touched her cheek gently with his cool fingers. “You want some lunch?”
Cordelia’s hazel eyes lit up; she’d eaten nothing but junk food all week. Angel laughed at the enraptured expression on her pretty face. “I take it that means yes. How does a veggie omelette sound?”
“Like ambrosia.” Cordelia replied, with a dreamy smile; her mouth watering as she followed the dark-haired vampire into the kitchen.
Angel paced back and forth across the stone floor, waiting for Cordelia to emerge. They had spent the afternoon in each other’s company, talking, playing cards, and generally getting to know each other. Angel had never felt so relaxed in human company before and, despite his heartache, had enjoyed himself immensely. His earlier reluctance had vanished and he was now looking forward to the Fang Gang’s night out.
Angel glanced at his watch for about the hundredth time – ten to seven. What was taking so long?
Cordelia had excused herself to get ready over two hours ago; Angel couldn’t fathom why it took females so long to prepare for a night out. Darla had suffered from the same affliction and in spite of the hundred years that they’d spent together, he’d never been able to work it out.
Just one of life’s little mysteries I suppose, he mused.
Angel’s enhanced sense of smell alerted him to Cordelia’s impending arrival, as the spicy scent of her perfume wafted into the room ahead of her. He turned to greet her, but the words stuck in his throat at the breathtaking vision before him.
Cordelia’s curvy body was encased in a wine-coloured halter-neck dress. Two strips of satin strategically covered her full breasts, but the neckline plunged as far as the wide ribbon of material that encircled and emphasised her small waist. The skirt was flared and ended just above the knee, showcasing her long tanned legs. She had pulled her hair back off her face, but otherwise had left it to tumble in a mass of loose dark curls down her back. Angel watched mesmerised as the beautiful teenager slowly descended the stairs towards him; her pretty feet adorned in a pair of strappy silver sandals.
“So, what do you think?” Cordelia asked, holding out her arms and pirouetting so the vampire could see her dress from all angles. The golden skin of her back was exposed all the way down from where the dress fastened at the nape of her neck, to where the skirt began just above her round buttocks.
There is no way she can possibly be wearing a bra in that sinful dress, the vampire thought and a wave of sheer lust flooded through him at the realisation. His fingers itched to reach out and unclasp her garment and expose her bare flesh to his hot gaze.
Cordelia turned back to face him and shivered at the dark lustful look Angel was directing at her. Her body responded instantly, her heartbeat quickening and her nipples tightening. Angel’s nostrils flared as the scent of her arousal hit him and his erection was suddenly straining painfully against his pants.
What the hell was he doing? The thought somehow fought its way through the fog of arousal in his brain. This girl was his friend; someone who trusted him to watch out for her. With a great deal of effort, Angel reigned in his baser desires and answered her original question. “You look beautiful.” he told her sincerely.
Cordelia’s face split into a shy smile at the compliment and she peered up at Angel from under her lashes; he wore his new shirt with the leather pants, and his dark hair was gelled to perfection. “Thanks – you don’t look so bad yourself, broody boy.”
Sex on legs doesn’t quite cover it, she thought silently to herself. Okay – bad thoughts, got to stop that.
Angel turned to answer the door when a sharp knock sounded. “Hey, long time no see.” Faith said to him as she strode into the mansion.
The brunette slayer wore a pair of shiny, black, hipster pants that showed off her new tattoo and a tight, sparkly, dark blue top. She had put her hair up messily atop her head, leaving several strands free to frame her face. High-heeled shoes, rather than her usual boots, encased her feet. “Hi C – you’re looking good, girl. So, you guy’s ready to party?”
“I reckon so. Where’s Wes?”
“Waiting in the car.” Faith replied. “Shall we go?”
“Aren’t you going to be cold in just that?” Angel blurted out as Cordelia turned to follow Faith out of the door.
“It’s 70 degrees outside.” Cordelia looked at him like he had two heads.
“Yes, but … never mind.” Angel stopped, realising that there was no way he would be able to explain away the reason he wanted her to cover up. He’d be there all night so would be able to halt any unwelcome advances on Cordy before they went too far anyway.
C’s dress got the reaction she wanted then, Faith thought, with an amused grin at Angel’s inadvertent display of macho possessiveness. This could be an interesting night.
