Double or Nothing. 31a

***

Meticulously translating the ancient text, Rupert Giles allowed himself a small hint of satisfaction with his work. After cross-referencing the data with information from one of his older acquisitions, the puzzle that was the Moirae finally seemed to be coming together.

Each new discovery led to increasing concern as a pattern emerged.

The Whims of Fate, Giles mused upon realizing that the Moirae were known in the demon realms not only for their flights of fancy, but also for their darker designs on the lower beings within the scope of their influence. Neither light nor shadow. Fashioning the metaphorical Thread of Life, its beginnings, endings and the course in between. Was this truly an unconditional agreement or is it simply a part of…eh?

Disturbing his deep thoughts, the doorbell chimed twice followed immediately by the incessant sound of knocking. A groan of annoyance left his throat. Interruptions at this time of the evening were rarely pleasant. Noting his current position within the frame of the text, Giles slowly moved out of his chair heading for the front door.

“Can’t get any research done this way,” Giles muttered his irritation.

Even one disturbance broke up his chain of thought. Normally adept at this type of task, he found this one to be a challenge while separating out the myth from the reality. If he was lucky, it would just be his neighbor trying to borrow a chainsaw or hedge clippers or something equally ridiculous that he did not have. After a quick chat, he’d be back to the research.

Opening the front door, Giles quickly concluded that his night was going downhill from here. “Oh, dear.”

“Rupert,” Angelus nodded in a curt from of greeting. Though civil in tone, there was urgency behind it. The Watcher’s observant eyes noted that the vampire held his mate in an almost protective manner close to his side.

“Angelus and Cordelia.” It was less of a greeting than a method of organizing his thoughts. Mentally preparing himself for what was likely to follow. There could only be one reason for the vampire to bring Cordelia along. “Need I guess why you’re here?”

Opening the door wider, Giles admitted them to his home causing a brief flash of confusion from Cordelia who figured that Angelus would need a verbal invitation. There was also a complete lack of open hostility from the Englishman whom Cordy figured would never forgive Angelus for the murder of Jenny Calendar no matter the number of good deeds performed. Even the fact that Angelus had used Giles’ first name came across as strange when nobody else did, but then she’d heard Angel call him that one time too.

Giles’ curious gaze followed Cordelia as she headed toward the couch. Her silence did not bode well for this unannounced visit. Clearly, Cordelia had been dragged into this and her mate decided it was time to tell her the truth. About bloody time. Never understood why Angel wanted to keep this from Buffy. If she had been aware of the potential risks, he never would have gotten the chance to bite her.

As he automatically moved to close the door, not even looking at it, Giles found it was not budging. Glancing around, he realized it was being blocked open by a large outstretched hand. Angel stood on the threshold with a predatory glare in his gold-rimmed eyes. Civility couldn’t be further from the vampire’s mind as he stared past Giles toward Cordelia. There was no mistaking that intense look as anything less than dangerous.

“Why don’t you come back later,” Giles dared to suggest only receiving a cold stare in return as Angel brushed right past him heading straight into the living room.

Before closing the door, the Watcher glanced outside to see if he could spot Willow or Xander who were supposed to be tailing the vampire. Ever since Angelus’ revelation the other night, he had come to the conclusion that the souled vampire needed to be watched for other signs of trouble. Considering the fact that neither teenager had a car, it might have been an unrealistic expectation to try to keep up with Angel. He’d have to talk to Oz about fixing that little snag.

Even following him on foot had to be a problem. Only Buffy was truly qualified to stalk Angel undetected, but the Slayer was certainly in no position at the moment to take on that assignment. Considering their recent separation, Buffy certainly would find it uncomfortable to be in Angel’s presence much less surreptitiously following him around town. Her pain was still too new to even mention it to him. At least that was what Willow suggested trying to make him feel better about the fact that Buffy had not told him a thing.

As her Watcher, Giles would allow Buffy a day or two to come to terms with the end of her relationship to Angel, but that was all he could allow. Angelus was tied to her cause in fighting the Good Fight. Angel was linked to Angelus supposedly to keep the soulless vampire in line. Seems like the reverse isn’t happening, he added the sidebar to his own thoughts. It meant that Buffy would have to face her former lover putting her duty above her feelings. It was something she had done before during the Acathla scare, but Giles hoped for her sake this would not necessitate the same action.

