The sun looked brighter this morning. Its iridescent rays beaming over the city felt just a little warmer, the enveloping warmth comforting tired bones and soothing confused thoughts. Lindsey wasn’t surprised to discover birds were chirping a harmonious melody amidst the hustle and bustle of pencil-pushers and laborers scurrying to their destinations. No, his revelation was realizing he’d never taken the time to listen.
He found himself standing in front of a small coffee shop. It wasn’t one of those mainstream chains with their pretentious array of forty-two flavors. The small shop was quaint; its energy conjured by patrons friendly and familiar. She would like this. The silent thought glimmered, awakening a carefully hidden part of him. One that the underbelly of his world would label a weakness.
Lindsey stepped inside, the move only briefly calculated. A genuine smile greeted his entry; a grandmotherly woman calling out. “Pull up a stool, I just brought out a fresh batch of muffins.”
Even niceties have knee-jerk reactions. Only a few seconds of hesitation and he returned the smile. “I’ll take two and two coffees to go please. Then recalling an important, if nauseating, tidbit of information quickly added, “Could you sprinkle a little cinnamon on top?”
Cordelia had tended the vampire’s needs, a memory that made Lindsey’s blood curdle inside his veins. She had bandaged his wounds, such as they were. The injuries had been superficial at best, already healing before her tender ministrations began. Then she had warmed Angel’s blood, sprinkling the cup of red swill with a generous douse of cinnamon.
Back slouched and head buried inside his book, Angel dozed while vampire senses remained perceptive to threatening activity that may intrude on their day. Having followed Cordelia around for the better part of the night, he was running on zero sleep. Angel had to admit, her date had ended earlier than he’d expected. Remaining on her balcony until sunrise sent him running for cover was purely a precautionary measure.
“I have a lunch date. You two can hold down the fort until I get back; right?”
Angel’s eyes snapped open. This clearly qualified as an intruding threat. “You just had a date. Why do you need another one?”
“I don’t need another one. I want another one. Lindsey is fun to have around…once you get past that whole evil thing.”
“Exactly.” Nap forgotten, Angel leaped from his chair. A few quick strides and he towered over the source of his frustrations. “The guy is evil. Dangerous even.”
“Says the man that tried to eat me once.” Cordelia was hardly paying attention. Engrossed in more important matters; namely her, she scrutinized her reflection. Hair, perfect. Makeup, perfect. Outfit, gorgeous. Cordelia was, in a word, perfectly gorgeous.
Thoughts drifted to an earlier time, and the graveyard in question. Angelus had tackled Cordelia, trapping her beneath him. “Cordelia, I wasn’t going to eat you. I was…” That wouldn’t help his cause, disproving plans to eat the young woman by admitting intentions to ravage her. “…never mind.”
His head jerked to the door, growling as Lindsey’s odorous invasion seeped inside only seconds before his physical intrusion followed.
“Afternoon.” Lindsey greeted, offering a satisfied smile and his simple but well-planned gift to Cordelia. “Sweets for my sweet little kitten.”
“Oh goody, goodies. And yummy, cinnamon coffee. You might just be a keeper.”
Flattered by the attention, Cordelia flirted, batting long lashes at her admirer, and Angel’s blood boiled with a molten fury that threatened to melt his veins. At least she hadn’t purred at the little kitten comment. If Cordelia purred for Lindsey, Angel would have no choice but to rip off the man’s head. Only death and maiming could appease this level of rage, and as nauseating as the scene would be, Angel wished Cordelia would purr.
“Let’s take these with us. We can have lunch in the park.” Oblivious to the threat looming over her date, Cordelia grabbed her purse, motioning a jabbing finger to the door. “See you guys later.”
Coming out of nowhere, a large hand seized her arm, and Cordelia shrieked as Angel hauled her toward his office. “What the-”
“We need to talk.” Angle practically slung Cordelia into his office then turned back to deliver a growled and final warning. “Lindsey, this may take awhile. If you’re on a tight schedule, don’t feel the need to wait.”
The door slammed and Cordelia exploded. “Have you completely lost it? Angel, get out of my way. I have a date.”
“No, you don’t.” Angel’s jaw was clinched tight, and gold flecks rimmed dark, murky eyes, but this time the dire strait of their predicament was discerningly clear to Cordelia. “I’m going to talk, and you’re going to stay quiet and listen.”
Cordelia’s eyelids fluttered, her head falling into a frantic shake and rattle. Angel had just told her to shut up. It might have been delivered a notch above crude, but even nice wrapping paper left a mess on the floor.
“You did not just-”
“You are not dating Lindsey MacDonald. Are we clear?”
Direct, and to the point. That was Angel’s motto when confronted with uncomfortable situations. Yanking off the bandage was always better than drawn-out and painful tugs. Now their lives would get back to normal. Cordelia would occasionally date as long as Angel approved of her choice, and off-color fantasies would remain under the dark cover of sleep where they belonged.
The Waterbury mantel clock whizzed by his head in its flight across the room. Angel ducked, quickly regretting not catching the well-preserved heirloom when his prized piece smashed against the wall.
The two men waited impatiently, bodies involuntarily flinching and fencing. They were uncommon adversaries, their current plight drawing them into a small circle of camaraderie. Voices dueled inside the locked room, rising octaves resonating above colliding sounds of crash and shatter.
Suddenly peaceful silence fell, and the bystanders cringed as eerie calm engulfed their shrinking periphery of cordiality. The door swung open, Cordelia leading the way. Her hair was mussed, lipstick smeared over a mouth twisted in aggravation and defiance. Angel followed close behind, one sleeve ripped from his shirt. Head tilted back, he held the scrap of fabric wadded inside a hand pressed to his nose. Tiny splotches of blood trickled down the vampire’s chin, and Wesley briefly pondered just how necessary the slayer-line was.
“You ready to go?” Cordelia hissed, snatching her purse from the floor. Too angry to care, she missed her reluctant date’s apprehensive wince.
Lindsey’s original intentions had been self-serving and heartless, until a span of mere hours had resulted in total captivation. His plans of sticking it to Angel still trailed a clear path, but hurting Cordelia in the process was now unthinkable.
“Wesley, I won’t be back today.” The seething sibilation erupted into the brief silence pulling Lindsey from his thoughts and jolting Wesley’s tentative composure. “I’ll decide about tomorrow…well tomorrow.” Cordelia swirled around, anger too raw to bother with a pleasant guise. “Stop dawdling. Jeez, the fights over people, nothing to see here.”
Cordelia marched into the hallway, Lindsey obediently trailing behind. He turned at the last minute, delivering a smugly priggish smile, the thrill of his triumph falling short of its promised victory.
Angel stood rigid, every muscle taut and stretched to the limit, his bloody sleeve clutched in the hand hanging at his side. A whisper of a nod acknowledged Lindsey’s challenge, an exchange that avowed only one victor.
Whatever the culmination from their unsettling brawl, Cordelia was content to flee, and more surprising, Angel was content to allow it. Wesley needed to offer his friend some semblance of assurance, but risking round two was out of the question. He cautiously studied Angel’s demeanor from the corner of his eye then crept to the door, peaking around the corner.
“Do you actually think Cordelia would leave us?”
The growl came in a wave of hot air, bristling the hair at the nape of Wesley’s neck. His fingers clamped onto the doorjamb as his back stiffened against the blistery surge.
Lifting upright, Wesley spun around as Angel stepped into the elevator. His torn shirt shredding as hands fisted and yanked. Muscles clinched in tension and glistening under a layer of sweat disappeared behind a swoosh of metal doors.
TBC… Part III ‘Gentle Persuasions’