There she was again. Standing in her doorway with a look of surprise on her face. Shoving a fist full of money back into her jeans. Who the hell was she waiting on?
He wanted to tell her he was sorry they had frightened her, that he had come back to make certain she would be safe. It didn’t come out quite that eloquent. “Why the hell did you open the door?”
“What?” she frowned.
“The door,” he sounded annoyed. “We just told you there is a psychotic vamp out stalking you and you open the door like I’m the pizza guy. Not a smart move.”
Unbelievable. The ignoramus barely knew her, had hardly spoken to her for months, and now he was barking orders at her. Terrified or not, she certainly was not going to take it from him. More than likely his words were not his own anyway. Buffy had probably sent him back to reiterate the danger. For some reason, knowing he was on a “Buffy errand” made her steam.
“The only psychotic vamp I see on my property is standing at my door.”
Well at least she wasn’t looking at him in fear any longer. Now she was ticked. He’d take that. It was better than the fear.
“Tell Buffy she doesn’t have to worry, I won’t make the mistake of inviting a second vampire into my home tonight.” She moved to close the door but it stopped a foot short of closing. She looked down and noticed the big black boot shoved in between the open space.
God, this was not going how he had planned. Well, he hadn’t really had a plan exactly. But he hadn’t expected to fumble things this badly. “Cordelia, I just wanted…..I wanted to make sure you were alright. You looked so….well….I just wanted to let you know I’ll be out here, making sure he doesn’t come back. You don’t have to worry.” He wanted to ask her who she was expecting but that wasn’t his business. No matter his attraction to her, he had to remember it was one sided. She obviously found him repulsive.
Cordelia didn’t move for a moment. Angel had not spoken that many words to her since the night they had shared a few years earlier at the Bronz. Of course that night had been full of smiles and easy conversation about vintage cars and a long list of things they had in common.
She looked down at her hand still grasping the door handle. She didn’t open it any wider but no longer pushed against his boot. “Um, okay.” Crap, where was all her sharp wit? Usually she had to tamp down her reactionary answers, but nothing came to her except……..”Do you need anything?” Oh, brilliant. Like she could help him in anyway. What was she going to do, offer her hairdryer, the lone pan in the empty kitchen? Besides, even if she had a weapon to give him, he didn’t need one. He could probably kill the vamp with his bare hands.
But for some reason she worried for him.
Wanted him well equipped and safe.
Did he need anything? Hell yeah, like a gallon of blood to replace what he had lost, data on this newly sired serial vamp, and a shit load of weapons that were all back at his place. “Nah, I’m good.”
There was an awkward silence and Cordelia felt for an instant as if she should invite him in. Yeah right, this wasn’t a date calling at her door. This was Buffy’s vampire boyfriend on the hunt. On the hunt for a demon that more than likely was stalking outside her home for his latest meal.
It filled Cordelia with a measure of worry that she wasn’t more frightened about that fact.
But growing up in Sunnyhell could make a girl a little desensitized to danger. Besides, Buffy was right. She and Angel always found what they were hunting and “saved the day”. Of course, Buffy would get all the glory. No one treated Angel like the hero he was. She supposed that was because he was a vampire. And because of that fact, they all kept their distance.
But then so did he. His only interest was and had always been Buffy.
That thought shook her from whatever stupor she was in.
“You have to move your boot so I can shut the door.”
“Oh,” he moved his foot then, pulling it from the space. “Sorry.”
She just gave him a nod, a quick…”Tell Buffy ‘thanks’.” And then shut the door.
He stared at the carved wood for a moment thinking himself crazy to have thought she was going to ask him in. And even crazier to have thought he heard a muffled ‘be careful’ behind the door.
He turned away, walking out into the tall grass of the yard. Tell Buffy ‘thanks’. Tell your master I said ‘thanks’. He kicked a boot angrily at a tall weed. Shit, did everyone think of him as her errand boy? Her dog? He had a mind to march back up to the door, to tell Cordelia he was the one that came back to protect her. Not Buffy. Mindlessly, he reached into his coat pocket for the small photos then remembered he had left them on the counter in Cordelia’s kitchen. He berated himself for that. For wanting the photos back.
It didn’t matter what Cordelia thought of him. Not really.
Angel slipped into the shadows around the large estate, wondering what it would take to change Cordelia’s opinion of him.
