The butterflies in Cordelia’s stomach had turned into bats. They fluttered, her stomach clenching, as she perched on the edge of the bed in the stateroom and watched in agony as the clock turned over another number. 6:50. Angel wasn’t even late yet.
Cordelia, desperately trying to avoid a repeat of earlier in the week when Angel had caught her topless, had gotten dressed early. She’d been completely ready by 6:30 and had spent the last twenty minutes in torturous, nerve-wracking silence. She’d paced, primped, twitched, and growled, but nothing had made the time pass more quickly.
Dressing in and of itself had been a trying ordeal. Should she go casual or dressed up? Comfortable or sexy? Sexy and comfortable? Did she want to project an approachable air, despite her anger at Angel, or did she want to be aloof? Every one of these questions made her limited supply of clothing seem that much more inadequate. She’d finally settled for a pair of black, hip-hugging pants and a knit shirt that clung to her curves without being trampy. The colors were dark, colors she felt safe and warm in, and they covered her skin enough to make her feel less vulnerable.
Even make-up had become a problem. This was a kissing class, so she didn’t want products that would rub off. She’d tried on every color lipstick and every sheer shade of lip gloss she’d brought with her before finally settling on plain old cherry-flavored Chapstick. Her other make-up was understated as well. Surprisingly, she had felt pleased when she looked in the mirror to survey the final result.
More serious trepidations had made her grooming seem trite in comparison. On one hand, she was glad that at last, there was no mystery to this payback that Angel had demanded. When unknown, the debt hanging over her head had taken on monstrous forms, and her imagination had run away with her. It was a small relief to know that after tonight, her debt would be repaid and she could move on with her life.
But on the other, and significantly more prominent, hand, was a gigantic worry as to how she would survive this payback intact. Had Angel asked for anything more sexual, she could be disgusted by it and tune herself out. Had he asked for anything more platonic, she could gird herself with her best emotional armor and battle through it.
Just thinking about it now made her shiver. Kisses shared with Angel had been few and far between, and most of those had been slight, if anything. But taking her past relationships into consideration, Cordelia knew she was a sucker for a good kiss, her marathon make-out sessions in countless broom closets with Xander would attest to that. And Angel, having had two centuries worth of experience perfecting the art? He would be devastating.
It wasn’t the kissing itself that was the problem; it was the emotions attached to it. Cordelia knew from her previous experience that she was not a woman capable of detaching herself from a prolonged kiss. It was full, whole-hearted immersion or nothing. Her one exception had been the day after the visions, and that had been an anomaly. Loving Angel, despite her current anger toward him, would most likely come to the fore at the first instant his lips touched hers.
In short, she was doomed.
Sighing again, Cordelia strained to listen for sounds outside the door. As she sat, she pessimistically decided that walking barefoot over broken glass would’ve been easier than waiting for Angel to arrive.
A knock sounded outside the door, three short raps that sounded like gunshots and made Cordelia jump to her feet. Taking one last glance in the mirror and straightening the hem of her shirt, she moved to open the door.
Angel stood on the other side looking for all the world like God’s gift to women. Cordelia drank him in, from the still-damp, tousled hair to the gray and black ensemble that showed his muscled form to perfection. The sight of him, combined with an overwhelming flood of nervousness, stole her voice.
Letting her look her fill, Angel tried to calm his nerves, nonexistent until she’d opened the door.
Angel wasn’t usually one for unsteady nerves; generally they were of the strongest steel. The only other times in his life he could remember being nervous were around women. He’d been nervous when Darla had first approached him, despite his cocky demeanor. He’d been visibly nervous and shifty around Buffy, more out of fear that he’d destroy her or ruin her life, especially after Angelus. Keeping that in mind, it stood to reason that he would be nervous with Cordelia, but it still felt wrong.
Shrugging it off, Angel spoke. “Are you ready?”
Cordy nodded. “I just have to get my key.” She turned around and walked back into the room, leaving the door open behind her. Angel crossed the threshold and closed the door softly. As she turned back around, Cordy started at the sight of the closed door.
“I thought we were leaving.”
“We are,” Angel agreed. “But I wanted to make sure we had our game plan straight.”
