Angel’s Songs. 1

Chapter 1

December 3, 2002

“Horses, horses, horses, horses…”

Angel’s hand began to shake and his left eye twitched.

“Horses, horses, horses, horses…”

“Cordy, could you please stop singing or whatever it is you call that.” Angel let out an exasperated breath before loudly turning the crisp pages of the LA Times to the sports section and straightening out the crinkles with a few manly shakes.

“Pfft. Like Meg Ryan’s got such a great voice. Oh, right, she’s blonde so nobody tells her to shut up. Let’s all pick on the vocally challenged brunette. Well, get over it because I’ll be doing a lot more singing over the next few weeks.”

The muscles in Angel’s neck and shoulders snapped, and his whole body shuddered violently. If he’d been facing her, he would have seen how his trembling at the thought of more of her Christmas “spirit” stoked excitement in her new demon genes.

A sudden twinkle sparkled in her eyes directed at the formidable wall of the office Scrooge’s back. “You know, Christmas songs are some of the most difficult melodies to master, so my ‘whatever it is I do’ will be especially annoying.”

Leaning over the edge of her desk until her mouth was just behind his left ear, she began to softly annihilate “Ave Maria.”

Angel closed the paper slowly. With every warble and cracked note so high that a cartoon dog would come running, he carefully folded the newsprint and then doubled it over again and again. Leisurely running the creases between his thumb and index finger after each fold, he almost cut himself on the razor sharp edges. He then casually shifted the ruler-sized rectangle to his left palm. Before she could blink and without turning around, Angel reached back and thwacked her on the head with it.

“Ow!” Cordy retaliated with a swift slap on his bicep.

Angel twirled his chair around and swatted at the offending palm but missed.

“Hey, no fair. You’ve got a weapon.” Cordy eyed the weapons cabinet. Angel merely smirked and dared her to go for it.

“Children. Am I going to have to separate you two for the next three weeks in order to keep some semblance of office propriety?” Spanning the gap of his office doors with his hands on his hips, elbows bent so sharply they cut the room in half like a craft knife, shoulders hunched, and glasses precariously perched on the tip of his nose, Wesley looked every ounce the mother of two brats who had just reached the end of her rope. Add a flour covered face, a rolling pin and an apron and you could slap the name Norman Rockwell on the picture and make a few grand.

“Hey, she started it with the singing from hell and trust me, I know.”

“Yeah, well, he hit me with the paper when I was singing a religious song. That’s…that’s just…wrong.”

“Angel, no more hitting. Cordy, please keep your singing to a soft hum or better yet let the radio and professionals do it for you. I think you both would enjoy the season more if you stayed as far away from each other as possible between now and Christmas and allow the rest of us to actually experience the good will towards men aspect of the season.”

With a backward step and a swoosh of wind as he shut the double doors to his office, Wesley left them alone and momentarily stunned.

The radio softly said Johnny Mathis was busy roasting chestnuts in an open fire while Angel turned around and looked at Cordy. She was his gauge in situations like this, and he wasn’t sure if Wesley’s little meltdown should be considered amusing or worrisome.

Cordy wasn’t much help when she said, “Kathleen Turner – Serial Mom.”

When he just stared blankly, she continued.

“Get it? Wesley! Just now with his little rant. Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom!”

“Cordy, what are the chances that I’ve actually seen that movie to know what you’re talking about?”

“It’s Christmas. I was hoping for a miracle!” Angel rolled his eyes. “Fine, I’ll explain. Most of the time he’s the loving mother hen – quietly graceful and pristine. But put a kink in his perfect fantasy life and you’d better have a taste tester handy to check out the banana pecan pancakes for razor blades. I so got an Aunt Jemima on PCP vibe just now.”

Angel was having a hard time trying to picture a hopped up Aunt Jemima, but any thought of Wesley as a woman much less a mother was enough to make his smile return and the chortles start.

Once Angel lost control Cordy couldn’t resist joining him. In seconds they were holding their hands over their mouths trying to stifle the sounds of their irreverent mocking while supporting their weakening knees by leaning over opposite sides of the counter.

