Angel froze. Although he didn’t need to breathe, he felt like he was suffocating.
It was Cordelia. His Cordy. Alive and whole. No gaping wound in her chest, draining her life away. No blood drenching her clothes.
For a moment, he was overwhelmed. The emotion was so beyond happiness, so beyond hope or relief or need, that he couldn’t move. Couldn’t believe.
Then, the vampire put its filthy hands on her.
The demon emerged with a snarl that was pure beast. Fangs bared, eyes glinting amber, Angel bounded across the clearing. His duster whipped around his legs.
The vampire was so focused on the struggling form of Cordelia Chase, it didn’t realize it was in danger. Until Angel slammed into it. The force of his rage sent the creature sailing through the air. It crashed into a tree, then dropped to the ground, stunned.
Cordelia, abruptly released from the vampire’s hold, stumbled backwards, and fell into the grass.
The vampire forgotten, Angel hurried towards her. Donning his human face, he knelt at her side.
“Cordy,” he whispered. And his hungry gaze drank her in. The beautiful face that graced his bedroom walls from floor to ceiling. The hazel eyes that haunted his dreams. The lips that could light his entire existence with a simple smile.
Angel’s body strained towards her. Strained to wrap around her, and feel that she was really there in front of him. To feel her breath on his neck and know that she was…
But an inner voice warned against it. And, as he continued to study her, he realized why.
Her hair was long and loose, and reached just past her shoulders. Her expression was colder, more closed, than he was used to it being. She looked younger…
Now, Buffy’s presence made more sense. And he had some idea of where and when he was.
“Why don’t you take a picture?” Cordelia snapped. “Geez!”
And Angel realized he’d been staring at her for longer than was normal.
“Sorry,” he said. He looked away from her, but only for a moment. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her for longer than that. “Are you okay?”
“Well, I’m not dead.” She rolled her eyes. “But the grass stains are never coming out of these pants. And I just bought them!”
She sounded like the spoiled, self-absorbed brat everyone believed her to be. Like the stains on her pants were more important than being attacked by a vampire.
But Angel could hear the fear she didn’t want anyone to see. In the frantic pounding of her heart. The slight hitch in her breath.
Standing, Angel held his hand out to her.
For a moment, Cordy seemed insulted by the gesture. Then, with a haughty “Hmph!” she took his hand, and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet.
Angel was mesmerized by the feel of her hand in his. So warm and familiar. And real.
It had been so long since he’d been able to touch her. Months that felt like years. Like forever.
When she pulled her hand out of his, he almost didn’t let go.
“Thanks,” she grumbled. Then, she glanced at some point over his shoulder.
Angel turned and saw Buffy fighting a trio of vampires with her usual strength and skill. Even as he watched, one of them turned to dust, floated away on the evening breeze.
Beyond her stood Willow and Xander. They watched their friend fight, a mixture of admiration and worry on their young faces.
For a moment, Angel considered helping the Slayer with the two remaining vamps.
Then, he heard a groan.
A frown crinkling his intense brow, Angel turned to glare at the vampire that had dared to touch Cordelia. The creature had recovered from its collision with the tree, and had staggered to its feet.
Teeth clenched, Angel stalked towards the vampire. Reaching into the folds of his coat, he found a stake. And a…
An eerie smile shadowed Angel’s lips as he pulled out the dagger.
“This’ll do,” he said, his voice devoid of emotion.
As Angel approach, the vampire growled a low warning. When Angel didn’t stop, it bared its teeth and lunged.
The first cut was a slash across its collarbone.
Many more followed, in quick succession.
A stab to the rib cage.
A gash across the left eye.
Angel moved with the grace of a seasoned killer. Cut with the precision of a surgeon one moment. Then, the ragged anger of a beast craving destruction the next.
Angel’s grief and anger and frustration were like a rain of razors, showering down on the hapless vampire, flaying its skin from its flesh. At first, the vampire tried to fight. But soon, as Angel hacked away at its cold body, all it could do was howl in pain. Hold up its hands to try to protect itself from the next incision. And howl a little louder when its fingers were severed.
Angel didn’t hear those howls. His mind was too filled with visions of this thing grabbing Cordelia.
Of Cordelia sticking her tongue out at him.
Of Cordelia holding Connor.
Of Cordelia’s body, lying limp and bloody in his arms.
When the vampire fell to the ground, Angel straddled its waist. Continued to stab and slash. Until the creature was mostly still, an occasional whimper issuing from its bloodied lips.
Finally, Angel pulled out the stake. Plunged it into the vampire’s heart. Nodded with satisfaction…and regret (it still hadn’t suffered enough) as it turned to dust.
Taking a deep, unneeded breath, Angel stood. Turned.
And found Cordelia staring at him. Hazel eyes wide with shock…horror. Mouth agape.