Now eyeing the trio in his living room, Giles knew things had escalated beyond what he already knew for them to come here. A palpable tension hung in the air as he approached them, making Giles a bit skittish as he walked over to his easy chair across from the couch. Though Angelus and Cordelia were seated comfortably side by side, Angel paced with deliberate slowness behind the couch.

“Angel, why don’t you make yourself—,” Giles began only to be cut off mid sentence by the vampire.

“Drop the Miss Manners routine, Rup,” he demanded rudely. Then addressing his double, “Get on with it Angelus. Let’s hear what the Watcher has to say about all this. Then he gets to prove to you which one of us leads the Order.”

That last comment startled Giles assuming he meant the Order of Aurelius. As far as Giles knew, there wasn’t much of an Order to lead. Certainly not here in Sunnydale. Spike and Drusilla were still out there no doubt, but there was some question about the other surviving childer.

“Is that an issue?” Giles queried with guileless interest.

“More than you know,” Angel answered as his gaze drifted down the pair sitting on the couch.

Angelus growled, “We’ll talk about that later. No matter what he says, it will change nothing.”

Continuing to move along the back of the couch, Angel paused behind Cordelia. Not touching her, but standing only a hairsbreadth away. “It will change everything and you know it.”

Giles had the sneaking suspicion that this had something to do with Cordelia and he was afraid that he knew why. Being the designated head of the vampire clan would give Angel rights to claim his brother’s mate as his own.

“Get your ass over to the chair where I can see you,” Angelus snarled over his shoulder.

Chuckling in response, Angel walked around to the other side of the couch where he deliberately took a seat next to Cordelia. Glancing daggers at him even as she inched subconsciously in the direction of her mate, the brunette’s defensive posturing told Giles that something had already happened to set things off between them on a personal level.

As Cordelia turned her gaze upon Giles, the glare altered from resentment into one of pure determination. “Give me the scoop. Just who are these Moirae witches and tell me where to find them.”

No doubt Cordelia wanted to personally give them a piece of her mind. Giles clarified that Cordelia had been told very little by the vampires about the nature of the three supernatural beings known more commonly as the Fates. There were things even the vampires didn’t know revealed to him by his long hours of research.

“The Moirae are a trio of other-dimensional creatures that view themselves as higher beings. Their mystical abilities and immortality rank them amongst those known in the demon realms as The Powers that Be. Having done some worthy service for the Moirae in the past, Angel contacted them to return the favor.”

Cordelia soaked up the information, but it told her nothing. “Worthy service? Pfft! Angel wanted his soul to be permanent so he could boff Buffy, went to them and presto chango…two vamps. How’d they do that?”

Trying to ignore the reference to his blond charge, Giles calmly explained, “Magick. According to myth, the Moirae spin the Threads of Life, measure them out and cut them. Naturally, it’s much more complicated than that. The Moirae rarely become directly involved in mortal matters unless they take particular interest in one of the lower beings.”

“Angel,” deadpanned Cordelia crossing her arms over her chest.

“Angel.” Giles confirmed it with a nod, but changed his mind by adding, “Well, it might have been Liam or Angelus. There is no way to tell because neither one of your…the vampires have told me what they did for the Fates in the first place.”

Staring back and forth between the two, Cordelia saw that they remained closed-mouthed on the subject. “Angelus, you were going to tell us something about it that first day in the library until Psycho Vamp over there stopped you.”

“Don’t call me that,” Angel demanded hotly.

“That’s nicer than some of the other things I’d like to call you,” Cordelia returned with sugary sweetness. Then she turned her attention back to Giles who was staring at her strangely. “What? It’s true. Just ignore him. Forget what they did before, just tell me what happened this time. What deal did they make and exactly what was it the Fates warned them about that made you look like you swallowed your tongue?”

Tugging at his shirt collar, Giles told her, “You know part of it. Angel wanted to have a permanent soul and to be rid of Angelus’ influence. Apparently, it was your idea.”

“My idea,” Cordelia remembered Angel saying something to that effect.

Angel reminded her, “You told me that day we were alone in the library. When you came in wearing your short little cheerleading skirt and your tight sweater.”

“I-I remember. Angelus was a part of you then,” she commented as if that explained any reaction on her part when he’d touched her.

“Blame him, then.” Angel smirked at the memory. There he was trying to find a way to secure his soul and yet he couldn’t stop himself from responding to her presence. It hadn’t all been Angelus’ influence.