When their quaking shoulders settled and Cordy’s gasps for air lessened, she reached over and grabbed his forearm. Her eyes wide and mischievous, she licked her lips before stretching forward further to whisper something, and he had no choice but to bend down to meet her in the middle.

Angel realized at that moment he had a dilemma.

On the one hand, he could spend hours watching her glistening, red mouth that his vision had darted to the instant her tongue had swept out to slide along its path. He knew how dangerous it was to get lost in the hypnotizing motion of her plump lips, especially that bottom one that tempted him daily to take between his and nip repeatedly, because he really should be listening to whatever it was she was saying.

On the other hand, how could he listen when he was torn between her lips and her cleavage? Angelus couldn’t have planned this position better: her body stretched toward his with her mouth dangerously close to his, her breath smelling of candy cane mint and coffee; her breasts resting on her arm and her antique white blouse unbuttoned just enough so he could see every delicious inch of the confluence of those firm yet supple mounds that his palms itched to weigh.

“Angel!”

“Huh, what?” He didn’t take his eyes away from the view he so seldom got to indulge in.

“I said what do you think about my plan?”

“What plan?”

Cordy used her free hand to slap his arm. “Angel, stop checking out my rack and listen to me. I’ve got a pair of something else you could look at.”

Angel’s eyes moved back to her lips. Oh, yes. I’d almost forgotten about the lips.

Another slap finally got his attention and he jerked back rubbing his arm. “Ouch! Watch the nails.”

“My eyes, dorkweed! You might want to change it up every so often and look at them when I’m talking to you. You know, just to throw me off.”

He did look at her eyes and knew at once there wasn’t any place on her body that he could safely gaze upon and not get distracted. She would just have to get over the fact that he was obsessed. Or, rather, he’d just have to get used to being pummeled by her very strong right hook. The demon in her was apparently quite the featherweight champ.

“Hello!” Cordy’s fingers became snapping castanets mere inches from his face, and he was mesmerized by the blur of red nails.

“I give up,” she said as she threw up her hands in disgust and stomped back to her desk.

“No, wait. You said something about a plan. What kind of plan?”

“Forget about it. The moment’s gone.” She sat and pulled a candy cane from her drawer. She split the cellophane and tossed it in the trash can under her desk as she continued. “It was just the most brilliant idea to make actual steam come out of Wesley’s ears, but I don’t think you’re capable of focusing long enough to carry it off.”

She pushed the long, straight end of the candy into her mouth and sucked as she pulled it out between her lips and mumbled between licks, “Sheesh, you’d think Angelus could pop his head out every now and then even if your soul is glued down. Could be fun.”

Angel didn’t really hear that last part. He was too busy fantasizing about Cordy’s mouth wrapped around something else which was quickly and noticeably rising to the mental stimulation. This is exactly what happened earlier which is why he had been sitting at his desk with his back to her reading the paper. Twice in the span of an hour. He really needed to get rid of every last one of those damn candy canes.

“Ho, ho, ho. The lunch elves are here!”

Angel tried to disguise his lunge for cover as a saunter but wasn’t sure he had succeeded. Casually he sat and pulled his lower body beneath his desk before Fred and Gunn made it around the counter.

“Lunch fairy,” Gunn said, correcting Fred. “Ain’t no way I’m dressing in green felt and wearing those pointy hats and shoes.”

“Ah, but a tutu and wings scream macho demon killing machine,” Fred said with a wink.

He tweaked her nose after setting down the food on the counter. “It says classy and graceful macho demon killing machine.”

“Angel, you’ve created a monster,” Cordy said, shooting him an accusing glare as she crossed to the counter to scrounge for her tuna melt. “As for you, Gunn, I think it’s time your ballet privileges were revoked. I could swear you did a tour jeté last night before you sliced that Halvrak’s arm off.”

Angel rose feeling the need to defend Gunn’s newest obsession. “Don’t knock ballet moves. There have been plenty of times a graceful turn or leap has saved my hide.”

“Please. You’re about as graceful as a blind, three-legged dog, but it does explain why just watching you guys train can put me right to sleep.”

