The remainder of the day had passed quietly without further incident or at least incident that should be worthy of reflection. Angry and embarrassed Cordelia had kept mostly to herself until early afternoon. Wesley and Gunn had left shortly after lunch Wesley pausing briefly at Cordelia’s desk delivering a few whispered words that Angel couldn’t quite make out from his hidden perch on the second floor landing.
Angel assumed Wes believed his talk with Gunn concerning his resentment and distrust for their resident vampire would be better accepted outside the confines of said vampire’s hotel. The two females of the agency left on their own, Cordelia had spent the better part of the afternoon training Fred in the day-to-day routine of office duties. It was the fourth training session that Angel was privy to and he couldn’t help but worry that Cordelia’s diligence was fueled by her intentions of preparing Fred to take over as office manager.
Angel didn’t like the sound of that plan if it were in fact a plan. What would Cordelia do all day if she didn’t manage the office, bill their clients and go after them when they failed to pay their proper dues? Angel couldn’t imagine it possible Cordelia had suddenly discovered the joys of research and was planning to promote herself to head of the smelly books brigade. That’s what she had named it, never a glimpse of desire or envy to Wesley and his collection of ancient texts. Since their operations had returned to the hotel and Angel had resumed his neglected duties as champion Cordelia no longer participated in their demon slaying as she had during his self-indulgent absences. That left only one real possibility, she didn’t intend to continue being at the office on a day-to-day basis, maybe not at all.
Angel couldn’t think about that right now. For his own sake and especially Connor’s he had to keep his wits about him. He couldn’t afford his imagination running wild with something that may not even be true. One more episode of the vampire going off the deep end and Angel knew he and his son would loose Cordelia for good.
Looking down at his sleeping son Angel couldn’t help but wish the child would wake. He needed something to focus on that would keep unhealthy thoughts out of his head. What he needed was a plan, a viable plan that would put his life back in order. Lorne had challenged him to do just that; figure out what the answers were. What had he promised Cordelia that Lorne wanted him to remember? What difference would remembering make, if he had promised he had surely broken that promise by now. Looking back over his long life Angel couldn’t recall with any real conviction keeping any of his promises.
His head jerked up as the feminine chorus of laughter rose up from the courtyard below spilling into the silence of his suite. Giving up vigil over his son Angel stepped toward the window protectively cloaked in heavy fabric. The sun was at its peak and only a carefully orchestrated glimpse of the bright world outside his dark and lonely shelter would prevent his dusty demise. He could barely see them having settled themselves fairly close to the building hoping to enjoy a pleasant blend of sun and shade. Their giggles and mumbles carried by the light breeze lifted to his window but the words failed to meet his waiting ear. He leaned a little closer to the sun warmed glass, the risk of such an endeavor high compared to the meager reduction in distance. The giggles ceased and the mumbled dialogue became hesitant and short until only silence rode the shallow wind slapping against his windowpane. Angel could hear the rustle of hurried movement, his suspicion they had abandoned the shelter of his sun-shading balcony confirmed by the swift and heavy closing of the front door.
Angel’s brief visit downstairs answered what he already knew; Cordelia had left. His gentle urgings for Fred to divulge the events that had led to Cordelia’s departure resulted in downcast eyes laden with what Angel too easily recognized as guilt and regret. The return of Wesley and Gunn had promptly ended any further attempt at his empty quest and Angel retreated to the seclusion of his suite, the outcome of Wesley and Gunn’s discussion temporarily unimportant.
The restaurant was elegant, the food was delicious, the ambiance was sublime and Cordelia Chase was an imposter. How could the ramblings of an over-educated egghead tear apart everything she had worked so hard to build? She had meticulously crafted the perfect life, designed the perfect relationship, chosen the perfect man only to have Winifred Burkle sweep in like the whirlwind of a tornado ripping it to shreds and promptly sending the splintered remnants of her carefully constructed world to hell in a hand basket, all with a few ill chosen words. This would not do, she was Cordelia Chase after all and the loony ramblings of the Pylean refugee could not destroy the world of Cordelia Chase, temporarily damage perhaps but never destroy.
Cordelia looked at the man sitting across from her; he was handsome, brave, strong, intelligent, sophisticated, caring and honest. Jack Stone was the epitome of man at his finest and every woman in the restaurant young and old and anywhere in between envied her coveted seat at his table. So what the hell was her problem, exactly? They had known each other a little over fifteen months, had celebrated their first anniversary and proclaimed their love three months ago while Angel was assisting the mother of his son in childbirth. How easy it would be for her bunker-style created world if that was her hardest pill to swallow, but it wasn’t. She was alone in her thoughts, no risk of ease dropping so why not be honest with the exact calculations. This perfect couple on their perfect date had known each other for fifteen months, one week and two days. They had been an official couple for six months, two weeks and four days and not once had they been naked in the same room. Did she even need to ask what the hell was her problem, exactly?