“Time to put your tongue back in your mouth.” Faith leaned over and whispered in Angel’s ear.
“What?” Angel dragged his attention away from Cordelia, who was telling Wesley a funny story that had the usually reticent watcher in fits of laughter. Angel didn’t know what the anecdote was about; his focus was more on Cordelia’s graceful movements and facial expressions than her words.
Faith laughed at Angel’s annoyance at his silent scrutiny of the beautiful teenager being interrupted. “Could you be more obvious?”
“I’m not …”
Faith crossed her eyes at him. “You haven’t taken your eyes off her all the way through dinner.” she pointed out. Her expression turned more serious then. “Don’t mess her about, okay?”
Angel’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “You warning me off?”
“No, just looking out for a friend. C’s gone through a hell of a lot these last few weeks; just treat her right. She doesn’t deserve to be your rebound fling.”
Angel’s expression softened. Faith was right; he still had a lot of issues to work through with regard to Buffy, despite his growing attraction to Cordy. She was his friend, and she had the potential to be something special to him if he didn’t rush headlong into it. He needed to try to ignore his hormones and focus on moving on from Buffy right now.
Angel frowned then – he was still cursed; Cordy deserved someone who could be a proper boyfriend to her and that someone wasn’t him, no matter how much he might want it to be.
Faith watched as her words registered with Angel and frowned as his expression turned bleak. Great, really shouldn’t have mentioned B – he’s going to go all broody now.
“She’s doing okay, you know.” Faith told him.
“B, I mean.” Faith clarified. “She’s hurting but she’ll get through it.”
“Oh.” Angel said and looked down at the table as a fresh wave of loss went through him. “That’s good.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought her up.”
Angel glanced over at a worried Faith and gave her a small smile. “It’s okay; I’m okay. Buffy and me, we just weren’t working anymore. Breaking up was the right thing; I think we both know that.”
“It still hurts though.” Faith sympathised.
Angel nodded. “Yeah, it still hurts.” he sighed. “You’re right about Cordy too – she deserves better than me.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Faith protested. “I just wanted you to take it slow, that’s all.”
“We can never be anything other than friends; Cordy has her whole life ahead of her and there are so many things that I can’t give her.” Angel pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “I learnt my lesson with Buffy. I’m meant to be alone; I know that now.”
Faith reached out and squeezed his fingers gently. “Well, I reckon that you deserve more than that.”
“Do I? After everything I’ve done? Really?”
“You could have continued to live your life the way you always had; there are plenty of murderers with souls around. You could have given up and let yourself slip into insanity; you could have staked yourself and ended your existence forever, but you didn’t. It was your choice to fight for good, Angel. I think that counts for a whole lot, whether you do or not.”
“This is where I make a funny to get out of the heavy conversation, isn’t it?” Angel said wryly.
“I’m thinking that might be the best idea, or we’ll be hugging next.” Faith replied, with a grin.
“Can’t have that.” Angel deadpanned, with a mock shudder.
“I meant what I said though.”
Angel gave her a genuine smile. “I know.”
“You like her, don’t you?”
“Who?” Angel asked Wesley, even though he knew exactly whom the watcher was referring to. Was he really that obvious?
“Cordelia.” Wesley nodded to where the Faith and Cordelia were dancing together attracting male attention left, right and centre, much to Angel’s chagrin.
The vampire took a gulp of his drink before answering. “Whether I do or not is besides the point, I can never have her – there’s the small matter of my curse to contend with. I know perfect happiness; I end up psycho vamp again.”
“But that can be changed, can’t it? Your curse, I mean.” Wesley explained off Angel’s puzzled look. “A curse is just a spell; it can be adapted for any purpose that’s required. Removing the perfect happiness clause can’t be that difficult – you’d just need to do some research into Romanian gypsy spells.”
Angel stared at Wesley in amazement. How could the man just offer him his heart’s desire so casually, as if the answer was blindingly obvious to him?
Wesley observed the shock that was more than apparent on Angel’s face. “Nobody has ever thought of that before, have they?” he said, understanding dawning.
Angel wanted to say something, but his brain refused to tell his mouth to move so he continued to stare at Wesley blankly.