Xander Harris pulled his parent’s station wagon to the curb in front of the gates of the Chase estate. He stared at the massive gates, the grand house, and wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans. This place always made him nervous. Whenever he had picked Cordelia up or come to visit, it had been a constant reminder of just how far out of his league she was.
It wasn’t the money. That was gone now for her anyway. But something about Cordelia made her what she was. Every man’s dream girl. And he had been the luckiest man on earth to have had a shot with her. And the dumbest for blowing it.
But not anymore. Now she needed someone. And that someone was going to be him. The dress had been the open door. The grand gesture to win her back. Make up for being such an ass. And now the invite. “She had something that belonged to him,” she had said. A good excuse.
Xander got out of the car and walked to the gates, punching in the code he had memorized months before during their short dating period. He noticed the unkempt yard, noting that things must be getting really bad. He knew they were in financial trouble but even wealthy bankrupt families tried to keep up appearances. Didn’t they?
In all honesty, he really didn’t know that much about what was going on in her family. Just that they had been hit financially and their wealth was gone. Cordelia had given him some brief information about her dad owing the government some back taxes, but that was all she had told him.
No matter. She needed him, and he was here. He would help her pick up the pieces to whatever family drama was going on inside.
Cordelia opened the door to see Xander on the other side, a small, kind smile on his face. “Hey, Cordelia.”
“Hi,” she smiled back.
She had planned on a small speech at the door, a voicing of her independence but a solid and heartfelt ‘thanks’ for what he had done. But there was a murderous vamp on the loose. Okay, there was always a murderous vamp on the loose in Sunnydale, but this one she knew had been right outside her home, which sent a little shiver down her spine. And knowing definitely that it had been out there, made getting Xander in the house imperative.
“Come in,” she moved from the doorway.
Xander tried not to beam.
Son-of-a……Of course he gets invited inside. Angel stared at the front of Cordelia’s house from the shadows of an eastern tree line on the grounds, trying to push down a growl of anger as he watched the door close.
Xander fucking Harris.
So that’s who she had been waiting on.
Angel began to pace through the darkness, keeping out of the dim light of the moon, trying desperately to keep his mind on tracking the vampire.
That fool didn’t deserve another shot with her. Hell, he hadn’t deserved the first one. And now he was back.
When Angel had heard the loud wagon drive up to the curb, he had ignored it as possibly one of the neighbor’s cars. But then he had sensed Xander just as the teen was getting out of the car. He had started to leap the wall, do Cordelia a favor and tell the idiot to get lost. But obviously Cordelia wanted the jackass there. Hell, he’d punched in the security code like he lived there himself.
Well, Buffy did say her parents were gone most of the time, that Cordelia had the place to herself. Whatever was going on with her and her big empty house, she was obviously being consoled by Xander. Confiding in him whatever trouble she was in.
Angel’s jaw clenched as he tried to focus on the high wall that surrounded the home. Instead his eyes shifted to the house, back to the wall, to the house again.
Unable to stop himself, he moved stealthily to the backyard and quietly crossed the pool patio, tracking not the vamp but the boy inside.
“God, Cordelia, the house,” Xander commented as he looked at the vast empty space. Before, the home had been full of things he knew must have cost a fortune. Now, it was almost completely empty.
“I know. Not much to look at anymore. Without all its frills and sparkles it’s just a great big old building.”
“I didn’t know things were this bad. “
They were in the kitchen, the place she seemed to gravitate to she supposed because of the lighting. It was still bright because of the large amount of spotlights and since the cabinetry and center island took up most of the room, it didn’t seem as empty as the rest of the house.
“I asked you to come by, Xander so that I could give you this.” Cordelia reached into her pocket and placed the wad of money on the counter.
Xander stared at the money, disappointment on his face. It was not what he had expected. He shook his head, then looked up at her. “I can’t take it back. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. And it helps to make up for so much.”
Cordelia didn’t want to address what he thought giving her money could fix. That was the past. So instead, she picked up the money and put her hands out toward him. “Please, Xander. I want you to take it.”
“Cordelia, it’s not mine to take,” Xander reached out and took hold of Cordelia’s hands, closing them around the money. “It was a gift. Not a loan.”
Cordelia took a deep breath. She noticed that Xander didn’t let go of her hands but dismissed it as him trying to make his point. God, she’d become a charity case in his eyes. How pathetic to be pitied by the guy who had cheated on you.