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
“I was rethinking your suggestion about us getting out of LA for a few days. Actually I was rethinking the part where I didn’t think it was a good idea.”
His smile was beautiful stretching across his chiseled features, eyes cobalt blue danced with delight, all framed by dark hair rich and soft; damn perfect, damningly perfect.
“Really,” the word grunted in the clearing of his throat, her proclamation arriving mid sip of his wine. “I must admit I am a bit surprised by your sudden change of heart,” he leaned forward propping his elbows on the table wine glass tilting in the curl of his fingers, “but immensely happy whatever the reason.”
“I’m happy you’re happy and the change isn’t sudden.” Cordelia lied with slight remorse but what was she to say, Fred has this theory? “You have been patient and understanding, the perfect gentleman and I love you all the more for it but the time I asked for in the beginning has stayed too long and turned our chaste relationship into a celibate union…and that isn’t fair to either of us, especially you.”
Jack slid around the curved booth bringing his body closer to Cordelia’s clasping her hands inside his and raising them to his lips for a brief kiss. “So when do we take this next step,” his lips brushed against hers with a feathery weight, “in our soon to be not celibate relationship?”
“I was thinking soon but hadn’t really picked a time.” Though not really kissing their mouths were so close they could feel the flutter of the other’s tongue as the words floated past their brushing lips.
“Maybe I can help you select a time.” His mouth pressed against hers closing the breath of distance between them, their lips trembling with the tingling of anxious sighs.
“Hmmm, tonight may be good…” Cordelia welcomed his invasion of her mouth begging him to take the whole of her heart protecting it from the harm of another. She wanted to seal the new more intimate bond in their relationship and closed her eyes only to snap them open when the wrong face reflected against the shadow of her closed lids. Damn Fred Burkle, her weird-ass theories didn’t belong in the same universe with regular people. If Cordelia ever returned to the hotel she would only do it so she could use the girl’s axe flinging contraption to chop her bony head off her spindly shoulders.
Jack felt the familiar tense of her body and reacting from habit tightened the reign on his desires. “But…” The clarity of his tone hid his frustration, another will of habit since falling in love with Cordelia Chase.
“No but, there is no but,” Cordelia replied shaking her head clear of Angel’s face and the ill-time vision flash that followed. “Do you remember how we celebrated our anniversary cleaning out the small vampire nest from that abandoned warehouse?”
“You had a vision,” his voice filled with nothing but concern, “like the last one?”
“No, not like before; I’m fine but it was a vision. Two couples are about to become vamp soup and we don’t have a lot of time so I need to call the guys.” Cordelia slipped her phone from her purse punching in the two-digit code for Wesley’s cell. “Then you and I will get back to our regular scheduled programming.”
“I know that look Chase,” Jack whispered placing his fingers under Cordelia’s chin lifting her face to his, “you’re worried. Why don’t we dust a few vampires first; a good vamp dusting could lead to all kinds of new programming ideas.”
“Why Mr. Stone I do believe I’m seeing the naughty side of you tonight.”
He had thought about calling her but if she was screening her calls what would be the point, when she heard his voice she wouldn’t pick up. The hot shower felt good but it wasn’t helping his tired, tense muscles just like beating the poor defenseless punching bag to a bloodless pulp hadn’t helped. Angel shut off the water with a twist of the knob grabbing the towel as he stepped from the shower.
The faint knock against the outer door sounded into the bathroom and Angel settled for covering his lower body with the damp towel wanting to prevent a second knock that might disturb Connor from his peaceful sleep.
Angel entered his bedroom just as the door opened, the visitor slipping in from the hallway. Wesley fell rigid in a frozen stare; the last time he had entered Angel’s suite unannounced he had been knocked to the floor with the naked vampire stretched over the length of his prone and defenseless body.
Sensing his visitor’s distress and realizing the possible distasteful recall of their last private encounter Angel’s hands shot up in defense. “I am totally awake Wes and in complete control.”
“Oh thank God,” Wes muttered then immediately composed himself to his prim and proper form. “So sorry to interrupt but Cordelia just called, she had a vision.”
Angel crossed the room in an instant, his movement a soundless blur. Wesley would have to get over his near naked state, Cordelia had a vision; there wasn’t time for propriety. “Is she alright, was it like before?”
“No this vision was completely normal, nothing more than a few vampires behind the Third Street Market about to attack four unassuming innocents. Cordelia did say we should hurry though,” Wesley added, again staring at the scantily clad, water dripping vampire before slipping back to the modest privacy of the hallway.
