Anya had never been one for girl talk, but she prided herself on being able to offer her friends the absolute, unvarnished truth about their problems and concerns. While it was true that her opinions were often unsolicited, Anya knew that everyone around her was secretly grateful for her blunt honesty. Like the swiftness of a beheading, Anya’s kernels of truth were often painful, but only for an instant. Other people’s advice tended to be more like death by a shot to the stomach, a slowly bleeding drain of life. They doled out words of advice in such diluted quantities that it often caused more harm than good.
These thoughts spurred Anya into action late on the fifth day of their cruise. She’d taken a much needed respite from Xander’s fumbling attentions, and while she’d had more physically pleasurable experiences on this sea voyage than she’d had in a long time, even nymphomaniacs needed time off. So far, her mini-vacation had led her on a slow wandering of the ship’s many entertainment decks, and she’d found some really good deals on lingerie and accessories.
Feet tired, Anya had stopped in at a small cafe near the promenade and ordered a mocha with the intention of watching the choppy waves out the panoramic window. She’d barely scoped out the seating area for a place to rest when she spotted Cordelia, hands clutching a large mug of coffee as she stared out at the sea.
Immediately, Anya had considered leaving, knowing that Cordelia probably didn’t like her very much. And who could blame her? Anya would be devastated if she were in Cordelia’s position, having to see Xander in a committed, sexually exhilarating relationship with another woman. Especially after the way Xander had left Cordelia. But on the other hand, Cordelia did have Angel, a strong, virile and highly-sexed male in his own right.
In the end, the look of utter weariness and dejection on Cordelia’s face brought out Anya’s nurturing side. Cordelia obviously needed someone to talk to, and heaven knew that Xander would be absolutely no help.
Anya walked briskly over to Cordelia’s table. Sitting down, she set her mocha in front of her and dumped her purchases on the empty chair. Cordelia looked startled and stared at her.
“God, I never thought shopping could be such a chore,” Anya complained by way of introduction. “The bargains I got were fabulous, but really, they didn’t have to make this place so huge. I’ve never seen so much lace and leather in my life, and I’ve been in my share of Victoria’s Secret stores.”
Cordelia managed a small smile and sighed, realizing that Anya wasn’t going anywhere. “What did you buy?” she asked, her voice soft.
Anya searched her face a minute before answering. “Just some lingerie. A teddy, a merry widow, a peignoir, and some absolutely fabulous push-up bras. I didn’t know I could have so much cleavage. I thought for a minute I’d body-snatched Pamela Anderson while I was in the dressing room.”
Cordy laughed, the first happy sound she’d made in two days.
“So I haven’t seen you in awhile,” Anya said, settling back into her chair. “How have your classes been?”
Cordy’s eyes immediately dropped down to the tabletop. “Fine.”
“Hmm.” Anya’s raised eyebrows conveyed her skepticism. “Doesn’t sound fine to me. Is Angel being an ass?”
Having heard rumors of Anya’s bluntness, Cordelia was only slightly taken aback by Anya’s question.
“Is he ever anything else?” she said bitterly.
“Ouch,” Anya said, wincing. “He must’ve been a complete bastard for you to be so angry with him. The other day, you two couldn’t keep your hands off each other.”
Cordy wanted to explain how she and Angel weren’t really together, but that meant it would most certainly get back to Buffy, and that was the last thing she wanted. The damage control from what Xander and Anya had already seen would be bad enough. She took a sip of her drink as Anya continued.
“Was he flirting with one of the cheap, skinny little twits they have in hordes on this boat? I swear, Xander must have magnets to silicone in his eyes; it takes all his willpower to keep from ogling all the over-inflated double D’s we’ve seen on this trip.”
At the mental image Anya’s words invoked, Cordelia choked on her coffee. “No,” she finally gasped when she’d caught her breath. “Angel hasn’t been like that.”
“Well be thankful for small miracles,” Anya advised her. “But the classes haven’t helped?”
