Season of Solace. 61

61:     The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

“There’s more?” Angel asked sensing that Cordy was not talking about details he wanted to hear.

She gently pushed against his chest putting some distance between them. It was not easy to put into words what she saw in the vision Drusilla shared because she really didn’t understand it.

“For a while, I wasn’t sure what I saw, even the part about us,” Cordelia told him. “It was confusing because I didn’t think that we would ever— you know, get together, for a lot of reasons.”

More reasons than he wanted to admit to. Angel kept quiet not wanting to stop her from continuing to open up to him. He needed to hear this and figure out a way to deal with whatever it was.

“I don’t think we were in Sunnydale,” she frowned at the fuzzy memory. With a shrug, adding, “Which makes no sense at all because Bev would never leave this town and I— she needs me.”

A tender feeling centered deep in Angel’s chest whenever he thought about Cordy and her grandmother. Although her parents’ financial and legal situation changed her entire lifestyle, it had given her the opportunity to meet Bev, someone whose influence and simpler existence was a positive one. Cordy might complain about the lack of a Jacuzzi at her grandmother’s house, but Angel knew she wouldn’t trade Bev for all the luxuries in the world.

So it did not surprise him that Cordelia would want to stay in Sunnydale for Bev’s sake. Then it occurred to him that maybe Cordy had planned to leave Sunnydale. Graduation was coming up at some point in the coming months. Maybe she had planned to go away to college.

The fact that he did not know her plans opened up a whole array of questions that needed answers. Where did that leave him and this new relationship? Right here for now.

“There was weirdness,” Cordy waved her hands around trying to express just how strange it was to her. “Stuff I can’t explain. I could smell blood and hear screams. So many people in pain, dying, scared.”

“What people?” Angel had expected her to reveal that she was the one in pain or dying and that it was his fault. Drusilla had said as much to him, that he was responsible for Cordelia’s fate being tied to a future of blood and death.

Cordelia rubbed her forehead as if it hurt to think about it. “Beats me, nobody I’ve met before, just people wanting help.”

She paused, glancing up at him with a dawning look of realization. “That’s what they wanted, your help.”

“Mine?”

Before he could ask who or why said strangers wanted his help, Cordelia went on, “Or maybe they wanted help because they were trying to get away from you. It’s hard to say.”

“There’s a big difference between helping and hunting people, Cordy,” he urged her to get it right. “Was it really me in that vision or was it—” Angel could not even finish the question.

“Angelus?” Cordy went wide-eyed for a moment and then brushed off the idea by pointing out, “Hello, did I not mention the hot sex? I’d never let him touch me.”

Angel wished it were that simple. Her words hit like a compliment and a challenge all at the same time. Now that he knew the nature of Drusilla’s vision, he was none the wiser for it. Though it was interesting to discover that Cordelia believed they were still together in the future. It gave him hope to believe that he was doing the right thing by taking such a risk in the first place.

“Is that it?” he asked and was relieved when she nodded in the affirmative.

“Mostly, yes. What do you suppose it means?” Cordelia asked him.

He had to admit the truth. “I don’t know. Drusilla might know more if I can get her to talk about it.”

“Don’t,” she pleaded. “I admit it would be great to know the future if I was going to buy a lottery ticket, but Dru’s vision thing is creepy.”

Angel pulled Cordelia into his embrace, winding his strong arms around her and tucking her head beneath his chin. He wished that he could say his doubts were alleviated, but they remained. Even though she seemed certain that Angelus was not responsible for the people in the vision being in danger, he was still left with Drusilla’s dark prediction about Cordelia.

“Then forget it,” advised Angel as he released her to walk over to where two staff weapons leaned at an angle against a support column. He picked one up leaving the other behind as he returned to her side. “We have no idea how far ahead Dru was seeing. Anything that happens between us will be when the timing is right. I will not rush into this, Cordy. The danger is still there.”

The staff was planted at his side. Cordelia grasped it as she moved closer using it as support as she shifted onto her toes to kiss him softly. She smiled at him as they parted, hazel eyes sparkling. “So what’s next, more training?”