Giles had no idea what they were talking about other than the fact that something Cordelia said to Angel sparked the idea that he go to the Moirae for help. “The Fates agreed to Angel’s wishes, except that it was impossible for them to destroy Angelus. They decided to give him his own existence, but linked him to Angel so that he would be bound to fight the Good Fight along side him.”

“I’ve already heard that part,” Cordelia complained. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

Clearing his throat, Giles took a moment to think about his response. “The Fates told Angel that the split might end his existence.”

Hazel eyes darted in Angel’s direction to find that the vampire continued to stare at her. He didn’t seem interested in hearing what Giles was saying, just in witnessing her reaction. “So the split worked. Two vamps.”

“The danger didn’t end with the separation, Cordelia,” clarified Giles as he caught the look between them. “Surviving the initial split was just the first stage of this process. The transformation requires a balance to be maintained between the human qualities each vampire possesses and their demon nature.”

“Hello, Psycho Vamp sitting right over here. Talk about your major imbalance.”

“Cordelia, if you don’t shut up with the name calling,” Angel warned, “I’ll find a way to put your tongue to better use.”

Angelus glared at his brother and was about to say something when Cordelia rolled her eyes, “In your dreams.”

The Watcher was beginning to think that Cordelia’s unflattering moniker for Angel was on-target. Normally, he would never make suggestive comments. Certainly not about Cordelia and not in front of her mate. Combined with what he already knew, it appeared that his suspicions were probably correct.

“Over the past couple of months since the separation,” began Giles, “there has been a subtle shift in the behavior of both Angel and Angelus.”

“Angelus is fine,” Cordelia denied it without waiting for Giles to make his point.

“Angelus has not been unaffected by this. Both vampires are experiencing the results of a fractured psyche. The disparate elements are now coming to the fore as you have experienced with Angel. Without the necessary balancing factors, Angel is likely to completely lose himself to his primal instincts and if that happens there will be no way to reverse the damage.”

Cordelia found herself curling her nails into Angelus’ thigh in reaction to the news. He kept his arm around her shoulder, pulling her flush with his side. “So you’re saying that Angel really has gone crazy?’

“Not yet,” Giles answered, “but it’s a possibility. There is no telling what will happen if he is truly reacting on his demon instincts alone.”

Relaxing at his end of the couch, Angel stretched out his legs in front of him. He felt pretty damn good about his demon instincts. About time he started listening to the needs of his own body.

“What about his soul?” Cordelia asked. “Shouldn’t that help Angel control it?”

“It probably did in the beginning. Souls can guide and act as our conscience, but they do not make us infallible, Cordelia. Nor do souls routinely deal with the primal nature of a demon.”

“Angelus doesn’t have a soul and he didn’t go all demon-bonkers.”

Giles heard a low rumble from Angel’s direction. “I am less clear on what has been happening with Angelus. Though he has no soul, Angelus has been able to strike a balance and maintain control over his tendency to be evil. Unfortunately, if Angel continues this downward spiral, it will also begin to negatively affect his double.”

“How do you fix it?” Cordelia demanded an answer. “Tell me you can fix this.”

“I can’t,” Giles hated to admit it, but the vampires wanted her to have the truth. “I think I have diagnosed the problem. Their link has caused a nearly 180-degree turn around in their personalities. Angelus is in control of his demon side and has been a
far different vampire than the one we knew before. His double, on the other hand, has basically been acting more like the old Angelus than Angelus himself.”

“I could’ve told you that,” she complained. “Just because Angelus is doing what he’s supposed to do fighting the Good Fight and not being evil doesn’t mean something is wrong with him.”

At her vehement denial, Angel chuckled at her blind loyalty to her mate. “Can’t see the forest for the trees? You’d think Angelus was the one cursed with the soul. He’s taking all of the do-gooding to heart. Making friends. Buying fish.”

“He’s a lot nicer than you these days,” Cordelia told him. “You never bothered to have fun or make friends with the Scoobies even when you weren’t psycho.”

“I’m not finished,” Angel glared at her interruption and the continued use of the insulting description. “Angelus has indulged you, given you everything and put you on a pedestal when he’d normally be tying you to his bed, making use of those silk scarves and doing things to you that I—.”

He stopped mid-sentence as he heard Giles react with a croak to the direction of his thoughts. Angelus was already rising out of his seat and while not approaching made it clear that he didn’t want to hear anymore.