Angel pulled against the curb near the alley’s opening, Gunn’s truck parked just ahead. The short ride would have been convenient for questioning Wesley on his discussion with their stubborn partner but his thoughts filled with Cordelia and her vision left no room for anything unimportant.
Even if his senses had not revealed that the attack and ensuing battle had begun the four running and screaming humans would have been sufficient evidence. Grabbing their weapons, they leaped from the car charging into the dimly lit path.
Wesley immediately challenged one of the vampires circling Cordelia leaving her to fend against the other two. Angel stood frozen staring into the abyss, he knew he should take charge of the two vampires attacking his woman but he was mesmerized by the sight and quite honestly a little appalled.
The point of her sword was up and out, her wrist straight and locked ready to withstand the force of her opponent’s counter attack. Her stance was perfect; her feet properly spaced to hold her balance but allow for a spin should the need arise. And a spin she did make after bluffing her opponent with a fake to the left she spun to the right, the sharp edge of her blade slicing through his thick neck reducing him to scattered debris.
Her moves were unfamiliar; nothing like the few maneuvers he had taught her back in the days long past when he had the right to teach her, to touch her. Where were the signs of his teachings and where the hell did she learn the moves she so gracefully commanded?
His gaze landed on the one he despised. Both Jack and Cordelia had reduced their opponents to one and Angel realized that at no time had their battlegrounds drifted apart. They moved in unison; Cordelia reading Jack’s directions, simple gestures of his left hand apparently enough for her to understand.
Cordelia’s strength began to falter and she stumbled under the weight of her attacker. Angel landed at her side and releasing a feral growl thwarted Stone’s impending rescue, twirled Cordelia behind him and blocked the vampire’s impressive strike before swinging his own sword for a quick beheading.
The dust began to settle but the growls continued to rumble from the only vampire still standing. His breathing was ragged and heavy, his chest puffing up with each deep intake. This human he would kill without remorse, this woman he would take because it was his right. With a final growl more akin to a grunt, Angel grabbed Cordelia’s arm twirling her around and dragging her from the neb of the alley; weapons dropped and forgotten clanked against the pavement ringing out behind their dimly lit path.
“What the hell do you think you were doing?” Angel shouted his question; he growled his demand.
Cordelia jerked her arm free of his grip attempting to step back but Angel responded to her reaction with a bruising clench around both arms jerking her body against his. His body trembled with rage, the momentum vibrating into her own.
“I asked what the hell you were thinking. Fighting three vampires, are you insane or just stupid?”
The time should be recorded for posterity; the moment that rage met rage, two unrivaled opponents. There would be no victor; there would be no survivors.
“Insane! Stupid!” Words short but sharper than her discarded blade spit into the vampire’s face.
“What the hell is going on? Get your damn hands off her vampire!” Jack Stone commanded as he raced toward the fuming couple quickly followed by Wesley and Gunn.
His command was countered not by the vampire but by his would-be lover. “Back off Stone, this is my kill; nobody will dust this vampire but me.”
Wesley and Gunn cringed shrinking back certain the very fires of hell had spewed from Cordelia’s mouth riding the tail of her decree.
Angel thought he was beyond the flood of rage his body could endure, needing to know he shoved Cordelia away releasing his grip; her body slapped against the hard wall behind her with an audible crack.
“Bring it on little girl but remember, the victor of this battle will have his spoils.”
Cordelia answered his challenge without hesitation. Her right fist collided with his left cheek, the force lobbing his chin against his right shoulder. Angel grunted at the pain, staggered in shock of the un-deflected punch. Cordelia shrilled a feral growl of her own; the pain coursing through her hand, fearful evidence she may have crushed every bone.
Thin threads of restraint snapped and the demon targeted his prey. Like an animal, Angel pounced without warning crushing Cordelia against the rough wall; this time his hard body pressed tightly against her. He attacked her mouth, his tongue forcing its way in unbridled by the lack of invitation. The sweep of his tongue brushed every inch of her mouth gathering even the smallest taste before edging toward the entry of her throat. Cordelia gagged from the deep intrusion puffing air from her stretched mouth, which Angel sucked into his own compelling her to give him more.
A feminine whimper of submission, a masculine groan of domination stifled under the hefty shove of three makeshift referees. They tackled Angel to the ground his resistance abetted by Cordelia’s reluctance to concede. The vampire finally wrestled onto his stomach with Gunn’s stake thrust against his back, its point a precise entry to the heart, Wesley screamed at the face bouncing mere inches from his.