“Xander, what you did for me was wonderful. It really was. But I really would like to pay you back. I have to stand on my own two feet now, learn to take care of myself. No ties to anyone.”
He didn’t like the ’no ties’ part. In fact, he loved that she needed someone. Finally he could do something for her, be something to her. Obviously her parents had tucked tail and ran in their shame of being poor, leaving her to finish out her school year. In truth, he probably didn’t have much more than Cordelia did at the moment. But he would be willing to do anything to help her. He assumed that she would probably follow her parents now. And he didn’t want that. Not now that they were on more equal terms.
Keeping hold of her hands, Xander pulled her a little closer. It was now or never. It was time to be bold. “I’m starting a construction job with my Uncle next week. With your job at the dress shop and what I’m going to make, we could probably afford a small apartment. It wouldn’t be much, but I don’t imagine you can stay here for very long.”
Cordelia looked down at the money in her hands, at Xander’s hands enclosing hers. A roommate? It would solve a lot of immediate problems. At least give her a place to stay until she decided what she was going to do. Of course, she’d have to find another job. She didn’t want to tell him about getting fired. Not when he was being such a good and supportive friend. She looked up at him then, and knew by his face that a ‘friend’ was not what he wanted.
She pulled her hands form his. Then, gently, pushed the money into his palms. “Take the money, Xander. I’m fine. I have plans. Did you think my parents wouldn’t have a net for me, a trust? “ She lied and for a moment noticed how easy it was becoming for her to tell an untruth. Not her style. And it didn’t set well with her. This would be the last, she promised herself. But it had to be done. Xander was trying to play the hero to make up for his past fumbling of their relationship and she couldn’t have that.
“But…..” he seemed bewildered. As if a well thought out plan had been foiled.
“Come on, Xander. I haven’t been of age very long. These things take time.” She tried to sound lighthearted. “Lawyers usually drag their feet on these things to prolong the work. I’ll be set for life as soon as the first check comes in from the trust,” she faked one of her best head cheerleader smiles.
Xander’s heart sank. And he felt it. The invisible wall sliding down shut. The wall that separated royalty from peasants. She didn’t need him. His great sacrifice had probably only seemed like a small gesture to her. He curled his hands around the money that he realized she no longer needed.
Cordelia fought with herself, made herself stay silent, determined not to ease his mind. She could see him struggling with her lie. But she didn’t want to lead him on. And she could see in his face, that letting him play the hero in her life would definitely lead him to a place she didn’t want him to go.
“I’m glad,” he said quietly as he shoved the money in his pocket, his masculinity cut to the quick. She didn’t need him. And she never would.
“Xander,” she couldn’t stop herself. She touched his arm, making him look back at her. “What you did was probably the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. I want you to know that it meant a lot to me.”
He looked at her, a small, sad smile on his face. He had thought that the dress, her situation, would be his second chance. He knew now that he had never had a real chance with her. “You’re Welcome,” he covered her hand with his, knowing that even if he hadn’t thought there had been a chance for them to get back together, he would have bought her the dress.
Razor kicked his latest victim, watching with anger as the limp body rolled across the wet grass of the graveyard. It should have been a great kill. He’d been very patient. Careful not to slice too deeply at first lest the human die before he had a chance to play with her a while. Then drain her. But with every sob, every plea from her lips, all his mind could concentrate on was Cordelia Chase.
The attack from the other vampire had come as a surprise. He had supposed at first that the reason he had not sensed the other was because all of his senses had been trained on the woman inside the home.
Breaking into the school had been a superb idea. He had gotten her name, file from the administration office, and those lovely pictures. Razor’s jaw clench when he thought of how he had lost his prized photos. No matter. Soon he would have the real thing.
Only one very big problem stood in his way. A problem he had intended on taking care of when he had circled back to Cordelia‘s home, ready for a surprise attack of his own. But as he neared the home, he had stopped short of entering the grounds again, identifying from a safe distance just who it was that had jumped him.
Angel. The abomination that hunted and killed his own kind. He had learned of Angel soon after his turning. He was what the other vampires whispered about, warned against. The boogeyman of their race. The horror of Angel’s tale came from two different fears for all vampires. The fear one would have to face him and the fear of becoming like him.
And Razor, with all his qualities and skills, knew he was a mere pup compared to the years of experience Angel had had both with a soul and without.
He could not risk facing the older vampire, but it seemed as if he had little choice since the souled freak had decided to swoop in for the rescue.