“Bloody Hell.” Wesley shook his head. “I would’ve thought Giles would have realised that before now.”
“Maybe, he did.” Angel finally spoke.
“You’re not saying that he deliberately kept something so significant secret, are you?”
Angel shook his head. “Not consciously, no, but Giles has a lot of reasons to hate me. I tortured him, I murdered the woman he loved and I’ve hurt Buffy more times than I can count. “
“But, I would’ve thought he’d want to prevent Angelus from getting loose again.” Wesley was a bit perturbed by Angel’s use of the first person when talking about his soulless self.
“But then I wouldn’t be paying for what I did, would I? Which is probably the reason the gypsies added the perfect happiness clause in the first place.”
“Now, see to me, that doesn’t make sense. I understand that they wanted revenge, but making you live with everything you’ve done for the rest of your life should have been enough. Those gypsies left the potential there for you to become what you once were. They allowed the possibility that someone else’s daughter may suffer at the hands of Angelus in the same way theirs had. To me that’s wrong – how does that make them better than you? What purpose does it really serve?”
“You’re almost making it sound like they’re the bad guys. What I did …. I don’t blame them for wanting revenge; they deserve that.”
Wesley nodded. “Yes, I agree but, whichever way you look at it, it’s still wrong that they left the potential there for other innocent humans to suffer. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be you, but I think the evil you’ve done must prey on your mind a whole lot. Can you honestly say that you could be perfectly happy for more than a short instance?”
Angel thought about that, then shook his head. “No. It happened with Buffy because for a brief moment I forgot who I was. I could never escape from Angelus completely.”
“So, are innocent human lives really worth less than allowing you to experience the odd moment of complete bliss?”
“I can’t answer that, Wes. It would be like condoning my actions and I just can’t do that.”
Wesley studied Angel carefully as the last of his preconceived notions about the vampire fell away. “I’ll look into it for you.” he decided.
Angel didn’t know what to say; he wasn’t even sure he deserved this chance. He was afraid to hope that he wouldn’t have to live the rest of his life alone.
“Thank you.” he finally said. “Can we keep this between the two of us for now? I don’t want anyone to ….” Angel trailed off, unable to articulate what he was trying to say.
Wesley got the point though. “Okay, it’ll be our secret for now.”
“Hey boys! Time to come and shake your booty with us.” Faith appeared in front of the table that the two men were seated at.
“I don’t dance.” Angel said immediately.
Wesley squirmed in his chair looking uncomfortable. “Uuh .. I’m not sure I …”
“Come on Wes. You’ll be dancing with the two hottest girls in the place – it’ll do wonders for your street-cred.” Faith held out her hand towards her watcher.
“Where’s Cordy?” Angel asked.
“She’s still dancing.” Faith said, nodding towards the dance-floor.
The vampire’s gaze swept the club for the familiar brunette and saw a handsome blond guy approach her. He watched as the man bent to whisper something in Cordelia’s ear and frowned as she threw back her head, laughing at whatever it was. The man placed his hand on the bare skin of Cordelia’s back and drew her closer. Angel was out of his chair and stalking across the dance floor towards them, before his mind even registered what he was doing.
“Uh oh! Trouble ahead.” Faith observed, noting Angel’s overturned chair and the scene unfolding out on the dance floor. She hurried after the vampire, with Wesley close at her heels.
Cordelia jumped slightly as she felt cool hands land on the bare skin of her waist. “May I cut in?”
Matthew, the guy she’d been dancing with, glared at the dark-haired vampire. “What century do you live in? No, you can’t – get lost.”
Cordelia could feel the tension radiating from Angel even though she couldn’t see him. The tone of his voice had been similar to that which he’d used with her father over a week ago; Matthew would be in serious trouble if she didn’t defuse the situation. She took a step backwards towards Angel. “Look Matthew, I was about to tell you. This is Angel – my date. Sorry.”
Matthew backed off then. “Oh, I didn’t know. You’re one lucky son of a bitch, mate.”
Angel just glared at the man in silence. Matthew took a deep breath. “Right, I’ll be going then. If you ever fancy a change, Cordelia then call me.” He handed her a business card.
