Angel stood in the entrance of the sewer, shocked into his silent stance by the image of himself touching and caressing Cordy’s hands and arms as he stood behind her, watching the paths gently drawn by his fingers on her golden skin. It was his fantasy come to life, what he had never had the courage to act on the dozens of times he’d been in this very basement training her to defend herself.
He marveled at the exactness of it, looked at it as if he was in one of the many dreams that made his sleep restless and his ..manhood …known and quite uncomfortable. It was so precise, identical to the picture in his mind. It was the seduction. It was foreplay before the passion. And for a moment it was him, at least that is the trick his mind and heart allowed him to play on himself.
Until she looked at him, breaking the spell. Her eyes were full of shock and disbelief, convincing him that this wasn’t the beginning of some wet dream about Cordelia, and the arms that encircled her, the hands that teased at her skin with feather soft caresses disguised as wise instructions weren’t objects created in his dream world.
They were real, and not his. His anger began to rise at his double for touching her, acting as if he had earned the right, and at Cordelia for letting it happen. What was she thinking?
“Angel?” she continued to stare skeptically, as if the sight of him standing there couldn’t be trusted as reality.
His twin simply lowered his hands to his sides and looked at Angel as if he was the devil himself, come to escort him personally back to hell.
A terrible thought crossed Angel’s mind. When he had arrived in Sunnydale, no one knew that he wasn’t his past self. He had had to make himself known to them, tell them his unbelievable story in order for them to realize the truth. If he hadn’t, they may have never known. Did Cordy know?
Did she believe that it was Angel who had draped his arms so seductively over hers or did she knowingly let a stranger, a version of himself unknown to her, touch her in a seemingly innocent yet painfully intimate way. He couldn’t move for fear of his own actions if the latter was true. He waited for her cue, for some clue that would answer his questions and either give his mind relief or his demon permission.
“Angel,” this time there was no skepticism, no questioning tone, just his name on her lips, spoken as if it were an answer to a troubling problem plaguing her heart and mind.
“Yo man, what was that?”
“It sounded like a scream.”
“It sounded like Cordy,” Fred finished as the three friends rushed to the basement stairs.
Each stopped one after another on the top three steps leading down, frozen by the scene below.
Fred’s eyes darted around the room, “Oh my gosh.”
“He found a way back,” Wesley marveled in awe.
“Yeah, but now we got two of ‘em on our hands,” Gunn reasoned. “You gonna break this up or should I?” he turned to Wesley.
Fred scrunched up her nose, “Which one’s which?”
“Well,” Wesley chose to answer Fred’s question first. “I think it is safe to assume that our Angel is the dirty one who has seemingly been tackled to the ground by Cordy.”
The three friends smiled simultaneously at each other and turned their attention back to the sight of a grinning Cordelia, peppering chaste and frantic kisses over Angel’s soot smudged face.
Angel’s anger tried to battle its way back to the forefront of his being as the overwhelming feeling that his soul was experiencing at Cordelia’s reaction to his appearance took control. Damn good thing it was permanent now. He took her shoulders in his hands and pushed her back slightly. “Wait a minute,” he had to know. “You do know that’s not me, right?” he made a gesture with his head to the vampire who now skulked in the darkest shadow of the room, never taking his eyes off of Cordy.
“Who, Mr. Grabbyhands over there. Well duh, yeah. I’ve been telling him he’s not you for three days now.” She beamed a smile that seemed to light up and warm the dark and dank room. “You’re back. How did you do it? What happened?”
Angel opened his mouth but before he answered Cordelia stood up and offered him a hand as she continued to grin from ear to ear. “You know what,” she pre-empted his answer. “It doesn’t matter. You’re back,” she grinned and turned to the forgotten and sulking Sunnydale version of her happiness. “He’s back,” she reiterated, giving him the first smile that turned his stomach, making him ache to wipe it from her face.
Wesley read Giles’ instructions over again, double checking the ingredients of the spell.
“How’s it going?” a freshly showered Angel looked over Wesley’s shoulder, anxious to send the silent statue of himself back where he belonged.