Her eyebrows raised. “Game plan?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she asked, suddenly suspicious at the closed look in his eye.
Angel regarded her intensely for a few moments. “This is your payback to me, so our ground rules are going to change a bit from what we’ve followed on the rest of this trip.”
Screw that, Cordelia thought incredulously. “How, exactly?”
Deliberately stepping into her personal bubble, Angel slid his hands into his pockets and looked down on her imperiously. “You’re going to do exactly as I say.”
“Apparently they have lobotomy services for vampires on this ship, because the Angel I know wouldn’t be stupid enough to suggest that.”
A slow smile spread across Angel’s face, one that didn’t warm his eyes in the slightest, eliciting a shiver from Cordy that she was able to keep from showing. “Oh, you’ll do it,” he predicted. “Because otherwise, you still owe me. And you know I’m letting you off easy by demanding this class as my payback.
Easy? Ha! Not likely, Cordy wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead, she shrugged apathetically. “Whatever. Let’s just get the hell out of here and get this ridiculous thing over with.”
“You’ll do everything I say, Cordelia,” Angel said again, coming up behind her and bending his mouth down to her ear. He whispered, “Everything.”
This time, Cordy couldn’t prevent the shiver from visibly appearing.
Hand-in-hand, a pretense Angel had insisted on to Cordelia’s dismay, they walked into the conference room where their “Kissing for Committed Lovers” class was being held. Cordy came to a halt immediately inside the doorway, drinking the room in with big, wary eyes. Beside her, Angel tensed; the atmosphere was a little cozier than they had expected.
All around the room, luxurious, double-sized chaise lounges were scattered at random. The backs were all placed at odd angles, none facing each other. Each chaise was draped with luxurious throws of chenille, silk, and satin, strewn haphazardly. Pillows of the same materials cushioned the backs of the already plump chaises. The result was a riot of color not unlike Cordelia and Angel’s stateroom. There was a subtle difference, however; the sleazy quotient was absent, replaced by an understated elegance.
“Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen,” a solemn voice boomed from across the room.
It took a moment for Cordelia and Angel to locate him; their surroundings being so overpowering to the senses. Nodding his head regally at the couples entering the room, the austere man gestured to the chaises surrounding him.
As she walked closer, Cordelia surreptitiously examined their teacher. Standing well over six feet, shoulders broad and rigid, he seemed to take up the room, soaking up all of the energy into himself. His steel-gray hair was longish, a roman cut that reminded her of marble busts depicting ancient emperors. His suit was a dark charcoal gray, the undershirt a slightly lighter shade. The monochromatic state of his wardrobe seemed to be a perfect complement to his demeanor.
“Come,” he intoned again, brilliant blue eyes piercing. “Choose a place for yourself and your loved one. Make yourselves as comfortable as possible, as our time together will not be easy.”
A few bewildered glances were exchanged between classmates. Kissing wouldn’t be easy? What did this guy have up his sleeve?
Choosing a scarlet-colored chaise for himself and Cordelia, Angel adjusted the pillows so that he could nestle back into the corner. He brought his leg up to rest on the seat cushion along the sloping back of the lounge, placing his other foot on the floor, creating a wide V between his legs. Meaningfully, he looked up at Cordelia.
Cordy took one look at his splayed legs and shook her head minutely before clenching her jaw. She wasn’t going to sit there, nestled against him so intimately, while they received instructions on proper make-out techniques. She’d just sit right here on the corner and—
“Cordelia,” Angel said softly, his tone warning, and Cordelia sighed, her shoulders wilting. Her hadn’t said it, but she knew he was reminding her of their deal. His way or no way.
Muttering unintelligibly, Cordy sat down and leaned against him reluctantly. Angel brought his arms around her and rested his hands on her hips and stomach, and Cordelia felt branded by the cool touch. Angel was staking his claim, and she didn’t like it at all. It created one more crack in her armor.
“Now that you are all settled,” the instructor began, “I should like to introduce myself.”
He raised himself slightly higher, his spine stiffening as he addressed them. “I am Dr. Cornelius Talbot, and I will be your guide today. I have been schooled in psychology at several prestigious schools, and I currently write academic articles on the effects of physical touch in relationships. I hope that my qualifications will reassure you.”