He would get to Cordelia though. Just like he got to all of them.
Razor reached down and picked up the bloody blade from the ground, wiping it on the young girl’s torn blouse until it shined.
He would get to her as long as he had patience. Angel would not be with her at every moment. He couldn’t be. Every vampire new and old was aware that no matter how strong and feared Angel was, he was for all accounts the Slayer’s bitch. When all was calm and the day saved, he would leave Cordelia.
And then she would be his. Razor would have a mate. An eternity to share his talents with the perfect companion.
Cordelia leaned against the closed front door. She had often wondered what in the world had attracted her to Xander Harris and now she remembered. He was, at his heart, a nice guy. And even though she did not, and knew she never had, loved him, she hoped the best for him.
Walking away from the door, Cordelia felt good about the way she had handled the situation. Sure, she had had to lie a little, but her family’s true problems were her own business. Besides, in this way Xander would not be left with a dangling hope that there was a chance for them. So, after convincing him that she was more than well off, she had plastered a huge smile on her face, given him a kiss on the cheek, a “goodnight”, and warned him about the sighting outside her home as she handed him the holy water Buffy had given her. Of course she omitted the part about the photos that she had hastily hidden in a kitchen drawer and the belief that the vamp was specifically targeting her. There was no need to give him another opportunity to play hero in her life.
He had been significantly worried, offering to stay until morning if she wanted. But she had assured him that she would not go out and so she would be safe. And with his worries eased, he was on his way.
It was by all accounts true. She should be safe and sound in her home. Her big, empty, home.
She shivered a bit, the thought of being the sought after midnight snack of a dangerous vampire did nothing to sooth her nerves in the big, lonely space.
Wrapping her arms around herself and rubbing at the rising chill bumps, she began to wonder if Angel had had any luck patrolling in her neighborhood. She walked down the long hallway and turned to the wing opposite the kitchen, making her way to the sunroom and its bank of windows. The sky, having clouded, left the night beyond the windows dark as black ink.
She stared at the darkened panes of ornately cut glass, finding herself worrying for Angel. Sure he was strong and could handle himself, but the rips and stains on his shirt had peeked out at her several times from underneath his jacket as he had moved around in the kitchen earlier that evening. She was sure they were from the fight outside and even though she had wanted to ask him if he was alright, neither he nor Buffy seemed concerned with them. So, she had kept her mouth shut. Yet another thing that certainly was not her style. First lies and now this new habit of not saying everything that was on her mind. Her world was definitely changing.
Not being able to stand the obscurity of the night any longer, Cordelia crossed the room to the switch on the wall that would illuminate the patio beyond, promising herself that the next time she saw Angel, she would ask him about his…….”Holy Crap!” Cordelia nearly fell back to the floor as the beam from the patio lights spilled down on Angel who was staring back from the other side of the glass.
“Hey,” his voice was quiet, muffled and slightly…..angry?
“Hey?! Hey!” she yelled back at him. “You scared me to death.” She tried desperately to catch her breath.
“Sorry,” he said. “Just checking on you.” His eyes darting toward the hallway with menace.
He had been outside, fighting the urge to eavesdrop on Cordelia and Xander’s conversation inside. He had lost the battle about the time that she had thanked Xander, given him the holy water, and that damn kiss on the cheek. Why in the world did she go for that kind of guy? He hadn’t even stayed to try and protect her through the night.
“No,” she put her hand on one hip, glaring at him through the glass, “checking on me would involve ringing the door and starting with a ‘hello’ or some other polite greeting. This….this is just….creepy.”
Just perfect. He was outside her home, keeping her safe, and she was lecturing him on etiquette. Xander got a smile. Xander got to come inside. Xander got her lips on his skin. “I didn’t ring the bell because you are not supposed to be answering the door,” he emphasized the words, scolding her for letting Xander in. And for the other things. “Besides, I didn’t want to scare you.” He added.
She raised an arched brow at that.
Even he got the irony in it.
Angel ran a hand through his spiked hair. What was wrong with him? He tried to calm himself a bit. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I am sorry.” He said a little dejected.
Cordelia took a deep breath. He had truly scared her. For a moment she had thought that the other vampire was back. “It’s okay. Just, next time, use the front door, like a normal person.”