“I believe we have everything we need,” Wesley looked up at the room as if announcing his success. “Now, if you will just step over here,” he motioned to the early version of his friend. “We can send you back where you belong,” he finished with a courteous smile.
The silent vampire couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “Wait a minute.“ Everyone was too happy, too happy that he was leaving, too happy to see him go. It hurt and enraged him that he had to leave this place. His home. What if he went back and messed things up? Wesley had said he shouldn’t remember anything, but what if he did? What if that memory caused him to do something differently? If he did, would he screw up this future that he longed to be a part of?
He was torn between the hope of remembering every moment spent with Cordy and the knowledge that not remembering would ensure that she would have a place in his life, and more importantly, that he would have a place in hers. That is if his future self would ever suck up the fear and tell this beautiful woman how he felt, how they both felt. He crossed the room and approached Angel. “I need to talk to you before I go.” It was more of an order than a request.
Angel looked toward Cordelia. She glanced at Sunnydale Angel, who was now walking into the inner office and looked back at Angel, giving him a reassuring nod. Angel reluctantly followed his past self into the office and shut the door.
He watched as his younger self reach for the shade on the glass window that faced the lobby. “Leave it up,” he said in a cold tone. “As sort of an insurance,” he explained to himself.
His younger self shook his head in understanding as he stepped back toward the middle of the room and looked out at Cordy staring in. “Insuring we won’t kill each other as long as Cordelia can see us?”
Angel, keeping his steely stare nodded.
“You think that would stop me?” the younger version asked.
“I know it’s the only thing stopping me.”
Both vampires stared as if daring the other to speak first, to say the wrong thing or make the slightest move.
The older finally broke the silence. “Tai Chi?”
“Worked on Buffy when she refused to touch me.”
“Cordelia’s not Buffy,” Angel reproached.
Angel gave his naïve image a cold stare.
“But I’m you.”
“Not yet you’re not. You’ve got a lot to learn before you can be me.”
The younger Angel looked at his older self with fear and resignation. “You’re right. I don’t know how to be this. I have no idea how to hold on to something that I’ve never had, never deserved.”
Angel gave an indignant chuckle. “You think I deserve all of this? I’m probably less worthy of this life than you are right now. I’ve hurt every one of those people out there more times than I want to admit, emotionally and physically. I’m not some righteous warrior who’s finally getting his due. I’m just a little wiser. I know what I do and don’t want anymore and I’ll do anything it takes to get and keep the things I do. Anything. Does that sound like some kind of moral do-gooder to you?”
“Cordelia seems to think…”
“Cordy thinks I’m some kind of champion, a hero,” he laughed to himself. “Truth is, she’s the hero. She’s saved me from myself. I’m here because she believes in me, sees something in me that I’m still not quite aware of yet. She was my friend before I knew how to be one to her. Cordy’s friendship helped me learn to love my son and the love I feel for her …” Angel paused, he’d never said it, not aloud. “The love I feel for Cordy secured my soul.”
Angel’s counterpart looked at him with disbelief. “You’re soul is permanent?”
“For how long? When does it happen?”
“Last year. It was… a …” he stammered.
“Dark time,” the younger said with understanding. “You’ve had a permanent soul for this long and you still haven’t told her how you feel, how we feel about her? You are a dumbass.”
“How the hell am I supposed to go back and trust you? You said you knew what you wanted now, that you’d do anything to get and keep it, but that’s bullshit. You’re afraid.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Yes, it really is. She loves you asshole. If you don’t tell her soon, let her know how you feel, some jerk off’s gonna come along and steal her away from you.”
“So you think I should tell her?”
The Sunnydale resident stood and looked at his future self with disgust, “Don’t fuck this up for me,” he half pleaded and half threatened.
“This isn’t your life.”
“No, but it will be,” he said as he abruptly ended their conversation by opening the office door. “I’m ready,” he directed toward Wesley. He was too furious to continue trying to talk some sense into his future self.