Angel heard the creak of the basement door just before a familiar voice called out, “I found them. Cor is playing with Angel’s staff.”

Both Cordelia and Angel turned toward the sound of Xander’s voice, seeing him standing at the partially opened door, head and shoulders leaning in. He had missed the kiss, she knew, because he would have made some kind of disgusted comment about it.

Buffy’s instant reaction sounded somewhere behind him. “What?”

The basement door was flung open to reveal Buffy who took one look at the pair holding the staff and decided that her friend’s innuendo was far from funny. Even though it was obvious that the two of them had been training, she really did not like the way they were standing so close together.

Candlelight flickered across the walls making it much brighter down here in the basement than anywhere else in the mansion. Buffy noticed that everything was clean and organized. There was plenty of open space. It was ideal for training and would suit her purposes just fine.

She glanced over her shoulder at Willow and Xander. “C’mon, guys. We can have the picnic down here.”

“A picnic?” Cordelia dropped her hand from the staff as she turned around to face them. Maybe Buffy had brought food in that little basket, but spontaneous picnics were not exactly Buffy’s style. At least not when it included tag-along friends and a vampire, she amended her thoughts, a vein of suspicion creeping in. “How nice of you to barge in uninvited.”

“Giles gave us the night off,” Buffy pointed out as she walked over to their side. “That includes training. I thought you might like something to take your mind off being a target for a demon sacrifice.”

Cordelia glanced toward Angel wondering if he was buying this or not. With his poker face firmly in place, she could not tell if he was annoyed or amused by his ex-girlfriend’s sudden appearance. There was no way to get rid of Buffy & Co. without actually demanding that they leave so she could go back to kissing Angel.

That thought brought a big smile to her lips. Seeing it, Willow commented, “Looks like you’re keeping it together considering the Big Bad wants your— uh… purity. You’re like a brand new Cordelia. The old one would have asked her parents to fly her out of the country by now.”

Despite knowing of Bev’s existence, the Scoobies still remained clueless about the status of parents’ absence from Sunnydale. That was just fine. It was none of their business in the same way as her hooking up with Angel was not their concern.

At the mention of her parents, Cordelia felt Angel’s hand press against the small of her back, his way of providing silent support. “Well, I have everybody looking out for me,” she reminded Willow. “The best way to catch this demon is for me to stick around.”

Cordelia decided that the best way to deal with this was to just let it happen. She and Angel were not going to be able to avoid the Scoobies every time they were together, so they might as well deal with it here and now. Willow was carrying an ugly plaid blanket. “You can put that over there,” she told her.

When Xander set the picnic basket down, Cordelia opened it up to help them distribute the food. She laughed when she saw that the contents were not homemade goodies, but plastic sandwich containers from the Main Street Deli.

“Buffy left the drinks on the foyer table when we were searching around for you.” He snapped his fingers and moved that way.

“It couldn’t have been that hard to find us,” Cordelia grumbled. “Angel would’ve noticed you trouncing around upstairs if you’d been here very long.”

Xander shrugged, “Long enough for Buffy to get halfway upstairs.”

“Upstairs?”

“We split up,” Xander explained that he thought nothing of it. “Buffy went up, Willow stayed on the main level and I headed down here.”

Cordelia tapped her fingers on her hips as she tried to decide if there was more to it. “Well, go get them,” she prompted Xander who was suddenly staring over her shoulder.

A glance in that direction showed Buffy standing up close and personal with Angel who had not budged from his spot since their arrival. Cordelia could not hear what the other girl was saying, but she could see her hand on his arm. Her first instinct was to walk over there to yank Buffy’s cute little blonde ponytail and drag her away from him.

That was quite possibly her second and third instincts, too, but Cordelia refused to make a move, partly because she wanted to see how Angel was going to deal with this little ploy of Buffy’s, whatever she was saying. Blah, blah, blah, I was an idiot to let you go, blah, blah, blah.