While diverting his thoughts away from the things that he wanted to do Cordelia, Angel continued on. “One thing proves that Angelus is not who he was: loving you. When has a soulless demon ever loved anything or anyone? None that I know and certainly not him.”

“Frankly, Cordelia,” interrupted Giles, “I believe that you have had a lot to do with Angelus’ ability to maintain his equilibrium.”

“Me?” Cordelia knew that she was good for Angelus, but believing she was able to affect the mystic mojo keeping him from acting on his demon instincts said a lot about their relationship, especially if Giles was acknowledging that to be the case. “It’s because Angelus loves me?”

“That’s one of my theories.” Giles confirmed despite himself.

This entire process had given him a new perspective on Angelus. Though he hated what the vampire had done in the past, he could not deny that his love for Cordelia was real. The moment that proved Angelus was a far different vampire than the one who captured and tortured him in the mansion happened that night when he came to talk about Angel and Buffy. Angelus actually apologized to him about Jenny, telling Giles that recently he had been thinking about what he had done on that Valentine’s Day and could imagine how he might feel if something like that ever happened to Cordelia.

As Giles’ theory sank in, Cordelia darted a look at Angel. “That can’t be right. Maybe feelings are important, but that isn’t the only thing going on here. If it was just about feelings, Angel wouldn’t be…the way he is. Angelus loves me, but…so does Angel.”

“Say what again?” Despite Angel’s strange behavior and his current suspicions that he had done something he shouldn’t in relation to Cordelia, the news came as a shock. He couldn’t stop the angry spark within him as he realized this probably led to Buffy’s painful decision to end her relationship with Angel. Willow had informed him about the breakup, but assuming she knew it, not this.

Angelus was standing near enough to Giles that he heard the complaining growl low under his breath. Angel being in love with Cordelia would certainly explain the tension between these three. Considering her comments to Angel, the feelings were obviously not returned. At least not to the extent that the vampire would like them to be, he figured.

Confirming what she’d said, Cordelia told him, “Yes, Angel. Psycho Vamp. He’s in love with me.”

“I-Is this true, Angel?”

The vampire gave him a slow smile, an almost toothy grin that gave Giles what felt a lot like indigestion because it wasn’t just a smile of confirmation of his love. Those feelings reflected from the depths of his eyes as he stared at Cordelia. It was the fact that those eyes were rimmed with gold and with the instantaneous shifting of flesh and bone; it was the vampire’s demonic visage that made it.

Angel answered him never removing his gaze from hers. “Oh, I love her. There is no question in my mind that it’s true. How does that Browning poem go? ‘I love thee to the depth, breadth and height my soul can reach’. How fitting.”

It’s the depths I’m worried about, Giles thought. Then he had to ask, “How long has this been going on? What about Buffy?”

“She’s never far out of your thoughts, is she Rup?” Angel needled him. “Your little blond Slayer and I have ended it. We’re through. Her choice. I gave her to Xander.”

“To Xander?” Three voices chimed together.

With a careless shrug, Angel commented, “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I doubt either one of them realizes it. Not exactly up on all of the vampire traditions, are they? Stake first, ask questions never.”

Cordelia found herself giggling almost hysterically at the idea of Buffy and Xander. It was certainly something that had always been in the back of Xander’s mind even if he never really made a move. Too much competition from the undead guy.

“I’m certain Buffy wouldn’t find that amusing,” Giles reproached them.

After getting over the initial shock of Angel’s announcement, Angelus quickly returned to the previous subject unwilling to let it drop. What he really wanted to do was beat the tar out of his brother…again. Figuring the Watcher wouldn’t want that here in the middle of his living room, he reigned in those thoughts.

“You love Cordelia,” Angelus acknowledged. “I knew that. I’ve always known that. It’s your obsessive, even violent actions toward her that I will not condone.”

Giles questioned Cordelia with a growing understanding of her mate’s protectiveness. “Violent? In what way?”

“That’s none of your concern, Watcher. I wasn’t violent. Did you see bruises?” Angel asked his brother.

“No, but only because I haven’t checked,” Angelus returned.

Angel looked surprised. “I would have. I would have explored every inch of that skin for the smallest bruise. Washed away any trace of scent that wasn’t hers or mine.”

Just the fact that Angelus knew his brother was taunting him only as a result of the effects Giles described kept him from reacting. He knew what Angel had done to her not only because she told him, but his senses revealed it to be true. In a way, Angel was right. Any vampire would normally have done as he described. Not only washed away the other’s scent, but replaced it with his own. For some reason that confused him, Angelus had let that slide in favor of providing pure comfort.