The prospect of having a permanent soul filled him with such hope, but the fact that he would be so stupid as to have wasted a year with the knowledge that he was free to be happy, to love Cordelia, made him boil with anger at himself. He walked to Cordelia, uncaring now of what his older self might think or do. He looked at her smile. It wasn’t big and bright anymore. Not for him. “I want you to know something before I go.”
Cordelia’s smile faded at his serious stare and he leaned closer to her and whispered something in her ear that even Angel couldn’t hear. He backed away and turned with a smug grin and stepped to the spot of the room indicated by Wesley.
Oh shit. What had he told her? Did she know about the soul? Angel looked at the smug grin on the face of the now disappearing vampire. Fear and anger consumed him. He was supposed to be the one to tell Cordy that his soul was permanent. He’d been practicing his speech over and over in his mind. For the last eleven months, six days, thirteen hours.
God he WAS a dumbass. He looked at Cordelia’s confused stare. He was going to have to clean up this mess fast, before that confused look turned into one of hurt at his not telling her sooner. That was it, the answer was clear. He’d come clean, tell her everything. Immediately.
Angel advanced toward Cordelia in long, purposeful strides. He grabbed her by the hand and headed for the stairs.
“Angel?” Wesley asked after his friend.
“We’ll be back,” he answered over his shoulder, leading a stunned Cordelia to his suite upstairs.
Angel stood in the middle of the now abandoned parking lot. The ambulances and fire trucks had gone long ago and he looked at the keys in his hand. Chicago had seemed like such a great idea three days ago. Although he had been there during the depression, he’d always felt a fondness for the town. Now he just couldn’t see himself there. It didn’t feel right some how.
He tried to shake a nagging feeling as he opened the door and slid into the driver’s seat. Los Angeles? He had lived there too, he had lived a lot of places, but Los Angeles had been one of the worst. The sound of the ignition echoed in the empty lot as Angel tried to understand why every part of him felt an urge, a desire, to be in a town he swore he’d never return to again. It was as if it called to him, promising him something that he couldn’t quite define but knew that he’d been searching for. Home.
He put his foot on the brake, placed the car in gear and headed for L.A.
Cordelia packed her last bag and looked at the bus ticket to New York for the fifth time. It had seemed like such a great idea three days ago. She tried to remind herself of all of the reasons she had wanted to go in the first place but now they all seemed wrong. For some reason she couldn’t get the ridiculous notion out of her head that L.A. was the place she should be. It made some sense actually. New York might be the Fashion Capital but she would have a much better chance being discovered in L.A..
Cordelia picked up her overstuffed suitcases and headed out of the empty house, wondering how much it was going to cost to change her ticket.
The click of the lock on the bedroom door, echoed through the room. Angel turned to face a still puzzled and mute Cordelia. Dumbass. He was sick of that word, sick of being weak and afraid when it came to Cordy. He wasn’t a dumbass, he was afraid, terrified even of what confessing everything might do to her, to their relationship.
The truth was that he didn’t know if he would have ever told her, and even if he did, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It should have been over a romantic candlelit dinner or as they were both smiling and playing with Connor on the floor. Oh well, so much for romance and Kodak family moments. The truth was out and now it was time to explain, in his own words.
He walked to her cautiously and lead her to the bed, seating her beside him. Taking a deep breath and cursing his impatient younger self for forcing him into this when he wasn’t ready, he began, “Cordy, what he told you down there…”
Cordelia opened her mouth, finally it seemed she was ready to speak but Angel silenced her with his hand. He couldn’t risk the chance that her words might change what he had to say.
“Please Cordy, just listen. What he told you down there, I should have told you months ago. It was just so hard, not knowing if you’d ever forgive me for firing all of you, for turning my back on my friends, my family. When I did get you back, I couldn’t tell you, not then. I had to concentrate on winning back your trust. My happiness, my soul, came second to that.”
He looked at the confusion still plaguing her face and decided to start from the beginning.
“Cordy,” he touched her hand and gently lifted it into his own. “When you first showed up in L.A. you drove me insane. I thought that the reason I was drawn to you was because you were weak and alone. I thought because I knew you, because we had a connection, that it was my duty to protect you from the big bad world, be some kind of dark hero for you. I thought without me, you’d never survive.