He pursed his lips ready to refute her insult, but she smiled and winked taking all the wounded indignation out of him and replacing it with a flush of heat that raced from the top of his head to the ends of his toes.

He’d been having that reaction a lot lately. Ever since he realized just how deep his feelings for her were when she’d almost died on her birthday. After that horrifying ordeal, he’d begun to relish any bit of kindness or affection she threw his way.

Then the ballet incident! All that touching, kissing and moaning, while sending his heart soaring, had almost undone him. He was still kicking his ass all over town for not taking the opportunity to say something to her that night. It was the perfect moment, but he’d wasted precious time fumbling with words that stuck in his throat until Cordy finally gave up on his babbling. He watched stone-faced as her concentration and concern shifted to Wesley who was not handling the hookup between Fred and Gunn very well.

Now, every day, he felt the right time would never come again, and she was slipping further and further out of his grasp even though his feelings were intensifying. He wasn’t sure exactly why he just didn’t tell her except that part of him knew that timing was a big deal in relationships and his had always sucked. He had no natural rhythm for dancing and definitely none for judging when to say the right thing.

But more importantly, he was scared to death she didn’t feel the same, and he’d lose what closeness they had. He had good evidence to support that conclusion considering Cordy had made light of everything that happened at the ballet and made sure he knew she didn’t want to ever discuss it again. Never once had she looked at him in the same way he knew he was looking at her – with undisguised lust and unbridled love.

Was she just blind or maybe what he thought was so clearly written all over him looked to her like constipation? Damn, that girl was frustrating the hell out of him!

With every sway of her hips, unconscious sigh, twirl of her hair, or nip of her bottom lip his body hummed with desire and tingled with anticipation of the next moment. That’s why something as simple as her sucking on a candy cane was destroying his fragile grip on self control. They were obviously created by an evil, evil creature to torture him and had to be eliminated from the planet.

“Hey, look!” Fred gleefully announced as she pulled something from the plastic Rite-Aid’s bag. “We bought more candy canes since they seem to be such a popular item. We got two packs for the price of one!”

“Great,” Angel deadpanned and sighed melodramatically while plopping into his chair.

“Here ya go, Cordy.” Fred started emptying the rest of the drug store purchases onto Cordy’s desk. “One bottle of Devilishly Deep nail polish, glossy not crème, a three-pack of VCR tapes for recording all the holiday specials in case some evil demons try throwin’ some salt on our game…”

“Fred,” Gunn sighed. “Speak white-girl English, please, and save my sanity.”

“Mine, too,” Cordy and Angel said together.

“Slang party poopers,” Fred said, pushing her bottom lip out every bit as effectively as Cordy, and then suddenly looking quite puzzled as she pulled out the few remaining items from the bag.

“And last but not least, the magazines you wanted. I still don’t get why you wanted these. I mean I know I’ve been gone awhile, but aren’t these the ones old ladies like to read?”

Angel was intrigued. A change in Cordy’s magazine habit was certainly newsworthy and could possibly offer a big hint for what to get her for Christmas. He’d been stumped for weeks trying to decide what to do. He wanted it to be something personal to give her a clue about his feelings but not too personal to avoid any awkwardness in case she didn’t share his feelings.

Thus far he’d eliminated the usual: clothes, perfume, movies, CDs, books, magazine subscriptions and money – although he might hide some just to have some fun watching her find it. Jewelry was still a possibility but that could be tricky, and he wasn’t sure he would be able to maneuver through the whole diamonds vs. rubies vs. emeralds and what they signify minefield.

“Fred, you have so much to learn, don’t you? Yes, you’re right. For ten months out of the year, Better Homes and Gardens and The Ladies Home Journal are the stuff of old ladies with big, floppy gardening hats’ dreams, but come Thanksgiving and Christmas they rule for holiday decorating tips. You went pretty gah-gah over my Thanksgiving centerpiece and that came straight from the November issue of BH&G.” Cordy flashed the current month’s glossy magazine cover to emphasize her point.

“Wow! Can I look at them when you’re done? I want to do something festive with my room, but I’m kinda sick of garland, tinsel and mistletoe.”