Several people looked at each other in disbelief, a few smirks exchanged. No one had expected such a formal atmosphere in a class like this.
The surreptitious glances didn’t seem to faze Dr. Talbot. “For many of you, this will be your last instructional opportunity on this voyage. Therefore, it is my hope that you will seek to gain as much from the experience as possible.”
A slight twitter reverberated throughout the room as everyone let their minds flow freely into the gutter. As if caught off guard by their humor, the instructor gave a half-smile and shook his head.
“No, ladies and gentlemen, what you’re thinking is not what I was alluding to.”
He turned to face the first couple on his right, and looked at them meaningfully, then proceeded to move around the room to each couple as he spoke.
“We are here today for a reason much more important than the improvement of foreplay. Our goal in this session will be to strengthen our relationships, not to get laid.”
A few eyebrows raised, surprised at the common vulgarity coming from such a cultured mouth.
“Our task at hand is to look at kissing as an integral part of a meaningful romantic relationship. To even, I would suggest, go beyond the romantic and to the elemental.”
His words were an admonishment of sorts, his stare intense, and a hush fell over the room. It was as if they were on the cusp of learning something priceless, something that each couple had missed up to this point. For Angel and Cordelia, in their pseudo-relationship, curiosity warred with the pressure of maintaining an believable facade.
“We can all agree that when a relationship is going well, kisses are in abundance. They fuel our passion, heighten our pleasure, increase the level of intimacy.” Dr. Talbot was directing his speech at the couple nearest Cordelia and Angel, and Cordy’s butterflies returned with a vengeance as she realized that they’d be the next subjects for his scrutiny.
His next words drilled into their souls with amazing accuracy. “But kisses, as pleasurable as they are, are equally important when partners are at odds with each other. In fact, it can even be argued that kissing, and physical intimacy in general, is even more important during difficult times. It reminds us of the bond we share with our partner and how important physical touch is to that bond.”
Dr. Talbot moved slightly, turning his eyes on Cordy and Angel. He fell silent for a moment and studied them, cocking his head slightly and squinting as if he detected some hint of charade in them. Squirming slightly, Cordy squeezed Angel’s hand without thought.
“It’s easy to kiss each other when passion is high or when one’s mood is pleasant, but it takes a special talent to be able to kiss with more somber emotion.” The doctor’s stare was penetrating, and what was merely seconds, Cordy felt as though she’d spent eons under his gaze, like a squirming moth on a pin. He seemed to peel her back with his eyes, layer by layer, until her greatest fears were exposed.
“When kissing, the most basic of intimate physical touches, is absent from our relationships, it is a sign of trouble that should not be ignored. That is why we will be focusing on the serious side of kissing today. This will not be a make-out session designed as foreplay. It will be a serious study and practice of kissing with serious emotion.”
Relief flooded Cordelia when he turned away.
Gesturing widely to the entire group, he added, “Let us begin.”
Beside Cordelia, Angel relaxed as everyone in the room shifted towards his or her partner. Dr. Talbot had been staring at Cordy but Angel had felt as though he’d been dissecting him just as thoroughly. It was unnerving how he’d looked at them so intently and knowledgeably, as if he’d guessed all their secrets and found them wanting.
“Let’s begin with something easy, shall we?” For the first time, Dr. Talbot smiled, and Cordelia was amazed at the transformation of his face. It lit up, his smile infectious, and everyone in the room visibly relaxed.
“Our first kiss will be a hello of sorts, but this is the greeting you give when you’ve just come home from a very long day’s work. You’re tired, you’re cranky, you’re miserable, and the last thing you want to do is be bothered with anything. You’ve just stepped into the house and your partner is already at home. You see him or her and are overcome with the need to show them how you feel, but you cannot find the words. Distractions abound around you, calling you both away, but you kiss your partner hello, using that contact to show them all of your emotions.”
Everyone looked around, a bit mystified.
Dr. Talbot smiled. “I anticipated that you might be confused, so I will demonstrate. Felicia?”