Shaking her head, Cordelia thought back to the last forty eight hours since Angel had shattered her world. They’d been to four classes and thankfully, every one of them had been low-contact. They’d managed to perform with a bare minimum of visible awkwardness, but the knots in Cordelia’s stomach had only tightened with every hour she spent in Angel’s company. She’d desperately needed time away, and her escape had led her to this coffee shop.
When Cordelia remained silent, Anya pressed her. “So what is it? I’m sure I can help you.”
Sighing, Cordy shook her head. “I don’t think anyone can help, but thanks anyway.”
“Oh, come on. Being a demon for so many years has taught me a thing or two. Give me a try. Who else are you going to talk to?”
“I guess you’re right,” Cordy admitted, setting her cup down and running her thumb absently along the handle. “It’s kind of a long story.”
“I’ve got time. Xander’s dead to the world right now. I wore him out.”
Cordelia smirked and then grew sober. “Did Xander or the rest of the group ever tell you about Darla?”
“I think she might’ve been mentioned. Wasn’t she Angel’s sire?”
A nod was Cordelia’s answer. She quickly outlined the recent history of Darla & Angel, without the sex.
“Tell me about it,” Cordy agreed.
“So what does this have to do with Angel being an ass?”
Cordy raised pained eyes to meet Anya’s concerned ones. “He told me day before yesterday that he slept with her.”
“Bastard!” Anya said, shaking her head.
“No kidding.” Cordy’s tone was bitter. “And to top it all off, the experience was so horrendous that it secured his soul. That would be a good thing, but he didn’t tell me about it and it’s been nearly six months since he found out.”
“So this is why you’re so upset? Because he kept this from you?”
She nodded, tears filling her eyes.
“It’s true he’s a lying jerk-off, but there isn’t much you can do about it. At least he told you.”
“But he slept with her!”
“So?” Anya’s frankness was almost cruel, but the sympathy in her eyes softened the impact. “You love him, don’t you?”
Cordy gaped a minute before answering. “Yeah, I guess, but—“
“And he loves you, right?”
Nodding because she knew Anya expected it, Cordy wondered miserably if that were true.
“Well, then, there you go,” Anya said, sipping her mocha decisively. “You have to forgive him.”
“I can’t. It’s too soon. Just the thought of her, and him, and–” she shuddered.
“Get over it, Cordelia,” Anya said forcefully. “That’s the best advice I can give you. If you want Angel in your life, you have to forgive him and move past it.”
The two women sat in silence as Cordelia rebelled at what Anya suggested. In theory, she understood why Angel had kept this revelation from her. He had predicted this reaction and she hadn’t disappointed him. But that didn’t change anything. He’d still betrayed her, and Cordelia didn’t know if she’d be able to get over that.
“Geez, look at the time,” Anya said, glancing at her watch. “I’ve gotta go.”
“Another class?” Cordy asked, smiling slightly. Despite Anya’s forthrightness, Cordy had enjoyed her company, if only for the distraction it provided.
“No,” Anya answered, smiling. “We have a romantic dinner planned at Chez Francois. Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it?”
At Cordy’s nod, Anya stood and gathered her things. “Think about what I’ve said, Cordelia. You shouldn’t let this ruin what you have with Angel. Even I can see it’s something worth saving, and I don’t even know you.”
With a little wave, she was gone, leaving Cordelia in a state of confusion. What Anya had said rang true. But did Cordelia have it in her to follow her advice?
* * * * * * *
At the rate she’d been going, Cordelia figured she could’ve climbed to the top of the Empire State Building at least three times on this Stairmaster. Her legs were so tired they burned and her body dripped with sweat. None of it mattered. This insane workout was dulling the pain inside just enough to take the edge off, and that was worth every excruciating step.
Catching sight of herself in the mirror on the wall of the gym, Cordelia grimaced and closed her eyes, gripping the bars to keep her balance. With every step the pain ebbed just slightly, and for that she was thankful. But if she stopped. . . Cordy shuddered. Somehow, she knew it would come rushing back, and this time, she didn’t think she could handle the intensity of her feelings.
But thinking about her feelings only brought her back to the reason for being here. Anya had said she needed to get over it. To forgive Angel and move on, salvaging their relationship and giving Angel unconditional love. But could she do that when she wasn’t sure of his feelings for her?