“What’s wrong with mistletoe?” Gunn asked. “It’s the one time of the year that a plant actually serves a purpose besides just sitting there annoyingly waiting to be watered. Who needs that guilt when kissing is so much more fun? Speaking of, I think you’re standing under some right now.”

All eyes went to the ceiling except Gunn’s stare which was focusing on Fred’s lips.

Angel mentally kicked himself again. Why didn’t I see that before and how long has it been there? We were standing right there five minutes ago. Damn!

“Eww,” Cordy said. “That’s coming down today. You guys do that lip smacking stuff enough. We really don’t need mistletoe forcing you to do it more.”

Angel sighed as Cordy’s words shot down his last hope for a freebie this Christmas.

“C’mon, girl. You’re just jealous. Get your fine Barbie butt up here, and I’ll share the love.”

Angel’s world collided with the sun and exploded as he watched a giggly Cordy rise from her chair, fall into Gunn’s outstretched arms and accept his lips on hers for the most disgusting public display of affection he had ever witnessed.

He couldn’t stop the little mewling whine that escaped his lips.

Three pairs of curious eyes turned toward him.

“What’s the matter, bro? Feeling a little left out? I’m feeling pretty generous right now so come here and get your chocolate Christmas treat.” Gunn started blowing air kisses at Angel and wriggled his fingers at him to coax him into his arms.

Cordy started to snigger and back-handed his chest. “Stop it, Gunn. We all know who Angel wants to kiss even if he’s too shy to admit it.”

She dipped her head and locked eyes with Angel. Under the veil of her thick lashes, her eyes beckoned him and then flashing her most devastating smile, she made sure the message was clear.

“Angel,” Cordy coyly murmured while curling her index finger at him to come hither.

He hoped he hadn’t gotten up and skipped to Cordy’s side too fast, but he didn’t think he had because it seemed like it was taking forever to float to her. He stared into her shimmering eyes and watched her tongue once again moisten her lips. His right leg began to shake as he slowly lowered his head toward hers.

Cordy groaned softly and never blinked as she watched first his eyes and then his mouth move closer and closer. He could hear her heart begin to speed up and felt a clammy film on his palms. Oh, God, maybe she really does want me.

He was three inches from the taste and warmth he still recalled vividly from the ballet when Cordy unexpectedly jumped back and yelled toward the space behind him.

“Wesley! Get out here! Angel has something he wants to give you.”

As the sound of three laughing former friends drowned out everything around him, Angel knew one thing. Cordy was very lucky Angelus was tied down.

***

“Come on, Angel. Stop pouting. Admit it. It was pretty darn funny, and I did manage to get that steam out of someone’s ears. They just ended up being your ears instead of Wesley’s.”

Cordy was unrepentant and fully convinced she hadn’t done anything wrong. Angel, if he were being honest with himself, would have laughed his ass off if she’d pulled that on anyone else, but he wasn’t in the mood for honesty. He wanted to strangle her and ravish her at the same time and that bothered him because he was never into erotic asphyxiation before. That clinched it. Cordy was divinely evil, and he loved her for it.

However, he still wasn’t in the mood to forgive her, so he continued to ignore her and flip through the book Wesley had given him to read as punishment for his share of the humiliation. As he sat there, his legs stretched and feet perched on his desk with the book in his lap, he pondered for the hundredth time why he was being punished for something Cordelia had done. But somehow in the explanation that flew from her mouth, he had become a sex-crazed, gay eunuch with a mistletoe fetish and she was just an innocent bystander.

“If you stop being mad at me, I’ll tell you what I got you for Christmas.”

She donned her bedroom eyes and her warmest smile and the womanly manipulation game was on. He merely tilted his head – his most manly version of her verbal “as if” – which she quickly interpreted and replied jutting out her lower lip.

Angel was about to call her pouty lip and raise her with a “please, don’t even try it” when he saw a twinkle of guilt deep in those hazel depths. The chill of his embarrassment melting at the sight, he sighed and capitulated.