As Angel realized what he had done, the viciousness she had just seen, his still heart sank. Forgotten, the bloodied dagger fell from his fingers. The blade stabbed the earth at his feet.
“Cordy,” he whispered. He took a step towards her.
And flinched when she took a step back.
“You guys okay?” a feminine voice interrupted.
Pulling his eyes away from Cordy, Angel turned to look at Buffy. The Slayer jogged towards them, brushing dust from her jacket. And the others were close behind.
“Cordy?” Xander asked. “You alright?”
Cordelia stared at Angel a few moments longer, a dazed look in her eyes. Then, with a hard shake of her head, she turned to look at Xander. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Then, her dazed expression turned into an irritated frown. “But these pants are ruined!”
“Yeah, ‘cause that’s what’s most important. Not the fact that we were all, for example, almost eaten!”
“Oh, please.” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Those vamps are dust. Problem solved. But the stains are never coming out of these pants.”
Angel watched the two of them bicker. Noticed how close they stood to each other. Watched Xander place his hands on her shoulders. And she made no move to pull away.
The two of them were dating then.
Even as the knowledge awakened something dark and stinging in the center of his chest, Angel used it to narrow down exactly when he was. This must be their senior year. After his return from hell, but before Spike came back to Sunnydale.
“What are you guys doing here, anyway?” Buffy demanded, splitting a glare between Willow, Xander, and Cordelia.
“Well, Oz is rehearsing with the band tonight,” Willow explained. “And I’ve got all my homework done for the next two weeks.”
Xander continued. “And all that’s playing at the movies are heartwarming dramas, and sweet romantic comedies. You know. Girlie stuff.” He frowned in disgust. “And, since we had nothing better to do…”
“Um, hello,” Cordy interrupted. “I wanted to check out that new juice bar-slash-dance club. But I got out-voted.” She crossed her arms and sighed. “Again.”
“Anyway,” her boyfriend continued. “We decided to come help out with the slaying. And since you said you’d probably patrol here first, here we are.”
Angel studied the three of them. He’d forgotten how…eager Buffy’s friends had always been. So eager to help her, to ease her burden, they often ended up putting themselves in danger. From which she had to save them.
“Well, you guys shouldn’t have come,” Buffy said. “I mean, what if we went somewhere else first? Then who would’ve saved you when those vamps attacked?”
“Hey, we could’ve handled it,” Xander said…but didn’t explain how.
“Um, yeah,” Willow half-heartedly agreed. “See?” and she held up a stake.
“Hmph,” Cordy snorted.
It was such a familiar sound, Angel couldn’t help but smile. For the first time in too long, his soul felt something besides ice cold.
“Well, you’re here now,” Buffy sighed. “So…”
“Let’s get with the patrolin’” Xander said, casually tossing one arm around Cordy’s shoulders.
A long, silent growl rumbled in Angel’s chest. And he imagined how good it would feel to rip that arm off.
As the gang moved to follow Buffy, Cordy glanced in Angel’s direction…then quickly looked away.
With an exasperated sigh, Cordy stomped through the overgrown grass. She hoped her body language made it obvious how not happy she was to waste a Wednesday night traipsing through creepy cemeteries and empty parks.
Folding her arms tight, she refused to shiver at the chill breeze that cut through her flimsy jacket. No way would she admit—even by shivering—that Xander and Willow had been right when they said she needed something warmer. No way!
Not that there was anyone to see her shiver. Buffy, Willow, and Xander—the original Three Musketeers—had moved ahead. They were now gossiping about the latest rumor to hit Sunnydale High. Something about Miss Hildebrand, leather…and tattoos.
Cordelia, of course, had been left to lag behind with the most un-talkative member of their wacky little band…who was walking about four steps behindher.
Was he really staring at her? Because she had that stomach tickling, flesh tingling feeling that someone was staring at her. And he was the only other someone there.
Of course, it was probably her imagination. That, combined with what she’d seen. The slice and dice he did on that vamp…
This time, she couldn’t hold back her shivers.
Cordy was so startled to hear him talk, she jumped a little. She was even more startled to find he was walking right next to her. Much closer than she’d realized.
“Here,” he said, as he took off his coat.
“What?” Cordy yelped, eyes widening at his actions. “No, I’m fine.”
“You’re cold,” he insisted. “I can feel you shivering.” Not giving her a chance to protest further, he draped his duster over her shoulders.
And it felt like his hands lingered longer than necessary. Like his fingers pressed into the flesh of her shoulders…
But that was probably her imagination, too.
For a moment, Cordy was too stunned to do anything but stare at him.
Angel stared back, expressionless. But there was this weird determination in his eyes. And Cordy suddenly knew, for a fact, that he wouldn’t take the coat back.