To his left, an older woman stood gracefully from an overstuffed chair. She was day to his night, clothed entirely in white, her snowy gray hair brushing her shoulders. Soft brown eyes looked out upon the room, her easy smile brightening the room.
“This is my wife, Felicia,” Dr. Talbot introduced. “Watch closely. You will be able to get some idea of the emotion I was discussing.”
With that, Dr. Talbot turned to his wife, slid one arm around her waist, and fitted his body to hers. He cupped her face in one hand and his lips descended, a quick, hard kiss.
As he watched, Angel was amazed to discover that he could see every emotion Dr. Talbot had mentioned as the kiss unfolded. Frustration, misery, and weariness tempered by gratitude for the sight and touch of a loved one. The kiss was short, and Dr. Talbot released Felicia, turning back to the room.
Smiles spread throughout the room as understanding dawned, and Dr. Talbot nodded. “All too often, kisses between lovers are only passionate. They are bedroom kisses, often the only ones that have meaning. Other kisses shared between lovers are perfunctory, a duty to be performed. In this class, we seek to move beyond that obstacle and enhance our bonds with each other. Turn to your partner, and recreate this kiss for yourselves.”
Cordy swallowed, wide-eyed. This was only the first kiss? Of how many?
She didn’t have time to estimate the number. Angel was turning, pushing her hips so that she slid across the silky surface of the cushion and turned sideways. Reaching out to cup her jaw, Angel turned her face to his and stared at her for a brief, intense second before his lips descended on hers.
Stiffening, Cordelia kept her hands in her lap, fists tightly clenched. Angel’s kiss was everything it was required to be, a mixture of frustration and weariness that tugged at Cordelia’s heart, making her want to lean into him and deepen it. Steeling herself against those softer feelings that threatened her control, she tried to maintain a distance, her mouth barely open, her body out of reach. She worked to make sure that it looked like she was kissing him, a participant, albeit a timid one. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself and get individual instruction from their teacher.
Sensing her reluctance, Angel felt his stomach tighten with apprehension. Cordelia usually softened rapidly under his touches, as rare as they were, and he counted on physical contact being his ace-in-the-hole where she was concerned. Often, it took no more than a brush of his fingers to her arm to make her warm up to him, but not this time. He could literally feel the walls she’d erected between them, vibrating with the intensity of a high-voltage fence, and it was all his fault.
But, oh, God, the taste of her; a sweet hint of cherries mixed with the creamy, warm honey of Cordelia herself. He couldn’t get enough. Slowing down, Angel began to kiss her more lightly, softly, desperately needing to savor this chance to be so close to the woman he loved. She was ambrosia, lips warm and moist, inviting despite her reluctant posture, and Angel was helpless against her, addicted.
When Angel’s kisses softened, his tongue darting out to move against the closed seam of her lips, Cordelia’s mission to maintain her defenses was attacked yet again. His kisses turned even lighter, feathery against her mouth, taking on a helpless quality as he pulled away, turning his head as if to stop, only to move back quickly to taste her just one more time. Every touch was lighter than the one before it, brief swipes of his cool tongue across her lips, a barely brushing contact that made her whole body tingle.
He made her feel as though she provided an elixir that would cure the misery and weariness he was trying to be rid of, and sensing how much he needed her, Cordy found it even harder to maintain emotional distance. Clenching her fists even more tightly, nails digging half-moons into her palms, Cordelia desperately tried to stand against the tidal wave of Angel’s seduction.
Damn it, he was always doing this to her! Okay, so maybe not the kissing, but definitely the confusing non-verbal communication. Cryptic guy, making with the oh-so-intense touches and stares that confused her more than anything she’d ever faced. And now? Was this kiss for real? Was he really trying to tell her how much he cared about her, or was he just playing it up for their audience? Were these drugging, mind-numbing kisses heartfelt or contrived?
It didn’t seem to matter. Incommunicative jerk or not, Angel was an expert at turning Cordelia’s knees to jelly.
Just as she felt her resolve weakening irrevocably, the kiss drew to an impossibly slow finish, his mouth now downy soft against hers. Leaning back, Angel cupped her face in his hands, and she could feel the scorching heat of his gaze on her face.