“Fine, what did you get me?” It took all the control he had not to quirk up his lips when she realized she was succeeding in bringing him out of his brood and her perfect smile widened. He closed the book and folded his hands on top of it in his lap and waited.

And waited.

“Well? What is it?” His eyebrows lifted as it dawned on him this was the perfect way to find out just how she felt about him. Personal gift – feelings of the hot kind; impersonal gift – just friends.

“You don’t really want me to tell you, do you?”

“Yes! I mean…you offered and I said ok. I think that constitutes wanting to know.”

“But if I tell you, then you won’t be surprised on Christmas day. That’s the best part of giving a gift – watching the expression on the person’s face when they open it.”

Oh, God, not the big guns. But it was. The patented lip thrust was joined in battle by whiny voice, hair twirl, gnawed lip and moist eyes. She really didn’t want to tell him.

And it almost worked. Mathis had changed to the mellow, rich voice of Clooney counting her blessings and Angel felt blessed for finally being able to be one step ahead of Miss Chase.

He shook his head, dropped his feet to the floor and tossed the text on his desk. Chuckling softly, he said, “Cordy, Cordy, Cordy. You haven’t even bought my gift yet, have you?”

Her lips plunged downward and her whole body sagged at the disappointment that her ruse had failed.

“Damn it, Angel. You were supposed to try and guess. How am I supposed to know what to get a 250 year-old vampire if you don’t ever want anything? I just thought if you started guessing, you’d let slip something you might actually like to get.”

“Sorry to spoil your manipulation, but you know if you want to know something all you have to do is ask.”

“First, not a manipulation – just a bit of Christmas cleverness which everyone uses this time of year when necessary. Second, I’ll bite. What do you want for Christmas, Angel?”

He was stuck. He really didn’t want anything except her. Now was the moment. All these months of waiting for another chance and here it was. The only thing he had to do was say it.

All I want is you, Cor.

Opening his mouth, nothing came out but a dry wheeze. He’d forgotten to breathe in air in order to speak. Clearing his throat he filled his lungs and tried again.

“All I want is…”

“Man, this is the coolest game since Mortal Kombat. Angel, have you tried this yet? We have got to have a match so I can wipe the floor with your puny vamp ass.”

Gunn’s invasion of their private moment distracted Angel and he panicked.

“…Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

“Huh?” Cordy was confused.

“Oh, so you have played it. Cool. Come over here and show me your moves.” Gunn sat on the couch, his attention immediately absorbed by the video game screen in his hands.

“I said, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You know, the game. For the Gameboy.” He didn’t know how he managed to keep talking when every muscle in his neck and face was contracting in anger at himself for letting yet another perfect moment slip by.

Although, in the back of his mind he decided he wouldn’t mind actually getting that game. It was pretty cool.

Once Cordy’s mouth closed, she took a pen and post-it and started to write. “Okay. Got it. Anything else you might want just in case this…game…is sold out. I hear these kinds of things get scarce at Christmas.”

As the familiar pangs of defeat continued to course through him, he mumbled, “Well, I guess any game would be nice. I’ve kind of played all the ones we have until I can do them in my sleep.”

“Isn’t that just sad? Okay, a game it is. I mean it’s not like you could use some clothes that aren’t stained with demon intestines, but…hey! You want a game, you got it.”

So she wants to get me clothes. That seems personal. I mean you have to know my size and what I like, and that’s pretty personal. Of course, she mentioned all the stains so does that mean she’s being practical or is she just disgusted?

Angel perked up at another thought. The moment to express his desires may have past, but this was the perfect time to find out what to get her. Maybe part of his problems could be solved tonight.

“What about you? What do you want?”

The shadows fell across Cordy’s once warm expression. Her eyes closed until they were mere slits, her mouth mimicked the motion and Angel felt a lead weight in the pit of his stomach.

“Me? You mean to tell me you haven’t bought me anything yet!”

Oh, crap. I think my problems just doubled.

Angel rose from his chair quickly and began edging away with arms stretched, elbows locked and hands in front of him in defense. Cordy stalked him as he backed around the counter toward the protection of his good pal, Gunn.