Angel’s blood boiled at the “normal” comment. Yes, there it was. Normal. What every woman wanted. That’s why Xander had benefited so much from his visit. He was normal. The poster boy for normal. The rational part of Angel tried to contain a reaction to her comment. She hadn’t really meant anything by it. He knew that. But something about her pushed all rational thoughts from his mind. She could inspire lust, overbearing protectiveness, and anger all within minutes of each other. He would not let those feelings take him over. He would not comment. “Next time I’ll take a cue from the brave Xander Harris and ring the bell. Where is he by the way?” his voice dripped with sarcasm. “Oh yeah, that’s right. He didn’t stay. Even after you told him about the vamp.” Shit.
This time Cordelia put both hands on her hips, leaned toward the glass. “For your information, I told him it wasn’t necessary to stay.” She was more hurt than angry. She knew that. The comment seemed to throw in her face the fact that she was treated differently by the gang of crime fighters. And Angel was right. If it had been Willow or even Buffy, Xander would have insisted on staying.
“You even gave the coward what little protection Buffy gave you. I see he didn’t argue with you . Took it with him as quickly as he could.” Angel murmured the word “Pussy,” under his breath.
“That’s not fair. He isn’t like you.“
Angel’s jaw clenched.
“He doesn’t have your strength. He’s just as vulnerable as I am against the demons that roam here. We may not be involved anymore, but I’m certainly not going to send him outside to get eaten without a little protection. He’s a nice guy and I don’t want to see him hurt.“
“Nice is not a word that I would use to describe him.” Angel was particularly thinking of Xander’s treatment of Cordelia during their relationship. He had been cruel, devious, and again a coward after she had been injured. How in the world could she ever think of him as nice?
“Maybe that’s because you don’t really understand the definition of the word,“ she was angry now, really angry. “Because ‘nice’ guys don’t argue with women they care about. ‘Nice’ guys have manners and come to the front door instead of lurking outside and eavesdropping on private moments, or worse peeping in dark windows. And ‘nice’ guys don’t bark commands at people their girlfriend ordered them to watch over.”
“She did not order me,” his voice was raised now, “I came back. All by myself. “ He saw a small change in her expression. “Surprised? Yes, my brain does function slightly without Buffy’s help.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t invite you to play guard dog.” She wanted to make that clear. She was tired of playing the damsel in distress. She had to stand on her own. She didn’t need Xander or Angel getting themselves injured while playing hero on her account. She couldn’t stand the thought of it.
“Don’t call me that.”
“A dog. I’m no one’s dog.”
“Well you are certainly growling like one. I don’t need to be saved, Angel. I’m staying put until dawn. I can take care of myself. Go play hero somewhere else.” She immediately regretted the last comment. In truth, having Angel outside had made her feel much safer.
Cordelia stood at the bank of windows, watched as Angel disappeared into the night beyond the lights of the patio.
She felt drained, and …..guilty? She never felt guilty. Not when she was telling someone what she thought. Never then. But she felt it now. Sending him out into a dangerous night after telling him off was not sitting well with her. Why had she argued with him anyway? Did it really matter what he thought? He was there to hunt a vampire. Nothing more.
So what if he questioned her ability to take of herself. And why should she care if Buffy sent him over or not?
But she didn’t want to seem weak to him, unable to hold her own. The cracks about her judgment, about Xander, had made her feel silly, stupid. Oh sure, every human in Sunnydale probably seemed that way to him. Every human except for Buffy. Buffy was strong. Buffy could be his partner, not his burden. Why that bothered her she wasn’t sure. And she certainly didn’t want to investigate it any further. It was a dead end road and she knew it. It had been a silly pain inside her ever since she had found out that he was special, more than what she could ever be.
When she had first met him, thought that he was human, she had been able to be herself. Talk to him with confidence. But the moment she had known about his true identity she had experienced something she had never felt. Unworthiness. She had always been so admired by the boys and men in her small fishbowl that, concededly, she had known that she could have any man she wanted with little effort. But Angel. He had been different. Was different.
She breathed out a small groan. She had certainly screwed things up. He was probably half way to Buffy’s by now. Taking any protection she had from the vamp with him.
Christ, he had screwed that up. Angel leapt to the top of the estate wall and sat, staring at the house. Well, it didn’t matter how bad he had made things. She could think of him as a dog, a brute, an uncivil demon.
But he wouldn’t leave her.
Not while that animal was out looking for her.
And he was looking for her specifically.
Buffy had misunderstood the photos. She and Cordelia had thought the vamp was zoning in on her for a kill. But Angel suspected something even worse. That butcher wanted a mate. Someone to share in his fun.