“Cordelia.” Her name was a whisper, a breath of cool air on her cheek as he leaned forward and touched his forehead to hers. “Cordelia, please. Look at me.”
While every angry cell in Cordelia’s body screamed for her to deny him, she couldn’t help herself and raised her eyes to meet his as he backed away slightly. His eyes held a mystery she still couldn’t unlock, something pure and deep and molten, something she’d never seen before so blatantly directed at her. Searching for it, she tried to draw it out of him, tried to divine it’s meaning, but it escaped her.
In that moment of bitter struggle to find the key to the secrets hidden in Angel’s unfathomable eyes, Cordelia felt something inside her snap. Bitterness and anger swept through her as she realized that he was always holding back from her. Always denying her the secret to unlocking his innermost thoughts, always holding her at arm’s length. Deep down, she knew that the problem lay with Angel and his inherent inability to communicate verbally like normal people, but it didn’t stop her from feeling like he was playing her, and worse yet, that he knew it and was using these kisses to melt her defenses.
He was trying to get her buttered up so that she’d forgive him, just like she always did.
Narrowing her eyes, Cordelia pulled away from him with quick force, shaking her head minutely as her jaw clenched. She was not going to let him manipulate her into filling in the blanks herself this time. Every damn time Angel had something important to say, he’d start the sentence, waiting for her to finish it. She couldn’t count the number of times he would say, “Cordy, I…I…” and stammer off into nothingness, his eyes pleading for her to understand. And every time, Cordy would feel her the edges of her heart soften toward him and she’d fill in that blank with whatever she’d been needing to hear from him. She’d take his loaded silence and substitute an “I’m sorry, Cordy” or “I never meant to hurt you, Cordy” or her usual favorite, “I was a big fat dumbass, Cordy, and I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Well this time, Cordelia Chase was not going to be so easy to manipulate. This immature man-pire needed to finish his own damn sentences for once.
Angel saw the barely banked coals of Cordelia’s fury and swallowed hard. He knew going into this that it would be difficult to walk a fine line between charade and reality, and that worse yet, he wouldn’t really be able to talk to her. But didn’t actions speak a thousand words? And for him, more like 100,000 words? Cordy would understand. She had to. Hadn’t she every time before this?
Deciding to go for broke, Angel gripped her shoulders and whispered, “Cordy, just give this a chance, please? You know I’m not good with words, and I need to show you . . . I need you to know. . .” His eyes pleaded with her to comprehend what he couldn’t begin to say.
“No,” she interrupted, eyes flashing. “You aren’t going to do this to me again, Angel. Say the words or be quiet!”
Trying again, Angel raised a hand to stroke her face softly, but Cordy jerked away from him, the touch tingling despite her anger. “No!” she hissed. “Go ahead and put your lame-ass moves on me because we have to for this stupid class, but I’m not going to fall for it. You’re manipulating me, and I’m not going to let you get away with it.”
A tiny sound tinkled off to her left and Cordelia looked, startled, at the incongruous sight of Dr. Talbot ringing a crystal bell. He smiled, setting it down on a small table near his hip, and clapped his hands together. Cordelia spun away from Angel, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at Dr. Talbot.
As if drawn in by her negative energy, Dr. Talbot turned and looked directly at Cordelia, a frown forming on his face.
“Excellent work, ladies and gentlemen, for your first foray into the world of communication through kissing. However, let us remember that we are here to improve our relationships, not ruin them. Let’s leave our disagreements outside for today, shall we?” His eyebrow raised to punctuate this last statement, and Cordelia felt a sliver of guilt creep into her mind, duly chastised. Okay, so she was being pretty close-minded, but Angel was being a Class A jerk right now, so she felt justified.
Dr. Talbot’s frown smoothed out as his eyes swept over the rest of the room.
“And some of you,” he added, “moved beyond the assignment and back into the bedroom.” He stared meaningfully at a few overly-flushed couples in the room whose clothing was slightly more rumpled than was decorous for the occasion. Dr. Talbot’s stern expression was undermined by the twinkle in his eye, and when the chastised couples ducked their heads in good-natured shame, he shook his head in the way of an indulgent schoolmaster and moved on.