“Now, Cordy, you haven’t bought mine either so you have to understand…”

“Understand?” she screeched. Then the chiseled nail of her index finger was being poked repeatedly into his chest. “Understand this, buddy. I have a very good reason for not having your gift yet. You never want anything! I, on the other hand, want and need everything so you have no excuse for not buying me something!”

“Man, bro, are you stupid or just plain ignorant? Even I know it’s not bright to admit you haven’t bought a woman her gift after Thanksgiving. I was all over that action back in August.”

“See? Gunn knows and he’s over 200 years younger than you! What is your damage, Angel?”

“All right, all right, I get it. I messed up. I’m sorry. You know I’m a dork when it comes to these things. Do you think you could give me a little help, though, and…ya know…tell me some things you would like?”

Cordy sighed exasperated and Gunn tucked his head between his shoulders looking very much like one of the turtles currently doing pirouettes on the screen.

“How about this? How about I tell you what I don’t need. I don’t need hair dye…yet…or a toaster. Everything else in the world you can pretty much put on the what-to-get-Cordy-for Christmas list. Got it? Does that help?”

“Well, that doesn’t really narrow it down…”

“Angel!”

“Sheesh.” Gunn slipped off the couch and backed away. “I think I’ll see what Fred’s up to. Angel…it was nice knowing you.”

As Gunn galloped up the steps, Angel sensed his last hope went with him.

Looking at the still flushed cheeks and folded arms of warpath Cordelia, he shivered as he caught the current Christmas selection winding its way around the otherwise deathly quiet lobby. He thought it very appropriate that the music that would forever be his dirge was “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Chipmunks’ version.

***

Twenty-four hours later, only three hours of which had been spent listening to Cordy berate him for his Christmas present blunder, Angel was still alive. He was very grateful as it could have been so much worse. Fortunately, there had been a vision and coming back from the battle bloodied and shredded had pretty much gotten him out of the dog house.

Plus – Cordy hands on his chest. Nice.

No one needed to know he’d purposely let the fight go on longer than necessary or that he may have stepped into a slicing blow once – okay, maybe a few times. A man has to do what a man has to do to get a little mercy. Redemption was a bitch and Cordy and she were on a first-name basis.

“Hey! Who ate all the candy canes?” Cordy glared at Angel since he was closest.

Oh, yeah. He hid all the candy after she left for the night.

“Why look at me? I don’t eat, remember.”

“Oh, right.” Her forehead wrinkled as she tried to fathom what possibly could have happened to 48 candy canes over night.

“Maybe Fred and Gunn decided to play a little ‘hide-the-Christmas-treat’ last night.” He winked and gave her his dirtiest Angelus smile.

“You’re sick, you know that?” Shooting him one last glare, Cordy returned to her magazine, flipping the pages while her lips smacked aching for a red and white minty stick.

Angel let a satisfied smile spread as he kicked back to enjoy the newspaper and a boner-free day.

The tinkle of Wesley’s tea cup meeting its saucer mate chimed in time with the angelic voices of the Vienna Boys’ Choir ding-dong-ding-dong of the “Carol of the Bells.” Not usually one for Christmas ambiance, Angel was surprised that this year the incessant music, decorations and general commercialism hadn’t annoyed him. In fact, he was finding it all very – pleasant.

Well, barring yesterday’s fiasco and the nagging problem of Cordy’s gift, it was all somehow peaceful in its chaos. Angel had pondered his sudden affection for the season and realized the difference between this year and all the others was his family. They were together for once and no one was in pain or dying.

And then there was Cordy. That was a big difference. He’d never spent Christmas so totally and unquestioningly in love. There had been too many issues between Buffy and him as well as trying to figure out why he had been returned from hell during the “miracle” Christmas in Sunnydale for that to have been a happy time. But now there was love, purpose and family, and Christmas celebrated all of those things. Angel wanted to delight in every moment.

“Oh, my, God.” Cordy gasped covering her mouth with her palm.

He tensed. Why did I have to think about being happy?

“What’s wrong? Is it a vision?” He moved swiftly from his chair to her side and looked down to where her eyes were glued.