“Take Cordelia and run you damn fool!” The bellowed warning elicited more deadly growls their prisoner resuming his struggle to retrieve his lost quarry.
The two remaining men watched as Stone drug Cordelia up the alleyway kicking and screaming for release. The worst of her resistance ending with the sound of a slap then a thump when Stone tossed Cordelia’s still half-struggling body over his shoulder.
Wesley and Gunn’s bodies bobbled against the jerks and shoves of Angel’s struggle for freedom and Wesley feared he would become seasick from all the tossing about. “Good God man, get a hold of yourself.”
Wesley avoided returning Gunn’s glare dreading the words he knew were about to spout. “Oh I get what you were saying now English.” Gunn spouted just as Wesley had feared, his words broken up by the vibrations pulsing beneath their stronghold. “I’ve been much too hard on the vampire; yea, right. I know we’re all gonna die; the question is which one is gonna kill us, the vamp or his current obsession.”
“Bloody hell,” Wesley muttered dropping his head to rest against Angel’s back now that he had finally become still.
The twenty-minute car ride felt like three hours of torturous silence to Cordelia. She leaned her stinging cheek against the cool glass of the window. Jack had slapped her, had slapped her and threw her over his shoulder like a wild animal. Her dilemma, her unspoken reason for taking it without revocation she had behaved like a wild animal, like the demon she was.
Is this what The Powers had in mind? Inject her with demon DNA then sit back and enjoy the show.
Jack pulled the car to the curb in front of her building shutting off the engine. “Hey, you OK?”
Cordelia looked at him for the first time since fleeing the alley. “I’m fine.”
The back of his fingers reached to brush across the lingering pink on her cheek. “I’m sor-”
“Don’t,” Cordelia interrupted before the regret could be voiced. “You have nothing to apologize for; I was acting like a crazy person and you did what you had to do.”
“Come on Chase, I’ll walk you up.” Jack responded flipping his door latch and stepping from the car. He walked to Cordelia’s door pulling it open and offering his hand.
Cordelia accepted with a faint smile too exhausted even for a nod. They were silent again but what was there to say; Cordelia certainly didn’t want to hear the words she knew would take voice before their night was over. Jack was in love with her and he was going to make love to her until they discovered just how much of a crazy ass demon she is, so now he’s not. There she had worked it out for herself, no need for Jack to spell it out.
“Dennis we’re back,” Cordelia announced entering the apartment, Jack directly behind her. She dropped her keys on the table preparing herself for the end of her perfectly shambled relationship.
Cordelia tensed from surprise when his arms slipped around her his hands resting on her stomach. “Hey beautiful, you too tired for coffee?”
“You…you’re staying?” She stuttered causing a small chuckle from her questioning boyfriend.
“For a little while; if you’re not too tired, that is.”
Cordelia turned around careful not to dislodge his embrace and with a grateful sigh laid her head against Jack’s chest. At least someone or something was looking out for her, she wouldn’t discover she was a crazy demon and be dumped in the same night.
“What is it Chase?” Jack asked believing Cordelia was more tired than she was showing.
“I didn’t think you’d want to stay after the way I behaved. I didn’t think you’d want to see me anymore let alone stay the night.”
“I’m not staying over, just staying for coffee so we can talk.”
“Go get a shower and change, your dress is torn.” Jack indicated pulling the ripped fabric through his fingers before turning Cordelia toward her bedroom door. “I’ll start the coffee.” Cordelia had reached her bedroom door pulling it open when his soft voice halted her movement. “Chase?” She hesitantly looked over her shoulder, had he changed his mind? “I love you.”
“You’re a good man Jack Stone.” Cordelia rested the side of her face against the half open door and whispered, maybe from fatigue, maybe from dread that he would agree. “You probably deserve a lot more than you’re getting.”
“Funny, I worry that I have too much.”
The hot shower was exactly what she needed. Cordelia felt human again, not only human but female and Jack way staying and they were going to talk. What were they going to talk about; maybe Jack had changed his mind about staying over and them making love. If that was the case, she may not need to worry but she definitely needed to concentrate. She needed to remember it was Jack holding her in his arms; she needed to remember to see Jack’s face when she closed her eyes.
Damn Fred Burkle. But it wasn’t Fred’s fault, Angel’s face had flashed behind closed eyes during many of her kisses with Jack. The sad truth was it had nothing to do with Fred and her weird ass theory, for the first time Cordelia Chase was running from the truth. She had unknowingly created a human Angel to replace the vampire one she had lost. Damn Angel…Ump…Smith. Damn it she needed two names when she was mad at someone. Damn Angel and his lame-ass one name self. Cordelia knew which one would keep her heart safe. Damn it, she knew.