“Our next kissing assignment will be one of the most difficult. I gave you an easier one with which to warm up, but I believe that it is important, once we are familiar with this therapeutic technique, that we tackle the most challenging assignments first.”
Moving across the room, Dr. Talbot clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing. “I have interviewed hundreds of couples in my years of relationship therapy, and I have discovered that there is one time when all couples have difficulty showing affection through kissing. Couples find that when they are angry with one another, they cease physical contact, and kissing is the first thing to go.”
“Hello, Captain Obvious,” Cordelia muttered.
Dr. Talbot spun around and looked sternly in her direction, and Cordelia’s eyes darted away, her face flushing. Thankfully, the doctor continued without commenting on her poor behavior. He continued his explanation, but Cordelia’s mortification stayed with her so that she missed most of it. The end of his little speech caught her attention.
“When you begin the kiss, let one partner take over and express his or her anger thorough it. Once that partner takes control, the other should allow them to continue in that way until the control is relinquished. In addition, an angry kiss is not biting, lest any of you get ideas. I wish for no blood to be drawn. But much of anger involves hurt, pain, and betrayal, and those are the emotions that you should be exploring. You’re telling your partner that you still love them, but they’ve cut you deeply and you don’t know how to express it through words.” He stepped back, raising his arms to them. “Begin!”
Later, Cordelia would wonder what came over her in that instant. The word “control” had jumped out at her like manna from heaven as she realized that for once, she could hold the reins in this relationship. Spinning around in her seat, she slid one foot off onto the floor and half stood, half knelt, between Angel’s outspread legs. He looked up at her, surprised, as she grabbed his face between her hands and lowered her lips swiftly to his.
Angel was overcome by the intensity of her kisses. Grasping her waist, Angel held tight while Cordelia took complete control, her mouth slanting hard over his, her tongue coming in to tangle with his in a game of tag that left him reeling. Despite the fact that Dr. Talbot had said no biting, Cordelia still nipped at him, hard enough to sting without drawing blood, their teeth clashing.
Like the tide sweeping out to sea, Cordelia began to feel her anger ebb away in that kiss. With each aggressive movement of her mouth against his, some of the pain swept away, some of the helplessness left, and Cordy realized just how Angel felt when he couldn’t express his deepest emotions. No words were possible to express what she was feeling when she kissed him like this. Oh, he knew she was angry. There was no doubt about that; her actions for the past few days were impossible to ignore. But there was an element of the mystical about this kiss, as if when her lips touched his, they were connected on a deeper level that she’d somehow missed before. It suddenly struck her that she’d been demanding that they communicate her way, and now, she was being forced to communicate his way.
And damn it, did she have a lot to say to him.
After a minute or two of Cordelia’s dominance, Angel began to get restless, raising his hands to hold her face and take control of the kiss back. Growling at him, Cordy pushed his hands away and moved closer, both knees resting on the seat now as she sank down and brought them more to eye level. Slowing down, Cordelia was no less dominant, pulling his lower lip into her mouth and biting it, this time drawing blood. Angel growled at the surge of lust that overcame him.
Pulling away slightly, Cordelia mumbled against his lips. “Perv. You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
Angel’s answering growl was somehow playful, in that instant, Cordelia’s anger released its choke-hold on her heart. She finally gentled the kiss, leaning into him and wrapping her arms around his neck, molding her soft curves to his solid frame. Not able to help himself, Angel touched his fingers to her face, reverence stealing over him as he recognized the beginning of the end of her anger toward him. Cradling her face in his hands, thumbs sweeping over her cheeks, he groaned as he found the wetness of her tears there. He released her, ending the kiss.
“You’re crying,” he whispered, his eyes full of pain.
Cordy looked surprised. “I am?”
He nodded. “I knew you were angry at me, but damn it, Cordelia.”
She bit her lip, tears flooding her eyes as she looked away. “You hurt me more than I can say, Angel.”
“I’m so sorry I slept with her, baby,” the endearment slipped out before he could stop it. “I can’t tell you how much.”
“It’s not that!” she whispered, her eyes searching his. “I mean, I hate that you did, but I hate more that you lied to me. About Darla, about how she hurt you, about your curse being fixed. You shut me out at a time when I needed to be your best friend just as much as you needed to have one.”
