Chapter 3 (ctd)
Well, there they were. In bed. Together. Just where Angel dreamed they’d be one day only in his fantasies there’d been no flannel, no leggings, and definitely no tube socks. Also they were both under the covers wrapped so tightly around each other it was impossible to distinguish whose limbs belonged to whom – in his dreams, that is.
In reality, instead of staring lovingly into each others eyes, they were counting the pine knots in the ceiling beams. Each was huddled against opposite edges so not one centimeter of body would possibly meet in the middle. Their arms and hands were above the comforter, each with their own fingers entwined and resting on their stomachs. The thumb twiddling seemed to indicate neither was relaxed enough for sleep.
“Not a chore.”
“Okay, Angel, I get it. Sleeping with me is the best thing since blood came in pop tops. Now go to sleep.”
“What if I’m not sleepy?”
“Then play dead!”
Angel’s thumbs stopped churning. He knew her. He knew she didn’t mean those words to be anything more than frustration verbalized, but they hurt just the same. From someone other than the woman he loved, he might have ignored them, but from her it was like she slapped him with every evil he’d ever committed.
Deliberate and calm, he unclasped his fingers and pulled back the blanket. He had one foot on the floor when Cordy tugged on his sleeve.
“Don’t. God, I’m sorry. Don’t leave.”
He felt her shifting onto her side, her hand never wavering in her grip on his shirt. Letting himself be pulled back into the center of the bed, he turned to face her and rolled into the valley their body weights created.
Lined curtains kept out both moonlight and drafts, but Angel could see the regret clearly on her face and reflecting through hazel from her soul.
“There’s no excuse…please forgive me.”
He found her right hand and brought it to his chest. “Forgiven.” He felt a million pin pricks in his fingers as he choked the urge to bring her hand up and kiss her palm.
“I just…I wanted this Christmas to be perfect.” Cordy’s voice was hushed – almost reverent. “This is the first time we’ve all been – I don’t know – happy at the same time. No one died, no one went various shades of khaki, no one is dying from skull-splitting visions. It seemed like this was the year – the one we’d actually remember and laugh about. This was supposed to be our first family Christmas. And, now…”
He could see her gaze lower as she let her sentence drift, and the salt in her tears smelled dangerously close to the surface. Letting go of her hand, he pulled her into his embrace and rocked her.
“We’re still going to have that Christmas. Nothing will stop us from getting home tomorrow. I promise.”
She was speaking into his chest, her words echoing through the empty cavern and filling him up. “You can’t know that. We could be snowbound in this cabin for a week.” Pulling out of his tight hug enough to look up into his shadowed face, she said, “I don’t think I can take a week of Beatrice Wannamaker of the Atlanta Wannamakers. I know we deal with the weird side of life every day, but I have my limits.”
Angel pulled her back into his arms and chuckled softly. “Cordy, even if I have to hire the National Guard to dig us out, I promise we will get off this mountain and back home tomorrow. Okay?”
He felt her head shake up and down. Without thinking of what he was doing, he rubbed his foot along the side of her leg and then lazily played footsy.
“You’re not really all that cold. In fact, you’re kinda warm.”
He smiled into the top of her head and quietly scented the coconut shampoo and light musk underneath. “Must be all that reflected heat. Or maybe it’s the miracle of flannel.”
She sniggered and twisted slightly so that she wasn’t being smothered but still cradled by his body. “You don’t have to give me anything else for Christmas if you’ll wear that shirt all day tomorrow. I don’t have a camera and the guys won’t believe it if you don’t.”
“I wish you’d told me that a month ago so I wouldn’t have had to go through all the hell…”
“Are you saying getting me something for Christmas was painful?”
He didn’t get to finish before she kicked his shin. “You’d be wise to think carefully about your next words.”
Angel did just that as the wind picked up and ice mixed with snow pelted the window. While pondering just what he could say to extricate himself from his freshly dug grave, he heard the grandfather clock in the hall strike midnight. He counted the twelve chimes just to be certain then tenderly kissed her temple and said, “Merry Christmas, Cordy.”
She wriggled her arm underneath his and spread her fingers on his back to pull him closer. “Merry Christmas, Angel.”
He was content to just hold her like that for an eternity. Pine needles scraped across the roof as boughs were whipped back and forth in the storm. There was a definite chill in the room outside of the bed, but beneath the covers it felt like he was holding the fireplace flames against his body.