Am I a vampire or a teddy bear? While Angelus liked the idea of comforting his mate, he hated the fact that such behavior might not have been purely his choice. It seemed Angel was becoming more like his old self and he was becoming more like…, Stake me now…,the Care Bear.

“We need to do something about this soon,” Angelus demanded sternly. “Crap! This is intolerable. If I turn into any more of a softy next thing you know I’ll be up for sainthood.”

Giles muttered, “Somehow, I doubt it.”

Cordelia grinned at Angelus. The irritated look on his face was priceless. “But you’re my softy. Besides, you’re not always soft, are you Bad Boy?”

Reaching down, Angelus pulled her up into his embrace. “Wanna find out?”

“Oh, dear. Why don’t you two go home now,” Giles suggested as he watched Angelus devour Cordelia’s lips with a hungry kiss. “Angel and I have some things to discuss.”

“We do?” Angel didn’t look too pleased at the idea.

Before the Watcher could answer, Cordelia broke away from Angelus’ kiss to ask if Giles had told them everything.

“Just a small portion of what information I’ve gathered, I’m afraid, but it’s all I can tell you at the moment. I know the problem. I have to figure out why it happened and search for the cure.”

“How long?”

“A day, a year, maybe never,” he answered honestly. “The only thing I can tell you is not something you’ll want to hear. As Angelus said, perhaps it’s something you need to hear. Each day that goes by, there is further degradation in both Angel and Angelus. Their personalities have been spilt apart and without maintaining the balance between them further side effects will come quickly. At some point, neither one will be able to survive the changes.”

Cordelia pulled out of Angelus’ arms to stand apart from everyone. “Giles, you find a way to fix this. I don’t care what it takes. You find a way or tell the Fates to get off their mythic asses and do it themselves.”

“M-Mythic—,” Giles stuttered. “It’s not quite that simple.”

“He’s right, Cordy,” Angel told her. “I was only able to contact them again because they had given me a charm. Running into them the first time was an accident.”

“Are you ever gonna tell me about it?”

“No.”

She couldn’t understand it. Why all the secrecy? “What’s it take…begging?”

Angel’s mouth curled up at the corners. “If there’s going to be begging, I think you should opt for getting something for your trouble. That old story is hardly worth it.”

Grmph! “If there’s begging to be done, Angel, it’ll be done by you.”

“I’d like to see you try, sweetheart.”

Once again, Cordelia found herself sucked up into a conversation that had turned on itself becoming akin to flirtation. She had already taken a step toward him when she felt Angelus’ hand on her upper arm.

“It’s time to go,” Angelus reminded her as she chomped off the biting retort on the tip of her tongue. Then he asked her, “Which way, Cor? Your parents’ house or the mansion?”

There was no hesitation. Knowing what was going on with Angelus and the potential dangers, she needed to be with him. “To the mansion. You have to be there, so I do too. As long as Angel behaves,” she added.

Angel smirked inwardly, barely managing to keep the smile off his face. Behave? He had no intention of playing the good little vamp, but that was hardly something that he wanted to announce.

“Let me worry about Angel,” his brother suggested while leading her to the door.

Glancing over her shoulder at the souled vampire who was now standing and staring after them, Cordelia knew it was not going to be that simple. It was no longer just a matter of Angel acting on his feelings. Giles’ research proved that whatever it was that was happening was not entirely his fault, even if it was disturbingly scary. She had to wonder how much of what happened between them was also out of Angel’s control.

Angel watched them leave and felt only a sense of relief that Cordelia decided to go back to the mansion. He needed her there. Even if she was with Angelus, he needed to have her near him. Close to him. There was fear in her eyes, but not the kind his demon yearned for if he couldn’t have her love. This was pity. Fear of what might happen if Giles didn’t find a way to stop this process.

Pity was one emotion Angel didn’t want from her. Love or hate, but not pity. Never that.

“Angel, help yourself to a drink if you want one,” Giles offered. He was still in a bit of shock about the vampire’s feelings for Cordelia and felt like he couldn’t budge from his chair.

“Let’s get on with this, Watcher,” Angel told him resuming his position on the couch. “I have places to be.”

“Meaning the mansion?”

“Shouldn’t matter to you, Rup.”