He became very nervous when his hand touched her shoulder, and he felt the way her body was shaking. Time seemed to stop while he waited for her to do more than stare and point at the magazine opened in front of her.

Scanning the pages, he could determine no threat imbedded there. But her expression remained startled, and her eyes screamed something he’d never seen there before and he couldn’t interpret.

His anger fueled by his inability to decipher the problem and help her, Angel gripped her shoulders and turned her around to look at him.

“Tell me what’s wrong! Please.”

Her attention momentarily diverted, Cordy inhaled deeply and lowered her hand from her mouth to her chest willing her racing heart to calm. After a few more agonizing seconds, she finally spoke a few halting words.

“The quilt.”

That was all she could manage before she gasped and covered her mouth again.

When Angel finished going through his mental demon database and could find no creature called “Quilt,” he finally allowed that the word meant just what it always did. He looked over her shoulder at the magazine once again and saw the object of her distress.

She was right. It was a quilt. Nothing really unusual to Angel’s eye, he’d seen hundreds of them over his many years. There were pieces of colored cloth stitched together – although this quilt seemed more haphazardly put together than most – and he noted lighter sections that appeared to have handwriting on them. All in all, he wasn’t very impressed – or scared for that matter.

Cordy turned back to the picture and gingerly put her fingertips to the image.

“It’s the quilt. My grandmother’s quilt.” Her eyes didn’t blink as she lovingly rubbed her fingers across the slick image as if trying to reach in to feel the texture.

Angel’s senses noted she had calmed and an aura of warmth and utter stillness surrounded her. The radio was still turned on but the once continuous stream of holiday sounds was now a silent void as if transmitting from the wrong side of the moon.

“What?” Angel stared at the picture and then at her and at last he understood. He relaxed knowing it wasn’t anything malicious that had upset her. “Cordy, I’m sure that’s not your grandmother’s quilt. I mean what are the odds?”

Cordy slapped his stomach with the back of her hand. “I know it’s not *her* quilt, dufus, but it’s just like it. The colors are different but it’s the same kind of quilt. It’s called an Angels’ Songs quilt.”

Angel sat on the desk beside her and studied her eyes. He almost echoed Cordy’s earlier gasp when he recognized the ‘something’ that he hadn’t been able to read in her stare and had never seen there before – nostalgia.

His seer and best friend didn’t have a lot of pleasant memories in her life. Crappy parents, vacuous friends, being vamp bait during her formative years, a cheating boyfriend, a rebar through her stomach. The girl never really looked back on her past and sighed, saying, “Those were the good ol’ days.”

In fact, this was the first time Angel could remember that she had ever mentioned something from her past without bitterness or sarcasm tingeing every word. It was as if all the warmth her heart possessed was glowing from every pore, lighting the room in a soft golden hue, and a little sadness tore at his gut.

Then she spoke and explained why this simple blanket seemed to mean the world to her.

“As a kid, I used to spend every Christmas with my mother’s mom while my parents took off to whatever spa or resort that got them as far away from me as possible.”

Her voice cracked a little but she recovered with a quick intake of breath.

Angel was a bit shocked to see a few tears escape her resolve and silently start to wind their trails across her blushing cheeks. Angelus itched to taste the salty pearls because they were rare treasures indeed coming from this woman. The soul ached to keep them from every happening again.

“Even though I missed them, I loved Christmas with my Grandmother. Everything that my mom had hated about growing up ‘middle class’,” she air quoted, “I loved. We’d spend a few days shopping – not for clothes but for things to make decorations and holiday baskets for her friends – then we’d sit for hours and hours talking and laughing while we decorated or made cookies. There was always the smell of fresh bread and cinnamon in the morning and pine and hot chocolate at night. And there was always Christmas music playing somewhere like she had it piped into every room.”

She laughed and then sniffled a little, her embarrassment for letting her sentimental side show quickly surfacing. “I know, I know. Sounds too perfect and not anything Queen C would ever admit having done much less liked.”

A tiny fist squeezed Angel’s heart when her cheeks pinked and her eyes glistened from the memories.