“Angel, now that it’s officially Christmas, it would be legal if you wanted to tell me what you got me.”
“Cordy,” her name suddenly sounding like it belonged to a three year old.
“What? I’ll tell you what I got you if you spill.”
The epiphany light went off in Angel’s brain. He could do better than tell her; he could give her the gift. It was still in his coat pocket.
He had been so comfortable holding her, snuggling and whispering, that it had never occurred to him that this was the moment. It hadn’t felt like what *the* moment was supposed to feel like. It didn’t come with nervous twitches and a nauseous stomach. It hadn’t arrived with flowers, a fancy dinner and sweaty palms. It didn’t find him tongue-tied and shifty eyed. It had slipped past his defenses and uncertainties and was now just there – covering him in warmth and an unfamiliar peace like the way Cordy had described the effects of that quilt on her.
“Be right back,” he said as he reluctantly loosed his grip on her and felt the coldness envelope him.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“Oh. Wait! You don’t…,” but he was already gone and she started to shiver without his comforting presence. “He must be infected with wacky Bea disease.”
Grasping the edges of the covers and wrapping them tightly around her shoulders, she rubbed her feet together to stoke up her body heat and stop her teeth from chattering. “Just like him to leave when I was beginning to feel all ca-ca-cozy and sss-afe. Suh-suh-sss–tupid mmmm-ma-ma-man.”
She was still trembling partly from the cold and partly in irritation at his abandonment when flickering shadows of dancing candlelight painted the once black walls with gold and orange.
Angel moved slowly and deliberately toward his side of the bed, a candle in a brushed tin holder in one hand and the small package and envelope in the other. Setting the candle on the small bedside table, he tried to wrench the comforter from Cordy’s steel clutches so he could slide in beside her, but she wouldn’t release it.
“Cordy,” he sang her name all the while grinning at her childish petulance. “Alright, I’ll just take your Christmas present and go back into the living room.”
Before he could put his finger through the circle handle of the candle’s base, she flung the covers back like Zorro’s cape and exposed her freezing cotton and fleece-covered body to him. “Don’t you dare move another inch, buster. Get in this bed right now and gimme, gimme, gimme!” She scooted back so she was sitting sideways, her legs tucked back and leaning on one thigh with her right arm pressed to the headboard for support.
Angel practically leaped in beside her. He knew his face was sporting the dorky grin she loved to tease him about, but he didn’t care. It felt right.
Sitting, he mimicked her position, their knees touching, and he handed her the tiny box and penned words that was his hope for a future. “Merry Christmas.”
Her fingers felt the weight of the gift and then stroked the texture of the stationary. “What were you doing with my gift in your pocket? You could’ve lost it in the fight, dorkus!” She swatted his arm playfully but smiled sweetly letting him know clearly she was only teasing.
“I didn’t plan it this way. It just happened. Shut up and open it.”
“Which should I open first?”
“The present first, then the note. Wait! Let me get the candle so you can see.” He reached behind him for the light and brought it between them. The light cast her face in the colors of a sienna sunset – the gold, burnt orange and red highlighting the already innate glow of warmth she radiated.
“Okay, rip away.”
And she did. Not one to save paper – it’s just paper, there’s always more where that came from – nor was she one to appreciate the pretty bows and ribbons that were just the outer trappings holding the important part in. No, just like the way she dealt with people, she dove into what made the package important – what was hidden on the inside.
Tossing aside the fluffy cotton coating, she gasped as the first twinkle of gold flickered in the reflected candlelight. Gingerly she lifted the delicate chain from the box until the exquisitely rendered version of a harp dangled and twisted in the waves of heat from the flame.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she said as she admired the gold and diamond encrusted instrument. “It’s really gorgeous, Angel, thank you so much. But I admit I don’t get the significance. Not that there has to be one,” she quickly added.
“Open the note and you’ll understand.”
This was it. Now or never. What he thought would be agonizing, extremely nerve racking and gulp-inducing, was amazingly lacking in both. He was calm and for once certain. Even if the unthinkable happened and she didn’t understand or didn’t return his feelings, he would make sure she soon would. He was focused and knew exactly what he wanted. From now on, it was Angel and Cordy and he wouldn’t allow it to be any other way.