Such simple words, yet so difficult. Her mind glommed on to the rhythm of her steps and tortured her with the words, repeating them until she was ready to go insane with it.
As if she were destined for self-annihilation, Cordy’s mind drifted to earlier that week, the morning after Angel had told her his secret. She’d awoken completely refreshed, content, and happy. It had taken a good two minutes for her brain to register two very important facts. One, she was sprawled out on top of Angel with the limp languidness of a wet noodle. Two, Angel was a lying bastard.
It had taken all of her will power to keep from jumping off him as if escaping with her life. She’d forced herself to relax, inching slowly away from him until she breathed a sigh of relief at being free. Dressing in record time, she’d slipped out and found solace in the gym. Every day she’d come back here, seeking relief, but it was only temporary. She’d have to actually talk about this to Angel at some point.
But she hoped it wouldn’t be soon.
Angel’s voice behind her startled her so badly that Cordy stumbled and nearly fell off the Stairmaster. Catching her balance, she found her rhythm again and kept going as if he hadn’t spoken at all.
Not to be deterred, Angel walked around the machine until he was directly in front of her.
“Cordy, you can’t hide from me forever. We need to talk.”
She stared at the wall above his head.
“We can’t keep this up,” he tried again. “The last two days have been ridiculous.”
She agreed but was hell bent on acknowledging it. Finally gracing him with a split-second glance, she looked away again. “So talk.”
Angel seemed taken aback by her order. Every explanation he’d rehearsed had fallen short anyway, and he knew that there wasn’t much more he could say to convince her. Time seemed to be the only advantage he had, but he couldn’t seem to make himself be patient. He could feel her slipping from his grasp and the thought of losing her terrified him.
Watching her as she practically killed herself on the treadmill, Angel reached deep within himself for some way to fix everything. That’s when it hit him. The payback she’d promised him. Maybe he could use that to his advantage.
“We’re going home tomorrow,” he began, and the ‘you’re an idiot’ look she gave him made him falter slightly before regaining his composure. “And I want to ask something of you.”
She met his eyes again, silently telling him to continue as she turned off the Stairmaster and slowed her steps.
“I want to attend our last class together tonight.”
“The kissing class?” she asked in disbelief. Legs feeling like rubber bands, she climbed off the machine and faced him.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I’m not.” The complete seriousness covering his face gave her no doubt as to his sincerity, but she still couldn’t believe he’d even suggested it. In a flash, her frustration at her own inability to decide what to do about this situation flared into anger.
“Have you been slipping a little LSD in your blood lately? I’m can’t stand to be in the same room with you right now. Why would think I’d even consider making out with you? In public? With instructions?”
“Because you owe me,” he said simply, and with that reminder, her shoulders wilted.
“I don’t want to pay you back this way.” Her glare could’ve ignited a glacier.
Her gasp of disbelief didn’t phase him.
“You owe me for dragging me on this trip, Cordelia, and I’m demanding my payback. I told you I’d collect before the trip was over, and I mean to do just that.”
Jaw clenched in frustration, she muttered, “Well, why don’t you just demand that I forgive you, then, huh? Isn’t that what you’re after?”
Angel shook his head. “I can’t force you to forgive me, Cordelia. But I can force you to go to this class with me.”
Her chin raised stubbornly. There was no way she could get out of this, but at least she could salvage her pride. “Okay. Whatever. Be the overbearing, stubborn bastard. But don’t expect it to change anything.”
Turning to walk away from him, Cordelia made for the door, but Angel caught her arm and wouldn’t let go.
“This is all,” he added. “If you come tonight, your debt to me will be repaid.”
“Jeez, enough already!” She jerked out of his grip again.
“I’ll be by the room to get you at seven,” he added as she reached the door.
“You’re not coming back?” Surprise colored her tone. At he very least, she thought he’d be hovering in her space all afternoon, rubbing it in.
“Not until tonight.”
Shivering at the look in his eyes, Cordelia escaped. His words held a promise she couldn’t ignore.