“Will you stop calling me that irritating name,” Giles complained just as he realized that telling the vampire he hated it would likely result in hearing it more. Considering Angel’s current demonic tendencies, taunting him with it would be almost irresistible.

“Whatever you want, Rup,” Angel grinned. “Not a problem.”

Sighing, Giles decided to leave it there. “There are some things I need to know in order to keep this research moving in the right direction. Some questions that I need to ask you.”

“Mine first.”

“What?”

“My question first,” Angel clarified. “Should’ve done this while Angelus was still here, but maybe it’s better this way. Just in case you tell me something I don’t want to hear.”

As the tone of his voice lowered an octave, Giles caught the hint of an underlying threat. Nothing direct, but close enough. “You’ll get the truth. Be satisfied knowing that.”

Angel reminded him about his interest in determining the official leadership of the Order of Aurelius. “Which one of us gets the proverbial crown, Giles? Me or Angelus?”

“May I know why this is so important to you? Are you interested in renewing your ties with those of your clan?” Giles already suspected his answer, but he wanted to hear it all the same.

The vampire simply laughed aloud at the idea. “Can you really see me wanting Dru, Spike and Penn in my face everyday? There are others, but hardly significant enough to mention. This has nothing to do with them.”

“It’s Cordelia.”

“Yes.”

“Will my answer really change anything?” Giles asked him. “It’s obvious that you’ve made some kind of move. Told her about your feelings. Does the fact that she loves your brother mean nothing to you?”

“It means something,” Angel told him. “I want her love, but I’ll settle for anything Cordelia will dish out. You see, it won’t really matter because she’ll be mine.”

A chill passed down Giles’ spine listening to his answer. What was that phrase she’d used? Demon bonkers. Yes, that seemed to fit the bill. “The question you ask is complicated, Angel. Though you are different personalities, you two came from the same being. Angelus existed before you did, yet he would not have his own separate existence if you had not recouped the debt owed to you by the Moirae.”

“They put me in charge,” Angel pointed out. “I’m the one keeping him in line.”

“Yes, good job with that,” Giles returned wryly. “Looks like you’re not doing so good a job with yourself lately.”

“Angelus is linked to me. That puts me in charge of the Order,” Angel was up off of the couch and pacing again.

“I’m afraid that you’re wrong,” Giles revealed. “Angelus may be bound to you in order to ensure that he fulfils the obligations of the agreement, but that in no way affects his right to the leadership of the Order of Aurelius.”

Angel grabbed Giles by the front of his shirt pulling him to his feet. “Is that really the truth or are you just trying to piss me off?”

Trying to maintain his composure despite the vampire visage glaring at him, Giles told him that he was speaking the truth. “From my perspective, Angelus preceded the existence of the soul. Separation of his personality from yours did not change that fact.”

“I don’t like your perspective,” Angel dropped the Watcher to the chair. “You’re just guessing. Where is the proof?”

Showing Angel his empty hands, Giles commented, “There is none. It’s only my own opinion. The right one to my mind, but it has no certificate of validation upon it.”

“Keep your opinions to yourself,” Angel warned him. “Unless Angelus asks you about this directly, don’t say a word about this conversation.”

“And make things even worse for Cordelia?” Giles huffed. “Certainly not.”

“Good. Keep it that way.”

Giles wasn’t going to let Angel’s aggressive behavior intimidate him. As long as it didn’t get any worse. For now, he needed answers. “Take a seat, Angel. Now it’s my turn for the questions.”

“Okay, Watcher,” Angel indulged him. He flopped back on the couch propping his legs up on the cushions. “Fire away.”

“I didn’t talk about this in front of Angelus or Cordelia, because I don’t want this to embarrass Buffy in any way.”

Angel arched an eyebrow. “I thought you were going to ask about that sooner or later. Thought it would be sooner.”

“Had it been sooner, the question may have been accompanied by the use of my crossbow and I wouldn’t be stuck with this research project,” Giles said pointedly.

“Do you want all of the dirty details, Giles? Will that satisfy your curiosity?” Angel doubted it, but he expected the Watcher to refuse.

“No. Not everything. That is your business and Buffy’s, but I do need some general idea of the course of your relationship since you and Angelus were separated.”

“We broke up. What more do you need to know?”

Seeing that Angel wasn’t going to make this easy on him, Giles carefully thought about what needed to be asked. “As I told Cordelia, I have several theories about the psychological process that is taking place. There is an interconnected link which is causing a near reversal of your personalities. At the same time, there is an individual balance or imbalance within you both.”