Angel wanted to say something more, in fact, he’d opened his mouth to do just that, but Dr. Talbot’s little bell tinkled again. Lowering her eyes, Cordy turned away from him, but when Angel reached for her hand to clasp it in his, she didn’t pull away.
Dr. Talbot surveyed his pupils intensely. “I see that this experience was difficult for some of you, but I think you might agree that it was therapeutic.”
Cordelia couldn’t help but agree. The blinding rage she’d felt only minutes before was fading, purged with the forceful kisses she’d given. What was more important was that Angel, with his expertise in non-verbal communication, probably understood her thoughts better through the kiss she’d given him than he ever would’ve by words she could’ve spoken.
Continuing, Dr. Talbot added, “After anger, the guilty party generally offers an apology that is accepted by the offended party. Use these next few minutes to express that apology and acceptance of it.”
The look that Angel gave her was intense enough to melt steel, and Cordy felt a wave of longing wash over her. She wanted this to be over so badly. She wanted the pain to go away, wanted him to—
Angel’s lips descended on hers.
–wanted him to kiss her. Oh, god, his kisses were so good. Aggression, anger, pain, betrayal, hurt: all were gone, replaced by an apology that she could literally feel passing from his lips to hers. With every gentle glide of his tongue, she felt him saying he was sorry, so deeply and utterly remorseful about lying and shutting her out. She could taste his pain, taste his need for her forgiveness, taste the salt of her tears as she delved so deeply into his guilt over hurting her.
Pulling her closer, Angel splayed his hands over her back, cupping her shoulders and pulling her chest into his, desperately needing to hold her close to him. His mouth was gentle yet relentless, each movement tender as he begged her without words to forgive him, to love him, to need him. And as the kiss moved on, her movements, every single one of them, spoke of forgiveness. Light touches, designed to comfort him, to soothe him, welled up in Cordelia until she couldn’t help but play them out. Her fingers ran through the back of his hair, massaged the back of his neck, lightly fluttered over his cheek, stroked down his chest, as she returned the kiss and accepted the apology that he so freely offered to her.
Separating at the sound of Dr. Talbot’s bell, Angel and Cordelia couldn’t manage to unlock their eyes from each other. Angel couldn’t believe that Cordelia had forgiven him. Cordy couldn’t believe that her anger was gone and that Angel’s cryptic behavior actually made sense.
The air in the room was thick with emotion. Other couples around the room were crying softly, hiccups and hitches in breathing audible. It seemed that Dr. Talbot’s methods had the power to break them down into their most elemental beings, until they were Adam and Eve facing their first real struggles all alone.
This time, Dr. Talbot’s powerful voice was soft. “I know that some of you feel emotionally drained at this point, but I would ask that you not shut down completely until we come full circle. This session is meant to be a healing one, and we have barely begun to treat the wounds we have opened. We have one more kiss, designed to bring you closer to your partner.”
Cordelia leaned forward, resting her forehead on Angel’s shoulder. Wrapping his arms tightly around her, Angel kissed her hair lightly.
“An apology,” Dr. Talbot continued, “Would not be complete without an affirmation of the love that brought you together in the first place. This, ladies and gentlemen,” he said with a smile, “is the proper time to inject passion into your kiss. You have faced tribulation and been made stronger. The bonds that tie you together have been reinforced. Now is the time to show your partner how much you care.”
Swallowing past the lump in her throat, Cordelia’s eyes searched Angel’s for one last clue to the sincerity of his feelings. When their lips had been touching, she’d felt so certain of his apology, so sure of the depths of his feeling for her, but now, looking at those eyes that seemed to shift and fade as shadows swirled in their depths, she was uncertain. He’d never actually said he loved her, and despite all of his kisses, she still didn’t know. Biting her lip and raising her hand to cup his jaw, she implored him silently to put his feelings into words.
Angel’s smile was barely a hint of a curve to his lips, but the warmth that flooded his gaze was unmistakable. Leaning in, he gently, reverently touched his lips to hers in a kiss that spoke volumes. But he didn’t stop there. His mouth brushed her cheek, her nose, her forehead, her jaw, and finally, when she felt an intake of breath against her ear, her heart slowed to a skittering halt.