Cordelia swiftly reached out and grabbed the card, holding back a growling Angel with her other hand as she did so. “Goodbye, Matthew.”
Matthew walked away and Cordelia spun round to face Angel, her eyes flashing angrily. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“He was touching you.” The vampire explained stubbornly, reaching out to catch her around the waist again.
“So – you’re touching me.” Cordelia pointed out.
“I’ve lived a long time, Cordelia. I know humans and that man only wanted you for one thing.”
“And you don’t? Of course not, how could I forget – you’re totally Buffy-whipped. Got to be blond with super-strength to do it for you.”
Angel’s anger flared. “Be careful little girl or I might just show you what does it for me.”
“Okay. Time out.” Faith stepped between the vampire and cheerleader before things got out of hand. “Separate corners. Come on.” She grabbed Angel’s arm in a firm grip and dragged him over towards the doorway.
“Are you all right?” Wesley asked Cordelia solicitously, patting her soothingly on the arm.
“What’s the matter with him? Where does he get off, frightening away potential dates like that? He’s not my Dad so why is he acting like it?”
Wesley suppressed the urge to laugh; it was blindingly obvious that Angel’s feelings for Cordelia were anything but fatherly. “I think he just feels responsible for your welfare. That man was a good deal older than you.”
“So, I’ve dated college guys before; what’s the big deal?”
“He was a few years out of college.” Wesley replied. “Look I’m not saying Angel went the right way about it, but his intentions were good. I think you might have been a bit out of your depth with this Matthew bloke.”
Cordelia nodded. “All right so maybe that’s true, but I’m *not* broody boy’s property. There is no way he’s getting away with behaving like he owns me.”
Wesley smiled. “I would say Faith’s probably communicating that to him right now.”
Cordelia graced her wide smile. “Here’s hoping overprotective guy is getting his butt kicked then. You want to dance?”
“I don’t know how to dance in this way.” Wesley replied, indicating the writhing bodies around them.
“Pfft – who cares about that? Angel created enough of a scene already – you can embarrass me with your bad dancing all you like. I’m on a roll.”
Faith threw Angel bodily against the wall in the alleyway outside. “All right, so now I am warning you off. You stay away from C until you get yourself under control.”
Angel’s head cracked against the brick and he saw stars, but it was enough to knock some sense into him. The vampire’s emotions were in complete turmoil; he closed his eyes and put his hands over his face. The pain of his break-up with Buffy; the hope that there might be a way round his curse, his physical attraction towards Cordelia, as well as his growing feelings towards her as a person; all whirled around in his head until he didn’t know whether he was coming or going.
Faith took a step back. “I think maybe C should come and stay with me for a while.”
Angel removed his hands from his face and looked at the slayer, shaking his head. “That won’t be necessary; I would never do anything to hurt her.”
“Well, it didn’t look like it a few minutes ago.” Faith stormed, her temper flaring up again.
Angel sighed. “I would have stopped before it went too far, I swear. I care about her too much to ever cause her pain.”
Faith studied the vampire, not entirely convinced. “All right, I’ll believe you but I’ll be watching.” she warned. “Right now, you need to get your butt back in there and apologise for going all caveman on her.”
“I was right about that jerk though.” Angel said stubbornly as the two of them re-entered the club.
“Maybe, but you could have handled the situation with a little more diplomacy.” Faith came to a halt and gaped at the scene before them. “Man, I *really* need to give Wes some dancing lessons.”
Angel laughed. “Why do you think I don’t dance?”
“I don’t think C’ll mind if you go and be the macho hero and rescue her.”
Angel crossed the room towards Cordelia and Wesley. “Mind if I have this dance?”
Cordelia glared at him, but took his offered hand anyway. Angel pulled her against him, tucking her hand against his chest and placing his other hand on the small of her back. “I’m sorry.” he said quietly into her hair, after a few moments.
“I should think so too. You’re not my Dad, you know.”
“Believe me Cordy; that wasn’t prompted by feelings that were even remotely fatherly.”
“What?” Cordelia pulled away and looked up at him in shock.
Angel may not have been ready for a relationship, but there was no way in hell he was going to let her think of him as a father substitute. “I like you.”
Cordelia couldn’t mistake the meaning behind his words, but she could also sense his hesitation. “There’s a big but coming, isn’t there?”