“So I’m the unbalanced one. Lucky me,” Angel didn’t look overly concerned. He picked up an empty round candle holder from the coffee table and started tossing it in the air catching it with alternating hands.

“Unlucky everyone else. Even with this reversal,” Giles told him, “there should be no reason for an imbalance to occur. He’s like you. You’re like him. Equal measures.”

“Okay,” Angel nodded following along.

Giles explained, “All things being equal, if I was to guess which one of you would have a problem with maintaining a balanced psyche, it would be Angelus. He has no soul to guide him as you do.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I think it’s Cordelia.”

Angel sat up immediately. “What do you mean by that?”

“Well, perhaps I should say that it’s both Cordelia and Buffy,” corrected Giles, “because I think it started with the Slayer. Tell me, Angel, before your separation from Angelus were you ever tempted to bite Buffy?”

“No,” his denial came quickly.

“What changed that?”

“We were able to have sex.”

“Oh. Y-Yes, well, I suppose increased intimacy might—,” Giles stuttered his way to a pause as Angel cut him off.

The vampire admitted, “Even then, that wasn’t strictly true. I never had a conscious thought or a plan to do it, Giles. You have to understand that things were strained in our relationship for a while. As far back as my return after the Acathla incident.”

“Buffy took that hard, Angel. She changed a lot that following summer. Not all of her changes were the result of psychological scars from having to fight you. Or rather, fighting Angelus.”

Angel had to agree that Buffy seemed different, but he had changed as well during that time.

Giles continued. “Slayer powers mature quickly out of necessity. There are primal forces that exist between the Chosen One and vampires designed for survival. It’s what I always feared after you two started seeing each other.”

“I see where you’re going, so I’ll make it easy on you. Feel free to blush if you need too, I won’t tell.” Angel promised with a smirk. “There’s a difference between Buffy and Cordelia when it comes to sex. Cordelia isn’t normally submissive, but she can be in the right situation. Your Slayer sometimes tries to be, but she can’t. Not with me. Buffy physically cannot allow me to dominate her. Not even to share the role.”

Heat stroked up Giles neck, burning his cheeks. Telling himself, Research. It’s all about the research.

“I-I think that part of my theory is proven,” Giles decided. “It’s partially the Slayer/ Vampire dynamic. With your psyche in a state of flux after the split, dealing with the supernatural and primal forces existing between you became too much to handle. Your demon nature came to the fore in response to the Slayer’s intimate presence.”

“So what does Cordelia have to do with your little theory?”

Forcing images of Angel and Buffy out of his head, Giles tried to focus on what he knew of Cordelia’s relationship with Angelus. “Cordelia is human, obviously, without any supernatural abilities. Nothing that would force an already soulless vampire into letting his demon nature loose.”

“Except the obvious,” Angel pointed out. “Vampires and humans have a dynamic all their own, Rup.”

Nodding, Giles explained that was his point exactly. “While Angelus has an additional inducement to control his instincts in the form of severe pain if he steps out of line, I believe Cordelia herself was the key to Angelus’ ability to remain somewhat stable. It is true that he has taken on more of your old traits and behaviors, but the part of him that is pure demon seems to be in control.”

“I repeat…what does Cordelia have to do with it?”

“Angelus loves her.” As Giles spoke, it became clear that Angel didn’t like hearing it. “You said it yourself, so don’t blame me. Cordelia loves him in return. There is a give and take between them that acts as a natural deterrent to his more violent behavior. Despite all of my personal feelings against Angelus, I have to admit that he makes a good match for her even considering that he’s a vampire.”

A growl of displeasure sounded from Angel’s throat. “You’re saying Cordelia acts as his conscience? How sweet.”

“That wasn’t quite what I meant, but it’s close enough,” Giles told him not missing the dripping sarcasm. “That brings me to my next questions.”

“Can’t wait.”

“Exactly how long have you been in love with Cordelia?”

Angel stopped tossing the ball-shaped iron candle-holder and turned his head to look at the Watcher. “Hey, I only just figured it out. Buffy told me.”

“Buffy?” That came as a surprise.

“Seems women know these things,” the vampire was confused on that subject.

“Hmmm.”