The thought of Cordelia as a vampire – soulless, violent, evil – made Angel’s throat burn. He could never let that happen. Not to her.
He scanned the night from the ledge of the wall, sent out all of his senses. Vowing to keep her safe. The monster would never get her as long as………..a piercing scream rang out from the house. Angel jumped from the wall, crossing the yard with lightning speed. The lights that had been on in the house were all out. The big empty dwelling had been plunged into darkness. How had the thing gotten in?
Cordelia stood as still as possible on the stairs., a thin manila folder held in a death grip within her hands. She didn’t dare move too quickly. The stairs were mahogany, the floor below marble. She was sure a fall would be bad. Reaching out blindly with her free hand, she tried to find the banister.
The startling bass of Angel’s voice behind her was such a shock in the dark silence that Cordelia missed the railing and tumbled backward.
He caught her, nearly falling himself before he steadied them both.
Cordelia’s body trembled a bit at the feel of Angel’s arms surrounding her, but she shook it off quickly.
“Why didn’t you call out and let me know you were in the house?” Her anger bubbled up at him again.
Angel could hear Cordelia’s heart racing. “I didn’t want to scare you?”
In the darkness, he could see the same brow, raised in the same way it had been earlier.
“I know. I’m sorry.” He admitted softly, his arms still circling her around her waist, her back against his chest. God, feeling her body against his was threatening to stir parts of his own body into action. If he didn’t get her safely deposited somewhere soon, he might get “happy” right on the spot. And no one needed Angelus to make a visit.
Angel’s soft rumbling voice near her ear sent little shivers down Cordelia’s spine. Oh God, if she didn’t get away from him soon, he might feel the chill bumps breaking out all over her body.
“Up or down?”
“What?” she found that she was a little breathless and cleared her throat. “Oh. Up. I was….um….going up.”
“Alright. I’m going to hang on to you, guide you.”
God that sounded sexy. She tried to think straight. Concentrate. “Okay.”
She took a slow step, feeling her way. Her bottom brushed against him as he followed. Christ, this was going to be hard. He tried to concentrate. He was there to protect her, not act like some pervert. He focused on their problem. “I don’t think you should worry. I don’t sense him.”
“Who?” Obviously he meant the vamp. That processed a little late though sense her brain was on overload. With every slow step up the staircase, their bodies brushed.
Damn chill bumps.
The vamp. He meant the vamp.
“The vamp,” he answered before she could redeem herself. “The other lights are on in the neighborhood: street lamps, houses. And you have buried lines. The yard hasn’t been disturbed. The only way he could have cut the power is from within and he’s not here.” Thank God, only about ten more steps of torture.
“Oh,” was her only reply. He had thought the vamp had cut the power. She should be relieved that it wasn’t. Of course, she had known the moment the power had gone off that the vamp was not the cause. Vampires might cut the power for an advantage in the dark, but power companies could cut it too when you didn’t pay your bill. The lights were not a victim of the little horror show her life seemed to keep slipping into, they were casualties of another war that involved the phone and the items in her home. Poverty.
Angel noticed how silent she had become. She must be terrified. Poor girl. Chill bumps were breaking out all over her body. He wished like hell he could ease her fears.
When they reached the top of the stairs, it was agony and ecstasy to release his hold. He wasn’t out of the woods completely, he still had to guide her to a room, but at least he didn’t have the painful joy of holding her against him. Touching her shoulder, he asked, “Which one is yours.”
“Third on the left.” Crap. He was going to see the mattress on the floor, the empty closet, the nothingness that was left even in her own room. “Just,” she pulled away slightly, frantic to not let him see. “let me find it,” she reached out blindly, desperate to find the wall. “I can find it alone.”
He grabbed her arm in a firm but gentle hold. “Don’t.” His voice was soft. Kind even. “I don’t care. Whatever it is. I don’t care. I’m not a fool. I’ve seen the overgrown yard, the murky pool, the empty house. You can tell everyone your family is redecorating. Hell, you can tell them whatever you want. I don’t care. Just don’t do that to me. I know something’s wrong. You tell me or not. I don’t care. Just let me get you to your room so I can find some light for you.”
She stared in the direction of his voice, felt the cool grip of his hand on her arm, her heart melting at the tenderness in his voice.
He truly didn’t care.