Angel nodded. “I’m not ready for anything right now.”
Cordelia leant her head against his shoulder. “I can wait.” she whispered as they continued to dance around the floor in slow circles.
Faith watched as Angel and Cordelia entered the mansion together. “I should have made C stay with me.” She worried out loud.
“Angel won’t hurt her.” Wesley soothed.
Faith sighed. “I wish I could be so sure; he was out of control earlier.”
“Angel has resisted the temptation to feed off live human beings for a century or more. He might relax his grip every once in a while, but I don’t think he ever loses control. The consequences of that are way too serious. I believe he applies that policy to all aspects of his life.”
Faith was somewhat mollified by her watcher’s trust in Angel. “Okay, maybe you’re right, but I’ll be keeping an eye on things from now on. If he hurts her in any way, he’s dust.”
Angel walked Cordelia to her bedroom door in silence. The young girl turned and smiled shyly up at him. “Good night, Angel.”
“Good night.” Angel said softly as his gaze locked with hers. Neither of them moved.
Angel looked down into her beautiful hazel eyes. Just one kiss won’t make a difference.
Cordelia’s heart leapt in her chest as Angel stepped closer to her and placed his hands against the door on either side of her head. She couldn’t look away from his deep brown eyes as he leant slowly down towards her, but finally closed her eyes as their lips met in a gentle kiss. Angel didn’t step back when their lips parted; Cordelia could sense his presence, his mouth still hovering over hers.
Angel contemplated her pretty upturned face; her long lashes were lying against her slightly flushed cheeks. He gave into temptation and kissed her again, tilting her face up towards his with his fingers and pressing his mouth more firmly against hers. A small noise escaped Cordelia’s throat and her lips parted under his. Angel ran his tongue gently over her lower lip, silently asking her permission to continue. Cordelia slowly opened her mouth to his questing tongue so he slanted his mouth over hers, running his fingers through her dark silky hair as he backed her against the bedroom door.
Cordelia was drowning in the kiss; her hands roamed over the hard muscles of Angel’s back as she instinctively pressed herself against him and tentatively reached out her tongue to tangle with his. Angel groaned at this contact and his hands dropped to slip under the skirt of her dress, cupping her bottom in his palms. He pulled her up against him and rocked his hips into hers.
Oh God! Cordelia couldn’t stop herself from moaning as she felt his hard length press into her belly, sending shivers of excitement surging through her. She dug her fingernails into his back and pulled him closer, her mouth fusing passionately with his.
Cordelia’s actions broke through the haze of Angel’s arousal and he reluctantly pulled away from her. He leaned his cool forehead against her heated one, closing his eyes. Cordelia opened her eyes to look up at him, her hands running up and down his sides in gentle caresses. “You’re going to tell me that was a mistake, aren’t you?”
Angel didn’t answer straight away. “Yes, and no” he finally said, stepping back and leaning against the opposite wall. He ran his hands over his face and through his hair. “The kiss wasn’t a mistake, but the timing was. It’s like I said earlier – I like you, Cordy, but there is so much going on in my head. What with breaking up with Buffy and … other things; it’s just not the right time. We need to take a step back and slow this down. I don’t want to hurt you and I’m afraid that I will if we rush headlong into a romantic relationship right now. Do you understand?”
Cordelia nodded. Even though she was longing to bridge the gap between them and continue what they had started, what Angel was saying did make sense to her. She had told Faith she didn’t want to be rebound girl and she meant it. So I need to do the mature thing then.
“We can still spend time together as friends, can’t we?”
Angel smiled. “Of course, I’d like that. I think it would be a good thing.”
“And you’ll let me know if or when you’re ready to .. well, you know?”
“I’ll let you know, I promise, but you need to think carefully about what it means to be with me, Cordy. I’m hardly ‘Mr Average’; you have to be sure that it’s what you really want too.”
“I will.” Cordelia promised, as she reached up on her tiptoes and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “Good night, Angel.”
Angel continued on his way down the hallway to his room. He pushed the door shut behind him and leant his head back against the dark wood, trying to get control of the unassuaged need raging through his dead body.
Now I really need a *very* cold shower. Being noble is such a bitch.