“When Vocah cursed you, and you laid so helpless and lost in the hospital, a revelation hit me like a ton of bricks. You weren’t the weak one, I was. I was the one who couldn’t survive without you. I swore that night that I would always keep you safe, no matter the price.
“When Darla came, I was foolish enough to think that price was giving you up. Abandoning you for your own good.”
For the first time the confusion was wiped from Cordelia’s face, replaced by hurt and anger.
He took a calming breath and continued, “When I finally pushed hard enough, knew that I had probably lost you for good, I snapped. It was one of the biggest of a long list of mistakes in my existence. When Darla came to me,” he looked away from her, unable to withstand the judgment and disappointment he knew were in her eyes. “I welcomed her, not for what she wanted, but for what I wanted, death. She was my coward’s way out of a world that didn’t want me, a world that included you.
“When it was…over, I couldn’t understand what had went wrong. I was still here and Angelus was…gone. I didn’t really understand how or why it happened, but I just knew. I went to see Lorne and he read me and told me that what I was feeling was right in a sense. He said that Angelus was still there, that as long as I was a vampire he would be, but that I controlled him now. Then he started talking about rainbows and red shoes, and how I had had the power all along. I really didn’t get that part.”
“You’re soul is safe, it’s permanent?”
“Isn’t that what…I saw him lean over and whisper it to you downstairs. That’s what he told you. Right?”
“You’re weirdo body double bent forward and kissed me on the ear. It shocked me so much I couldn’t even tear into him with some witty insult.”
“That son-of-a … he kissed you?”
“You’re soul is permanent,” she said with an accusing tone as if he’d just committed some horrible crime.
“You’re not happy,” he said, his heart beginning to sink. Maybe she didn’t think he deserved it after the things he had done. She was right if she thought that, he didn’t.
Cordelia stood and began to pace in front of him as if trying to think of a proper punishment for such an offense. Angel’s soul was bound, permanent. He could be happy. He was free. She should be happy for him. But she wasn’t. She tried to be, she searched for a feeling, any feeling that could be close to happiness or relief, but all she could find was fear. Angel was free, free to be happy, free to love, and free to leave.
That’s what scared her the most. What if that is what he wanted? To leave. Sadness joined fear at the thought of that possibility. He had just been in Sunnydale, with a permanent soul. With Buffy. But he had known about his soul for much longer than that. Maybe this was where he wanted to be. She could imagine Buffy’s response at hearing the news of his soul. “We can be happy now Angel. Stay with me, where you belong,” she mocked the Slayer in her mind. She had probably cried and pouted and used every weakness she knew of his to convince him to stay, whether he wanted to or not.
Well, no matter how much Cordy’s heart broke at the possibility of Angel leaving, no matter how much she loved him and wanted him to stay, she wouldn’t, couldn’t play those games with him. She loved him, but if leaving was what would make him happy, he had to know that he was free.
“You should have told us a long time ago Angel. I mean, this changes everything.”
And there it was. His fear sprouted wings and flew directly in his face. He watched her as she paced, obviously bothered by what he had said. She had said it changed everything. That was supposed to be a good thing. It was supposed to change their relationship, take it to a new level, changing a beautiful friendship into a passionate, all consuming love.
Change had been a good thing, an excellent description for what was to come. Until Cordy had said it with disappointment in her voice. Angel put his face in his hands and rubbed at it roughly, as if trying to wash away the multitude of emotions that bombarded him. “I know Cordy, it does. I’m sorry.”
She closed her eyes and continued to pace, “It’s alright,” she soothed. God help her, he was breaking her heart into a million pieces and she still couldn’t stand the sight of him in pain. After all, he had confessed to her how much their friendship had meant, how he couldn’t get along without her. At least she still had that.
That was something. Her mind began to work overtime as she brainstormed, trying to find a way that Angel could be happy without turning his back on the mission. “Well, Sunnydale’s only a little over two hours away. We could all visit and I could call you for the really nasty visions.”
