Puzzle Pieces. 3

Driving back to the hotel, I tried to forget how Cordelia felt in my arms. Suppressing images that filled my head. Willing my body not to respond to the memories of my mouth on her breast and my fingers sliding along the slick folds of her sex. Focusing on tonight’s triumph was my only recourse.

Unfortunately, it was short-lived. No less than two days later, Cordy was at it again. There was another guy. This one she’d struck up a conversation with at the local Dry Cleaners. I couldn’t believe that she was picking up dates there. Someone who didn’t have a housekeeper to take care of his dry cleaning had never been on Cordelia’s ‘To Do’ list.

Even Cordelia admitted it when I casually asked her about her upcoming date. She was vague. Not in a suspicious way, just evasive. As if there was something about the guy she didn’t want me to know.

This was worse than Trey Cummings. Cordelia had no idea who or what Mister Dry Cleaners was all about. He could be a serial killer for all she knew about him. The fact that Cordelia didn’t give me enough information to have him investigated forced my hand.

I had no choice but to protect her from this potential opportunist.

The three times they were supposed to go out together, I managed to arrange for Cordelia to be too busy with work, too grungy from cleaning or too occupied with Connor to be able to go out with Dry Cleaner Dave. Finally, both of them just gave up deciding that it was too much effort.

I had to give the guy credit for persistence. He’d apparently tried to offer to pick her up at the hotel, but Cordelia told him she wanted to keep her work life separate from her personal life.

I’d overheard the phone conversation, felt a twinge of guilt at doing so and a modicum of jealousy over the thought that she wanted a personal life that didn’t include me.

Then I got over the guilt.

Things were fine for a few days until I noticed Cordelia spending an awful lot of time with Wesley. Their conversations would stop whenever I approached even when making an effort to ease up unnoticed.

Apparently, Cordelia had grown radar that could detect me at a hundred paces and all I could do was recall that it was my own fault for teaching her to be ultra-aware of her surroundings during our training sessions.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something going on there. Had I missed out on seeing some spark between them? They’d always laughed over their botched kiss back in our Sunnydale days. Now I was catching Cordelia holding Wes’ hand against her face as they talked quietly or putting her arms around him.

She kissed his cheek once and I met Wes’ gaze from across the room. Guess he did not like what he saw there because he separated himself from Cordelia immediately. No sooner had Cordy gone out to pick up sandwiches from the deli across the street than Wes ordered me into his office.

Putting Connor down in the portable bassinet that Cordy kept by her desk, I stepped into Wesley’s office. Dragging the baby into this was not something I wanted to do because I had a feeling things were going to be said in a way that Connor did not need to witness.

The kid had already been subjected to my jealous vibes as Lorne called them.

If something was going on between Wes and Cordelia was I really going to try to stop it? They were both important to me. I trusted Wes and I knew that he would never hurt Cordelia. He was human, alive, not evil, intelligent and a whole slew of other qualities that made it impossible to find fault if Cordelia ever made that choice.

What if she did? What if she’d already made it? What if that’s what Wes was planning to tell me?

Now I fully admit that the idea had me just a little deranged. There was a growl in my voice as I approached his desk…formerly my desk, “Get it over with. Say what you have to say.”

“Sit down, Angel.”

“I’d rather stand.” In fact, I was pacing like a caged tiger across the office floor, eyeing my friend with suspicion and using my predatory senses to evaluate his every reaction.

There was no nervousness on his part, which was a good thing. Right? I wasn’t here to frighten him off or to warn him not to touch Cordelia. I just wanted to hear it from him if there was something going on. Then I’d deal with the fallout.

The closer I looked, the more I noticed that Wes appeared quietly determined. “Fine. Just understand that I’m in no mood to deal with lovesick employees at the moment. I need you focused on the mission, not Cordelia.”

“I’m focused,” I assured him. Then I got to the questions that were plaguing me and since he’d used the word, I asked, “Lovesick? Is Cordelia bothering you? She’s been acting a little…”

Wesley sighed deeply and cut me off, “Angel, you’re so caught up in chasing after Cordelia that you’re blind to almost everything around you.”

Chasing after her? “I am not.”

“Be careful,” Wes cautioned me. “You’re too close to her for it to mean nothing. I’m here to caution you against any action that might lead to my needing to stake you.”

He was worried about Angelus, I realized. Guess it was time to tell Wes what Lorne had already revealed to me. “My soul is secure.”

The guarded look he gave me suggested Wesley wasn’t completely convinced. I had to provide more details and when finally he sat back in his chair there was a look of relief on his face. I’d lifted that burden away.