The coat that was oddly cool against her body. Easy to understand since the guy who’d been wearing it didn’t have a body temperature. But it kept out the chilly breeze that had been responsible for her shivers.
Cordy allowed herself a mental shrug. Okay, so Angel giving her his coat felt a little weird. But she felt a hundred percent warmer. So, why argue?
“Um, thanks,” she said as she quickened her pace.
She didn’t hear him fall into step behind her. He was really good at that whole stealth thing. But she could feel him there. Like a weight against her back.
And, this time, she definitely couldn’t blame her shiver on the cold.
Cordy had seen her share of vamps get dusted. In some pretty unusual ways. But what Angel did earlier. She was sure he could have dusted that vamp in 5 seconds flat if he wanted to. Instead, he…
Well, that hadn’t been a typical slaying. It had seemed more like punishment. Like…torture.
Maybe it was the way he always did it, and she just hadn’t noticed before. And, after all, he was a vampire. Should it really surprise her that he, maybe, enjoyed killing? That he would turn it into, well, an art, almost.
After all, not many vamps were as sickly creative as Angelus had been.
I wonder if my mom’s therapist is looking for new patients, Cordy thought. Half joking.
Angel couldn’t take his eyes away from her. Had to push his hands into his pockets just to assure he wouldn’t grab her. Wrap himself around her. Press her to the length of him.
He had to remind himself that this wasn’t his Cordy. This wasn’t the woman who encouraged his hugs. Who gave him a hundred comforting touches every day. Who didn’t cringe away when he touched her.
To this Cordelia Chase, he was a virtual stranger. One she was a little afraid of.
Angel’s still heart clenched in his chest. He didn’t want her to be afraid of him. He wanted her to…
Angel cursed himself for killing the vampire the way he did. In front of her. But, at the time, all he could think about was the vampire’s hands on her. And hurting the vampire as much as possible before letting it die.
He just wished Cordy hadn’t seen. Hadn’t been so horrified by his actions.
It would make things that much harder.
Angel moved closer to her. So close, he could feel the heat of her body against his skin. Wearing his coat, she was surrounded by his scent. And the smell of her scent mixed with his was…intoxicating.
“I think that’s it, guys,” the Slayer’s voice said.
Cordelia halted suddenly.
Angel stopped half a second later. But not soon enough to stop his chest from being pressed against her back.
Before he could enjoy the moment of delicious contact, Cordy gasped and took a startled step forward.
“This place is as dead as the everywhere else,” Buffy continued. Apparently, she, Xander and Willow had stopped to wait for him and Cordy. Angel had been too lost in his own thoughts to notice.
“It looks like most of the vamps are on vacation,” Xander quipped.
“I guess,” Buffy agreed. And she turned.
Angel knew the exact moment when she saw Cordy wearing his coat. Her body stiffened. Her eyes widened. A confused frown clouded her expression.
Angel calmly waited for her to ask. And wondered what he would say. After all, at this point in his life, he’d loved Buffy to the exclusion of everything else. He would’ve done anything to keep her from doubting him in any way.
But that wasn’t who he was anymore. So, how much of that part was he willing to play?
“I got cold,” Cordy said into the silence.
Which, from the look in the Slayer’s eyes, wasn’t enough of an explanation.
“Hey!” Xander said indignantly. “I would have let you wear my jacket, Cordy. All you had to do was ask.”
“Oh, right. And you would’ve spent the night making me feel guilty for letting you freeze to death. I don’t think so.” She shrugged out of the duster, handed it to Angel without looking at him. “Thanks,” she mumbled.
“Yeah,” Angel said…watching with sad eyes as she hurried to her boyfriend’s side.
Cordelia sat on the edge of her bed, and ran a towel through her wet hair.
It had been a freaky night. Freakier than usual. First, she was almost killed by a vampire. Then, Angel…
Almost instinctively, Cordy’s mind started to deal. It was something she was really good at. So good in fact that, by tomorrow morning, it would all be a distant memory. A waste of time to bother thinking about.
So, a vamp tried to make her his first meal of the night. If she kept going on freak patrol, it wouldn’t be the last time that happened.
So Angel had killed said vampire with more enthusiasm than she was used to. What mattered was that the vamp had been dusted…before it got the chance to take a bite out of her. That was all that mattered.
As for Angel giving her his coat, the guy was born over 200 years ago. All that chivalry stuff was probably second nature to him.
Nodding at the satisfying perspective she’d put everything into, Cordy stood and went to the window. She reached out to close the curtain…and gasped.
For a moment, a fraction of a second, she thought she saw someone. Standing there, near the trees. Moonlight sparkling in their eyes as they gazed up at her window.
But there was no one there now. If there ever had been.
A chill racing up her spine, Cordy pulled the curtain closed.
“It was probably…just a shadow.”