Angel shot up from the bed, grabbing her by the shoulders and forcing her monotonous pacing to halt. It was worse than he thought. He’d been afraid that she might not be happy, might not return his feelings, but he never expected her to run away, especially to Sunnydale. “You are not going to Sunnydale.”
“I know that,” he didn’t have to rub it in. “But you are, and that means…”
“No, I’m not Cordy.”
“You’re free Angel,” damn it, she tried not to let the tears in her eyes show.
That’s the change she meant, that was what disappointed her. Angel’s fear ebbed away as waves of hope began to crash into his heart. “Yes, I’m free,” he said smoothly in a whisper just inches from her face. “Free to be happy, to dare to relish the thought of being a father to Connor, and to love you. You Cordy. I love you.”
Cordy stared blankly back at him.
“Cordelia, I just told you that I’m in love with you.”
She nodded her head dumbly.
“Please say something, anything. ‘I hate you, I love you, let’s just be friends’ anything, just talk to me please.”
He loved her. He loved HER. Cordelia smiled and she flung her arms around his neck, whispering in his ear, “I love you Angel. I don’t know when it happened, when I actually fell. I just know that when you were gone, there was this possibility hanging over us that you might never come back. That’s when I realized it. That’s when I knew,” she pushed back, the smile still on her face and her eyes glistening.
Angel brushed a wisp of hair from her cheek and looked at her, really looked at her.
Cordelia swallowed, Angel’s eyes were so full. They expressed joy, love, want, need, and desire all in one breathtaking dark stare. She unconsciously licked her lips, her mouth aching for his to cover it, consume it until she struggled for air.
She loved him. She had said it and he had heard it. It wasn’t some sweet fantasy or hot sweaty dream. She loved him and now he truly was free. He leaned down and captured her mouth, devouring it with a desperate and passionate kiss. His lips left hers and his arms tightened around her. He looked back in her eyes. “You really love me,” it wasn’t a question, more of a bewildering and unbelievable statement of bizarre fact.
She brushed her knuckles gently against his cheek and then touched the palm of her hand to the side of his face. “Completely,” she breathed.
Angel closed his eyes and kissed the palm of her hand. “God Cordy,” his eyes were still closed. “You’re gonna have to take the lead here. I don’t know if I can take this nice and slow.” He meant it, his self control was waning. Her admission of love had been his undoing. She had set him free and like a caged bird or a gated race horse, he was ready to bolt, to speed toward that freedom as fast as he could.
Cordelia cupped his face again, brushing her thumb across his cheek. “I don’t think nice or slow defines either of us very well,” she answered, aroused by the bare feelings he was laying open to her.
Angel’s mouth instantly covered hers again. Cordelia’s lips parted, welcoming every caress and taste. She shivered as his hands glided down her sides, his fingers gently wrapping themselves in the hem of her t-shirt. She felt his featherlike touches on her skin as the cotton garment was pushed slowly upward and she instinctively raised her arms, breaking the kiss only for the second it took to pull the shirt over her head.
God she was so beautiful. She stood there in front of him, old sweat pants, a sports bra and a messy pony tail and to Angel she was the most breathtaking woman he had ever seen. He sunk slowly to his knees and pulled the tie of her sweats loose and sliding them over her hips, prompted her to step free from them.
She waited for him to stand again, but he leaned forward and dropped a gentle kiss on her belly, her hip, and let his hands slide slowly and lovingly down the length of her thigh. “You scared me,” he whispered.
She placed a hand on his head and began to comb her fingers through his messy hair, trying to sooth any doubts he could possibly have.
“When you started talking about Sunnydale I thought…I thought you were running away, I thought you were going to run and hide from me.” He buried his face against the skin that covered her taut stomach and breathed in her scent. Hooking his thumbs inside of the material of her panties he robbed her of them much quicker than the sweats.
His eyes drunk her in as he raised to his feet and circled his arms around her, his hands craftily unhooking the last little scrap of modesty she had left. After tossing the bra aside, he turned and looked at the masterpiece that stood before him.