Halfway through Buffy’s speech, Angel lifted his gaze up and away from her, connecting with Cordelia from across the room. His expression changed only very subtly, his dark brown eyes warming. Cordelia smiled back, suddenly confident that Angel was thinking about her despite the fact that Buffy was in his space.

Turning back to Xander who was still scowling at them, Cordelia lightly whacked him in the chest with the back of her hand. “Why are you still here? Go get the drinks.”

After Xander returned, it became even more obvious to Cordelia that none of them had given a thought to including Angel in their little picnic even though he was technically their host. “You didn’t bring blood for Angel?”

At that, Buffy and Angel ended their conversation and walked over. Xander had made a face, “Eeeeew! I’d like to have an appetite when we eat.”

“But—”

“It’s okay, Cordy,” Angel assured her as his hand brushed over her shoulder. “I don’t need it.”

Cordelia protested on his behalf, “I’m just saying that it’s rude to come to a guy’s house with food and not bring him anything.”

“He’s not a guy,” Xander reminded. “He’s a vampire.”

Taking a step forward, Cordelia was about to argue that one when Angel’s had stilled her again. He suggested they sit down and relax. Willow was already occupying one corner of the blanket. Sitting cross-legged, Xander took the spot next to her. Buffy sat down at the closest corner next to Willow leaving the last corner for Cordelia.

She looked up at Angel, “Coming?” Between her and Buffy there was plenty of room for him to squeeze in.

There was just enough of a challenge in her voice that Angel knew Cordy was somehow teasing him. He leaned the staff against the nearest wall and sat down beside her. It had been a long time since he had felt such awkwardness, but sitting down between his ex-girlfriend and his new one felt downright strange.

Buffy had told him she missed training together. When she had touched him, Angel got the impression she was saying that was not all she missed. There had not been enough time to respond. Maybe the interruption was for the best because he had no idea how to tell Buffy ‘no’ without explaining that he wanted to spend time with Cordelia.

Keeping their relationship a secret for a while was not going to prove easy. Angel sat silently as the four of them talked about music or homework and other things he knew little about. He enjoyed hearing them and watching as they ate their sandwiches.

Angel sat with one leg bent inward on the floor, the other bent up where his arm rested on his knee. His other hand was on the edge of the blanket behind Cordy as he leaned slightly in her direction. Their shoulders touched and Angel felt her warmth seep into his skin from that slight contact.

He was thinking about wanting to touch her when Cordelia’s hand came down on his knee. Then she turned those lush lips in his direction to ask, “Want some?”

Angel’s tongue snaked out to lick at his lips. What he wanted would probably be labeled as inappropriate viewing for their uninvited guests. Cordelia’s question was innocent enough as she held up her strawberry-kiwi fruit swirl offering him a taste. He took the straw in his mouth and sipped, coming away with a smile on his face at the taste.

“Good?” Cordelia grinned at his expression.

Definitely, “I like that one.”

“Take half of my sandwich, too,” Cordelia urged him. “I’ll never eat it all.”

He was a little more hesitant about the sandwich, but Cordelia rolled her eyes and told him to pick off the parts he did not like. Angel opened up the sandwich and stared at the various layers. After removing the lettuce, he closed the two halves and lifted it toward his mouth, stopping just short of it when he realized that the others were staring.

Xander was wide-eyed with shock, Willow seemed to be watching him as if he was an interesting scientific experiment, while Buffy’s scrunch-faced expression suggested she didn’t like what she was seeing.

“What’s the big deal?” Cordelia asked them. “He doesn’t like lettuce.”

Then changing subjects, Cordelia took control of the conversation again. Angel ate the sandwich just to make a point knowing that he was still receiving stares from all three of them. Maybe he could not blame them for staring. It was not that long ago that the idea of him eating human food would have seemed ridiculous to him, too.

Xander finally gave up staring at Angel when Cordelia brought up the subject of Bev’s little battle with the mayor over the Bingo parlor. “Cor, your grandma is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Why is it that my relatives aren’t like that?”

“It’s all in the genes,” she said smiling, “which in your case is kind of scary.”