He saw her thin fingers finally open the last fold and her eyes move back and forth as she read the words he knew by heart.
When you told me about the Angels’ Songs quilt, I knew immediately that if anyone deserved to be surrounded by angels and know the peace of heaven while they slept it was you. I did my best to find you that quilt but apparently my heart isn’t true enough to be worthy of such a gift yet. But if you’ll wear this over your heart, I hope you will be surrounded with the song of one angel-in-training and that it warms you with the peace of my love.
He watched as the hazel became cloudy with moisture and the paper in her hand began to tremble. Angel suddenly realized how cold it was without the blankets around them and immediately attributed her shuddering to being chilled.
He stretched behind him and put the candle back on the table and then rubbed her arms to get her circulation going.
“Let’s get under the covers. You’re freezing.” Reaching for the necklace and note to put them away for now, she pulled away and clutched them to her chest.
“No! Help me put it on.”
Shifting her body so her back faced him, she missed the satisfied smile but could more than likely feel him shaking as he fumbled with the small clasp. Once it was secure, he put his hands on her shoulders, instantly calming himself. Cordy reached up and put her hand on his while she adjusted the pendant to lie over her heart.
Once she was settled and facing him again, neither said a word. The only sound in the room was her heart beat and the whistle of wind through the trees. He hesitated to say anything else. He’d said it all in the note – at least he thought he was clear – and he didn’t want to pressure her into something if she truly wasn’t ready.
He looked down and saw her pressing the note, still in her death grip, against her chest just over where the harp rested. Her eyes dipped from his to his mouth and down to his chest. Not realizing he’d even been breathing, a lump of air caught in his throat as she tentatively reached up and gently placed her hand on his chest.
“This is the truest and most worthy heart I know, and it’s the only one I want.”
Slowly that hand that had just left a brand on his skin moved up, quivering and unsure. She cupped his jaw and bit her lower lip as a tear fell.
Angel covered her hand with his and tilted his head to rub against her, savoring the warmth and softness she bestowed. He felt her tentative pull and didn’t resist the lead she was taking.
Both sets of eyes zeroed in on the mouth of the other. Both tongues slid over parched lips and parted slightly. He sensed her breath, alive and hot, on his mouth an instant before their lips touched.
The goose bumps stood at attention and marched over his body and shivering at their advance, he heard himself emit a sound that was a cross between a whimper and moan of sheer joy as her mouth opened, her tongue sought his, and they touched tip to tip for the first time.
Too soon the kiss was over and their foreheads rested against each other as both gasped for breath.
Cordy let out a soft “mmm” and then giggled. “This kind of makes my Ninja Turtles video game look a little impersonal.”
Angel laughed. “You got me Ninja Turtles?”
She pulled back arching a brow that looked just as menacing in candlelight as it did under fluorescent. “You asked for it! I wanted to get you something nice and…adult. And, well, more personal, but I didn’t know about…” Suddenly shy again, she rubbed the letter she still clutched to her heart. “But now it just seems a little silly.”
He lifted her chin and lowered his head looking for her gaze to meet his.
“Cor, I’ve already got the best gift you could give me. Unless I’m as clueless as you always say I am. I mean…did that kiss…did it mean…do you love me?”
She smiled and took his palm from her cheek and kissed it. “No.” His dead heart thumped once and died again.
“You’re not clueless – at least about that.”
Letting out a soft sigh, his body heated up to a toasty fever with the knowledge that she was finally his. His insides prickled from the sudden change in temperature and shift in state from atoning demon to loved man. Pulling her to him, he sipped at the lips that had changed his world, nibbling softly at the new life she offered him until he pulled away stuffed to bursting.
All you have to do is tell her.
The words of the wise, interfering and annoying women breached the euphoric fog he was floating on, and he realized he hadn’t done that yet – at least not verbally. He shook at the thought he could’ve easily blown the moment by just assuming she understood.
“By all that’s holy and, in my case unholy, I love you, Cordelia Chase.”
He must have said the right thing because her face lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning after receiving the one gift they’d wished and prayed for their whole life. Red cheeked and twinkling eyed, her face burst forth with her patented smile that started like a whisper and ended with a shout that could topple kingdoms.
He gasped again, full of wonder that even though he didn’t need to breathe this woman made him want to. Made him want to be the man she admired, respected and loved. She made him want to be human, and now he knew some day he would be because she had deemed him worthy.