Cordelia studied his predatory gaze as it roved over her body. Suddenly feeling the bareness of her heart and the nakedness of her body, she tried to cover herself with her arms.
“No,” Angel finally touched her, guiding her arms away from her body. “Never hide from me Cordy,” he gave his gentle order and looked back into her eyes. “I want to know you, all of you. Besides, haven’t we both been hiding from each other long enough?”
Cordelia tried to relax her arms at her sides as she bit her lip and blushed darkly. When she felt that she could move her hands steadily, she lifted them to Angel’s shirt and began to unbutton it as gracefully as her nervousness would allow.
Christ, she was going too slow. The way her delicate hands tickled the bottom of his neck as they slowly opened his top button was driving him crazy. He reached down and began undoing the rest from the bottom up, meeting her at button number two. She smiled at him and pushed the shirt from his shoulders and onto the floor.
He really wanted to watch her as she undressed him, as her elegant hands unbuckled him, divesting him of anything that now stood as a barrier between her body and his. But his eagerness to have her, to make her call his name, to show her in anyway she would let him just how much he loved her, was just too strong to fight.
Cordelia’s eyes widened at the speed of which Angel removed his boots and pants, his eyes never leaving hers in the second it took to discard them. She gave a small squeak as he swept her up in his arms and laid her on the bed. Cordy looked up at Angel, her Angel, hovering above her.
Angel’s mind swarmed with all of his fantasies, some tenderly passionate, some not. He wanted them all, each fantasy, each dream right here and now. He stilled, hovering over her. What did she want? What would she allow? She was smiling again, not the brilliant megawatt smile that lit up the room and his life. It was a small, loving, knowing smile that said ’Yes’. It was permission. He lowered some of his weight onto her, his aching want pressing hard against her thigh. ‘Tenderly,’ he told himself. That is the way it would always start with her, tenderly and lovingly.
Cordelia wrapped her strong slender arms around his neck and kissed him. Angel’s mouth left hers and began to explore her body with gentle precision. His tongue lashed out tenderly, tasting the curve of her neck, her shoulder, the tight pert peak of one breast, then the other. He buried his face in the valley between them, kissing a nipping his way back to her mouth.
Her eyes closed and a soft sigh of pleasure escaped her lips when she felt his arousal touching her center, waiting to be invited in. “I love you,” his voice was vulnerable and shaky, ragged with desperate longing. It was the secret pass word that opened her to him. He nudged himself inside of her, pushing himself deeper with each lazy, wonderful, agonizing stroke.
Her heat scorched him. Their bodies rocked together, sighing and gasping with the consuming pleasure of each gliding thrust. He had to close his eyes to keep his control as they both succumbed to a frantic, surging rhythm that caressed him, pushed him to the edge.
Each time he had touched her that night, it had started out the same, slow and tender, eventually escalating into something desperate and primal, leaving them both spent but wanting and needing more. She had lost count of the number of times she had screamed his name, melting into a pool of trembling nerves. At some point each climatic orgasm had blended into one endless shuddering wave.
Cordy tried to will herself to wake and stretched out her hand sleepily, searching for the missing vampire who had put her in such a state of exhaustion. Finding the spot beside her empty, she opened one eye, then another and propped herself up on one elbow.
She smiled as she watched Angel slowly pacing the room wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and gently cradling his son in his strong arms. “When did he wake up?” she asked in a whisper.
Angel walked to the side of the bed, “He didn’t. I just needed to hold him for a while. I missed him.”
Cordelia smiled. “I think he missed you too. Why don’t you bring him to bed. We all need to get some sleep,” she scooted over and pulled back the edge of the covers. Angel laid Connor beside her and slid in after him. He watched his son’s cherub face, fixed in peaceful slumber. He looked at Cordy as she smiled at him again, whispering “I love you Angel,” before slipping back to sleep. He stared at the two most important beings in his life. He laid his arm protectively over his son and caressed Cordelia’s face with his hand. How had he gotten so lucky?