Weight lifted from Cordelia’s chest, her shoulders. Angel wasn’t pitying her as Xander had, or judging her as she knew many would. He was simply there for her. He didn’t care what was causing her current situation, only that she needed protection. She relaxed, moved closer to him.
Angel moved then, found her room a short distance away, and ushered her in. The room was very large, with a massive closet and a private bath. But as he suspected, almost completely empty. He took her to the large mattress that lay near the corner, making sure she did not trip over the small lamp on the floor.
She did, not realizing just how exhausted she was until she sat. “Thanks.”
“Are there any candles left, flashlights?”
She shook her head, knowing instinctively that he could see her. It felt a little strange, and a little intimate.
Angel ran his hand through his hair, thinking. He wanted to get her some light. It was still almost three hours till dawn. But he didn’t want to leave her. Not yet.
“Camping,” she answered quickly..
“The servants forgot about the pool house. My dad has an extensive collection of camping gear that he never used. It’s in the pool house.”
“Alright. Stay put. I’ll be back in minute.”
“You don’t have to say….”
“I’m not. You. Say please. You’re getting bossy again.”
He smiled. He never smiled. “Please,” he said with a grin. Glad the darkness was hiding his stupid grin. “Please stay here until I get back.”
She had been right. The collection was extensive. He supposed that her father was like most of the wealthy. Always buying things they didn’t need or would never really use. The pool house had been stocked with every camping item imaginable. Lanterns, propane cylinders, camping stoves, skillets. Anything to make camping feel…well….not like camping. He lit the second propane cylinder lantern, bathing the room in even more light. He was adjusting the brightness when she said….
He turned his head, looked at her from his position on the floor. She was on the bed, a large duffle of equipment that she had been rummaging through beside her. Her eyes were on him. She was looking at him. Really looking at him. This was Cordelia. No barrier of wealth, no light flirty conversation. Her hazel eyes sparkled in the lamp light. He waited.
“It had been going on for a while. I just didn’t know about it. They were sentenced a little while ago.”
“Jesus.” He knew it was crass. Knew it was not the right response. But he couldn’t help himself.
“You said you didn’t care. It didn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t. It doesn’t change who you are. I just didn’t know they were gone for……?” he paused for her.
“Probably five years. They’re appealing but……” she let her response hang.
He turned back to the lantern, adjusted the brightness, collecting himself so he wouldn’t say the wrong thing. When the light was sufficient, he stood, walked to the thick blanket they had spread on the floor by her mattress and sat. “Do you have anywhere to go? Relatives? Friends?”
She gave a small, bitter laugh. “My parents burnt all family bridges long ago. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to look. And as for friends. Well, I’m afraid I didn’t pick too wisely. Most won’t be seen with anyone whose parents don’t have some kind of massive portfolio. I’m sure some of them know. Even though it was kept out of the papers, a couple of my friends have family members in firms around town. If they don’t know yet, it’s only a matter of time.”
“What are you going to do?”
She shrugged, began to pick through the bag, avoiding his eyes. “I’m going to the bank tomorrow about the house. I have no idea how long I can stay in it until the bank repossesses it.”
“Surely your parents had a plan for you. At least somewhere for you to go. Have you talked to them?”
“There’s no plan. No contact.” She left it at that, fighting back the moisture that seemed to be collecting in the corners of her eyes.
Angel didn’t push. He didn’t want to upset her anymore. She had trusted him with something private, something painful. He looked at the folder that lay at the end of the mattress. She had had it in her hands on the stairs. “You ought to get some sleep.”
“What about you? The sun will be up soon. You have to give yourself enough time to get home.”
He thought about his empty mansion. And hers.
He preferred hers.
“I’m going to make another round outside.” He stood slowly, without answering her question. “Get some rest.”
“Angel. The sun rises soon.”
God, he loved that concern in her voice. No one ever truly worried about him. “I’ll be back inside before then. Most of your windows have blinds or shutters. I don’t think I’ll be in any danger of frying.” He smiled. Just a little.
She liked this Angel. One that could relax a bit even in the face of danger. He was always so on guard around Buffy and the others. As if he were trying desperately to behave himself. “Be careful.” She gave him the approval she knew he was waiting for. Permission to stay.
He didn’t answer. But turned and left her room.
Cordelia looked to the white painted wooden plantation shutters that were swung wide and open at her window. She got to her feet, padded across the floor, and secured them shut before returning to bed.