“I’m in love with you, Cordelia,” he whispered, cool breath releasing with the words, fluttering against her face as she melted in his arms.
“No,” she whispered against his cheek, so badly needing his words to be truthful, yet fearing that somehow they were not. “You don’t mean it, Angel. You can’t.”
Her whole body held it’s breath as she waited for the reassurance she so desperately needed. Angel pushed her away far enough so that he could look into her eyes.
“I do, Cordy,” he said solemnly. “I love you. Forever.”
She could see it, all of it, written all over his face. The intensity of his stare, the stubborn set of his jaw, the tenderness in his touch and the sincere curve of his smile. She touched his face reverently, amazed that she could actually understand him. Know him.
Angel was still desperate to prove himself, needing to show her in his own way how much he loved her. Pulling her closer, he kissed her so slowly, so thoroughly, that Cordelia melted by degrees in his arms until she was boneless against him. Everywhere his hands touched, she felt the strength of his love and was reassured by it. Tongue caressing every inch of her mouth, he searched her out, drew Cordelia’s very soul to the surface and bathed it in his love until she felt as though she would be scorched with its passion.
The bell tinkled again as if through a haze, and they pulled apart, Cordelia’s breath coming in short pants as she stared into eyes that were finally fathomable. Finally understandable. Finally open.
One Month Later
“Ooo, Angel, I hate you!” Cordelia muttered, glowering at him with her arms crossed.
They were standing in the lobby of the hotel, Angel leaning against the counter. It had been four blissful weeks since their cruise and subsequent emotional awakening, but that didn’t mean they’d changed into different people. Cordelia was still Cordelia, feistiness and all.
“Really.” His voice was dry. “Didn’t sound like you hated me last night,” he added with a smirk.
God, he loved to watch Cordelia try to talk him into something. Half the fun was watching her changing emotions as she glowered, flirted, cried, or his very favorite, pouted with those full, luscious lips of hers. Just like she was doing right now.
Cordy blushed. “Okay, so I don’t hate you hate you. But you’re still being a stubborn, pig-headed dumbass.”
Angel shrugged. “Tough shit. I’m still not gonna do it.”
“Please, Angel?” Cordy walked up to him and placed her arms around his waist, looking up at him with wide eyes fringed by fluttering eyelashes. “I’ll make it worth your while,” she said, rubbing against him suggestively.
Not able to resist, Angel took her unspoken offer and kissed her thoroughly, so thoroughly in fact that Cordelia looked up at him dazedly when he pulled away.
“Okay,” he finally said, sighing, trying to hide his smile.
“Okay, what?” she asked, blinking in confusion, her eyes still slightly unfocused.
Angel grinned at her. “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll take this class with you or whatever the hell it is.”
One of Cordy’s signature smiles spread across her face and her eyes lit up. She squealed, crushing him in a bear hug and peppering his face with kisses. “You’ll love it, Angel. It’ll be so cool! I’m going to go sign us up right now!”
“Wait!” Angel grabbed her arm when she would’ve run off. “I really don’t want to do this, Cordy, so you’re going to owe me again.”
Cordelia groaned. “Owe you? As in another payback?”
Angel nodded, an evil glint in his eye. “Yup.”
Rolling her eyes, Cordy sighed and shrugged. “Whatever. But you said yes, so you can’t back out now!” With that, she was gone, skipping out of the room with excitement.
It occurred to Angel as Cordelia disappeared around the corner that he hadn’t actually figured out what he’d gotten himself into. Feeling a strange sense of deja vu, Angel called out, “What are you signing us up for?”
Cordy popped her head back around the corner of the office. “Anya wants us to take a ballroom dancing class with her and Xander! Won’t that be great?” She disappeared again.
It was Angel’s turn to roll his eyes. He loved the girl, but damn it. Why the hell did he have to be such a sucker? This was going to be hell.
After a moment’s pity party, a smile grew on Angel’s face. At least he’d be getting something out of it, and Angel planned to go all out. Last time had worked out so well, he planned to put his imagination to good use when he demanded his payment.
This time, the payback would be even sweeter.