“The truth is, Giles, I think I’ve always felt something for Cordy. In the beginning, she was just this amazingly beautiful…bitch. It’s true. She’d tell you that herself. She was so pushy and I was wrapped up in the idea of being attracted to the Slayer. Don’t get me wrong, Rup. I loved Buffy. She was the first person who really touched my heart.”

“So you were attracted to Cordelia even then?”

A slow smile came over Angel’s face giving Giles his answer even before the vampire opened his mouth. “Absolutely. I’m afraid she was relegated to the starring role in a few of my fantasies. More than a few.”

“F-Fantasies?”

“C’mon, Rup. I know you’ve probably had them yourself. Considering all the concern and attention she gave you after Jenny died, I’d be surprised if Cordy didn’t occupy a few of your own.”

Gulping down the lump that had formed in his throat, Giles tried to assure Angel that no such thing had ever occurred.

“You must’ve been telling me the truth about the Order earlier,” Angel decided as he heard Giles’ heart thudding faster, listened to the stutter in his voice and watched as the blotchy beet red color flooded his face. “You certainly are no liar.”

“Just make your point,” Giles barked in embarrassment.

Chuckling in amusement, Angel told him, “The truth is that I don’t know when I started to love Cordelia. Maybe it started as friendship. Maybe my attraction to her just kept it simmering in the background.”

“You never acted on it.”

Angel gave him a hard look. “I was dating Buffy.”

“You’ve been dating Buffy the past couple of months up to two nights ago,” Giles pointed out. “Can you tell me that there has been nothing between you and Cordelia in all that time?”

A long silence descended. “Depends on your definition of nothing.”

“Sex?” Had it gone that far?

“Depends on your definition of that, too.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“I’ve kissed her, Giles. I’ve touched her.” Angel knew Giles wasn’t asking just to be nosey. There was some reason for it. “Trust me, I want more.”

“Cordelia doesn’t seem very keen on the idea considering her relationship to your brother,” the Watcher had to say despite the dangerous gleam in the vampire’s eyes.

Angel set the iron-candle holder down with such force that it dented the coffee table. “She’ll get over it.”

This unreasonable way of thinking was just another symptom of this problem. Angel was showing all of the signs, his demonic traits prioritizing his thoughts and actions. Trying to keep a cool head about it, Giles still found himself demanding, “What were you planning to do, Angel? Share her?”

“No!” Angel glared at him angrily. “She’s mine.”

“Just asking,” Giles clarified. He justified his question to himself, Vampires aren’t exactly known for monogamous relationships.

“No you’re not. What are you calculating in that brain of yours, Rupert Giles?”

“Hmmm? Oh, nothing. No calculations whatsoever. I’m just curious as to why Angelus hasn’t got you locked up in a cage pending some gruesome torture for daring to touch his mate.”

“No cage at the mansion,” Angel pointed out. “Probably hasn’t thought of it yet. Not that I’d let him do it.”

Giles figured it would be a hell of a fight. “That’s all my questions for the moment.”

“Really? I thought there would be more. Surely your little minions filled you in on my encounter with them.”

“My minions?” Giles’s eyes widened as he realized to whom Angel referred. “Xander and Willow. I-I haven’t heard from them in a while.”

“Not very good minions are they? Too many ideas of their own.” Angel commented.

“Y-You didn’t hurt them, did you?” With Angel’s current state, there was no telling how he might have reacted. Had Giles known the vampire’s behavior had already degraded to this dangerous level, he never would have sent them out to begin with.

Angel almost looked disappointed as he told the Watcher, “No, they’re still intact. Not even a bruise or two to make them remember not to mess with me and mine.”

A sigh of relief sounded. “You let them go.”

“Not entirely my choice,” Angel revealed. “Cordelia asked me not to hurt them.”

“You were with Cordelia?”

Admitting it, “Yes. I’d been watching her house this morning and I followed her to her friend Harmony’s place this afternoon.”

Realizing, “You were stalking her during the day,” Giles’ concerns for Cordelia only escalated.

“What can I say? I’m obsessed,” Angel grinned at the idea. “She’s mine and I want her back where she belongs.”

“Back at the mansion,” Giles nodded.

“That’s right.”

“You got your wish,” the Watcher told him. “I’m glad of it, too. Angelus can keep a better eye on you if he’s not worried about where Cordelia is at. Just try to control yourself, Angel. I don’t want another incident. Next time you’ll be lucky if you aren’t staked for it.”

“Don’t worry about it, Rup. I’ll be on my best behavior.”

Chapter 32

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