Cordelia went on with some details of Bev’s plan to picket City Hall. When she mimicked the mayor’s initial response to the news, even Angel laughed along with the others.

His easy laughter drew Buffy’s attention again though it had not strayed far away from him and Cordelia this evening. Angel seemed so different when he was around Cordelia. Not in a bad way at all, just not quite as aloof and mysterious as he was normally.

It bothered her.

After the picnic cleanup was complete, Buffy decided that it was time to confront Angel and to put their relationship back on track where it was supposed to be. It had just taken her a while to make the decision to accept him back.

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Cordelia, guarding her.” She pointed out that being so generous was not necessary. “Faith has nothing better to do. She can pick up more hours.”

Angel seemed surprised by the comment, but did not hesitate to tell her, “Cordy is my responsibility. I’ve told you that before.”

“Just because I teamed her up with you—”

“Yes, you did,” Angel cut in. “We’re patrol partners, but we’re more than that, too. We’re friends, Buffy, and I’m not going to let anything happen to her.”

Buffy only had herself to blame for that, she realized. It had been selfish of her to think that she could get rid of Cordelia by pairing her up with Angel assuming that they would not get along. “Yeah, you two seem close.”

She waited for Angel to confirm or deny it, but he remained silent letting her come to her own conclusions. Her heart sank a little as she pointed out, “You’ve been doing things together.”

For a moment, Angel looked alarmed, but quickly recovered. “Training,” he said quickly gesturing around the basement.

“I meant other things,” Buffy caught her lip between her teeth. Letting go, she told him what was bothering her, “You’ve been eating together and… talking.”

Angel rubbed a hand across his jaw. “I wasn’t aware that talking was off-limits. Besides, Cordy does most of it.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Umm, no.”

Thick-headedness was such a male thing. Buffy grumbled, “What’s with the pet name, anyway?”

Angel glanced over toward Cordelia who was directing Xander and Willow during the clean-up duty. There was a mischievous smile on her face as she met his gaze. He relaxed just a fraction realizing that she was not upset at Buffy asking to talk to him.

He answered Buffy’s question without thinking about how it sounded, “Her friends call her Cordy.”

“Meaning you do,” Buffy stressed.

Angel had to smile because Cordy chose that moment to touch her fingertips to her lips and then wave them in his direction when none of the others could see; a naughty little gleam lit her eyes.

Then Buffy asked, “What’s with the smiling?” as if it made her nervous.

Angel’s smile dimmed as he turned his attention back to the conversation. All of the questions were suddenly adding up to the fact that Buffy was not unaware of the fact that something was going on between him and Cordelia. The truth was on the tip of his tongue, but he had promised Cordy that they would keep things between them for a while.

But it irritated him that Buffy chose now to be jealous. She had waited far too long to decide that she had made a mistake by letting him go. Part of him wanted her to be jealous enough to choke on it, but that was the demon in him. “I don’t choose your friends for you,” Angel pointed out, his jaw tight, voice edging on dark. “My relationship with Cordy is no longer your business.”

Buffy paled. “I-I suppose so, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You have other friends, too. Like me. You don’t need to spend all of your free time with her.”

“You’ve already got your friends, Buffy,” Angel spoke softly trying to ease the tone of his words. “What’s the harm in letting me have Cordy?”

He walked away leaving her standing in the corner of the room. Buffy watched as he moved over to join the others. Standing by Cordelia’s side, his fingers brushed along her inner arm before dropping back to his side. She turned to him, smiling, to lift her hand to his back, sliding up to curl her fingers around his shoulder and letting her hand linger there.

Feeling the sting of tears gathering in her eyes, Buffy decided that she didn’t want to be here for any more of this. Whether Angel and Cordelia were really just friends or if something else was going on, she did not want any part of it. Heading for the stairs, she paused long enough to announce, “I’m going out on patrol. I need to work off some of that food.”

“Wait up, Buff,” Xander called up even as she jogged up the staircase. “We can go with you.”

“Not tonight,” Buffy did not bother to look back. “There’s something I need to do.”

Scene 62

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