He was loved by an angel.
She took his hand, kissing his palm, before she slipped her fingers between his.
“Blow out the candle and let’s get some sleep. Now I definitely want to get home tomorrow so we can spend Christmas with our family and tell them the good news.”
Angel reached for the note and she finally let it go for him to put on the table.
“Well, I kinda think they already know – at least my part.”’
She laughed and a light clicked. “What kind of hell did you put them through and did it have anything to do with all that sneaking around and leaving me alone all the time?”
“It’s a long story, Cor, and I’ll tell you all about it on the trip home.”
Bringing the candle to his mouth to extinguish it, the gold hues that illuminated her features clearly revealed a radiance of love coming from her eyes just for him. It was so bright he wondered how he could have been so blind as to not see it before. With a quick huff, he blew out the flame and watched that love dance in the smoke that shimmered in the luminance her body was giving off – her demon casting a soft, golden halo around her.
Setting the darkened candle and the letter on the table, he said, “I think I’m going to like it when you get all glowy just for me.”
They shifted together to lie down again, their bodies stretching out side by side under the covers. Angel slid his arm underneath her and pulled her into the safety of his chest.
She wrapped her hand around the back of his neck, her fingernails gently massaging as they worked their way through the short hairs there and up his scalp. Pulling him to her again, his lips melted as hers touched them. His jaw dropped, opening his mouth to her tongue as it slipped into its new home and made it hers.
Moaning a welcoming to his lover, he pulled her closer and squeezed her so tightly he could feel her taut nipples scraping against his own. She sighed in his mouth and retracted her tongue, groaning her approval when his followed to mark his territory.
His body screamed to join with her and the way she rubbed her hip against his hardness told him he wasn’t alone in that desire. He moved his hand from her back and grazed the side of her breast before sliding his palm over her stomach and hitching up the cotton top. When his fingers touched skin, she hissed and ground her body and mouth against him harder seemingly very eager and willing for the next step.
But when his hand maneuvered under the elastic waistband of her leggings and felt the edges of the coarse hair covering her mons, she loosened her grip on his body and pulled her lips from his.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, clearly not understanding the mixed signals.
“Nothing…I mean I want to…you don’t know how much I want to.” Her palm cupped his erection through the sweatpants and her fingers stroked its length. “Mmmm, maybe you do,” she said with a decidedly wicked grin.
“It’s just…I don’t want our first time to be in a strange place, a strange bed and with crazy Bea down the hall. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was video taping us right now or,” she lowered her voice, “if she was eavesdropping outside that door.”
“I could hear her if she was and she’s not. But I understand and we’ll wait,” Angel said not quite successfully hiding his disappointment.
Cordy brought her hand to his jaw and let her thumb trace his soft lips. “I’ll make it worth the wait. I’ve got a feeling you’ve only seen a slight preview of the fireworks that will happen when I finally get to feel you inside me.”
Those words made his deflating arousal scream to attention again. “Damn, Cor. Don’t say something like that if you really want me to leave you alone.”
“Oops, sorry. How about if we talk about what else you got me for Christmas?”
“What else?” He quickly discovered that fear worked just as well as a cold shower.
Picking up on the tension that immediately grabbed his muscles in a choke hold, Cordy laughed and let him off the hook. “Relax, I was just kidding. But it worked, didn’t it? The mood is definitely gone.”
He hugged her and said, “I will always be in the mood as far as you’re concerned, but you’re right, the immediate problem is solved.” He kissed her forehead and carefully nestled them both under the blankets, finally satisfied once she was protected by his body and arms.
Outside their shelter, the wind hummed through the evergreens with a melody that would forever be the song of their first night as a couple.
Cordy nestled her head against his chest as his legs twined with hers like the soft layers of the quilt her grandmother tucked around her so many years ago. Closing her eyes, she softly kissed his chest and he responded with a sigh and the press of his lips to the top of her head.
He could still feel the warmth of her love inside, but he realized she might still be cold and began to rub her back. He heard her soft mew of appreciation, sensed her snuggle even deeper into his body, and listened to the quiet slowing of her heart rate into a steady, comforted rhythm. Just when he was sure she was about to fall into slumber and it was safe for him to follow her, she sleepily mumbled…
“You’re my angel’s songs…forever.”