“No, I don’t think it sounds too perfect, and why shouldn’t you enjoy those things? Believe it or not, Cordy, we all know you’ve got a heart even though you try your best to hide it.”

The turnaround was amazing. One minute she was all fluff and petticoats and the next, nine-inch nails and whips.

“Of course I’ve got a heart! Who says I don’t? Is it Buffy, because if she’s so immature that she’s still going around telling people what a bitch I am….”

“Cordy, hush! Nobody’s bad-mouthing you as far as I know. And I haven’t spoken to Buffy since she returned from the dead. I just meant you put on a good tough, independent woman show for the crowds, but I…we know that’s just the outer shell. No one’s got a bigger heart than you.”

If he’d expected her to blush, he was immediately disappointed.

“Okay, what do you want? If it’s another Heston marathon night with a back rub and hot blood toddies, I so paid off that bet. That was a once-in-a-lifetime deal never to be repeated, buster.”

“Geeze, Cordy, I don’t want anything. I’m just trying to pay you a compliment which you deserve! Now finish your story about the quilt.”

As Cordy resumed her story cautiously eyeing him as if looking for signs of a trick he must be about to pull, Angel inwardly sighed recalling that movie marathon night. It was too bad it was before he realized his feelings for her. That would have been a perfect moment to spring them on her. Now all he could do was try to recapture the feel of her hot hands on his shoulder blades, the weight of her tush on his, the squeeze of her thighs against his as she leaned forward to put all of her weight into her strokes, the smell of her musk as she worked her body into a sweat making sure his was relaxed and supple under her touch…

“You ever have that feeling?” Cordy asked.

“Huh? I’m sorry, what feeling?”

Exasperated by his inattention, she humphed but continued. “That feeling of being completely safe and loved, dumbass!”

Angel winced. “Not at this particular moment, no.”

“Well neither have I since I was eight. That was the last Christmas I spent with her and slept under that quilt.”

“So, the quilt made you feel safe and loved?” Angel figured he’d missed an important point and was a little wary of trying to clarify it considering he hadn’t been listening and she knew it.

“No! Yes! It wasn’t so much the quilt as what it represented. It was an Angels’ Songs quilt.”

Her emphasizing each word was not helping his comprehension. “You said that before, but it’s not any clearer now that you’ve said it twice.”

“Ugh! My grandmother told me that years ago – probably in those days you’re so fond of recounting as if anybody cared – members of a family would write down how they felt about each other. Then someone – a woman of course – would embroider the sentiments on blocks and make a quilt. After those people passed on, the words were like angels’ songs wrapping around them as they slept surrounding them with love and peace.”

Her gaze was focused inward, her frustration with Angel momentarily forgotten as she remembered a private moment from her childhood.

“So…your grandmother’s quilt…it had words from your ancestors on it?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know any of them; it was a pretty old quilt. But she told me stories about each one of them that her mother had told her, and I felt like every one of them watched over me and hugged me when I went to sleep underneath it.”

“I can see how special that would be. What happened to it?”

She wiped the last of the moisture from her eyes and got up to get another cup of coffee. When she made it to the pot and began pouring, Angel was aware that the radio was on again and Streisand was singing about the best gift she’d ever got. As if it and the cosmos knew the need for quiet was over once Cordy walked away.

“Cor? What happened to the quilt? Does your grandmother still have it?”

She never turned and just shrugged her shoulders. “My grandmother died that year – when I was eight. My mom wasn’t the sentimental kind and definitely not one who appreciated the worth of a fraying, well-loved quilt.”

She turned, a fake smile on the protective coating she’d just enameled herself with and casually walked back to her desk saying, “She probably had it thrown in the trash or gave it to Goodwill. I never saw it again.”

Before she sat, she let her guard down for a second to give the picture one more loving glance and stroke before she closed the magazine on the past and her heart.

But she didn’t close it fast enough. Angel saw and heard enough to know exactly the perfect gift to show her just how much he cared without exactly screaming, “I love you and want to jump your bones right now.”

But what the hell did he know about quilts?

Chapter 2

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