Then I had to speak in my own defense as I recalled his accusation of chasing Cordelia.

“I’m not blind, Wes,” I told him. “If there is something going on between you two, then just tell me.”

A cold laugh emerged from his chest and there was pity in his eyes. I hated that look and demanded to know what the hell he meant by it.

“I have no designs on Cordelia,” he said though I quickly responded by pointing out the evidence of their touchy-feely behaviors. “I have been going through a rough time since the night of the ballet and Cordelia has been helping me deal with it.”

Frowning, I tried to think of what had happened to Wes that night. Gunn was the one with the flesh wound. I’d heard that Fred had patched him up since Cordelia hadn’t come into the hotel. Then I realized that I had seen Fred and Gunn together quite a lot over the last few days or not seen them because they were out together.

“Is something going on with Fred and Gunn?” I asked for clarification.

“Welcome to my world,” Wes commented sardonically. “Love is in the air at Angel Investigations and I’m choking on it.”

“Fred and Gunn are in love?” I didn’t automatically connect the idea that he was also talking about Cordy and me.

Wes confirmed, “They’ve been dating ever since the ballet.”

I was hit by the sudden realization that Fred and Gunn had somehow managed to bridge the impossible gap between friendship and love. They’d taken a step that I— that Cordelia and I couldn’t take. Not without risking everything. Jealousy twisted my gut into knots as I thought of them easily managing something that was well beyond my reach.

Maybe I was slowly going mad. Everything she did made me want her. I tried to stay away, but that didn’t work because I missed her smile and her nonsensical chatter about the latest Cosmo poll. So did Connor who protested when I decided Cordelia might need a break from the weight of my constant stare.

Much later, I was in the middle of the bed, Connor raised above me, watching as he gurgled and grinned at my vampiric features when her knock sounded on my door. In frozen tableau, I stared at the door waiting for Cordelia to pop her head in, but she waited for me to call out the okay. So I shifted back and lowered Connor so that his back rested against my bent legs.

“Come on in, Cordy.”

She didn’t bother to ask how I knew it was her. I always knew. What I rarely could discern was her reason for coming. At least as long as it took for her to open her mouth because she was never one to beat around the bush when diving straight in managed to get her what she wanted. Tonight the reason was obvious.

This was the first time she’d been in my bedroom since before the night of the ballet. Even now her step seemed tentative as she realized what she’d come for was to be found in the middle of my bed. I had no illusions that it was me.

Since there was nothing case-wise going on, it was getting close to time for Cordelia to go home. I had deprived her of Connor for the past few hours and she’d finally taken the bait and come looking for her baby snuggles.

“I’m leaving,” Cordelia explained to me. “Can I say goodnight to Connor?”

“Sure.”

She looked as if she expected me to climb off of the bed and put him in her arms. I wasn’t feeling that cooperative. All the thinking I’d done about Fred and Gunn made me think that maintaining our status quo relationship was impossible. Things and people changed all of the time.

Maybe—

I felt the mattress springs shift as Cordelia climbed up onto the bed one knee at a time, sitting with her back to me as she faced the baby. Connor’s eyes lit up the moment he saw her.

“There you are,” Cordelia made those cooing noises that always grabbed the baby’s attention. “My sweet baby, Aunty Cordy’s here to get her share of snuggles.”

I’d be only too happy to oblige with the snuggling, though I had a sneaking suspicion that wasn’t the only thing I’d be happy to provide.

As she shifted a little closer, Cordelia put a hand on my stomach and the muscles instantly tensed beneath her touch. She must have felt it too because her hand moved away so fast I might have imagined it being there. Reaching for Connor, she picked up the baby and scooted off of the bed.

It didn’t matter that I knew she liked to rock and walk with Connor at the same time; it just felt like she was evading me. Call it predatory instinct or plain stupidity, I was off the bed and on my feet in a matter of seconds hovering close as she whispered to Connor that she would see him tomorrow.

Placing a kiss on his downy baby hair, Cordelia turned to hand him back to me. She paused catching the look on my face, which must have held a kind of wonderment at the picture they made. Anyone seeing them would never guess that Connor was a motherless child.

“Are you going to take him back or is he coming to the apartment with me tonight?” Cordelia stared at me like I’d grown a third eye until I realized I wasn’t moving. I took Connor holding him in the crook of my left arm.

Seeing that the baby was settled, Cordelia started to move away. Being so close and still feeling that warm rush as I realized just how important she was to my son as well as me, I circled my hand around her upper arm holding her next to me. Cordelia looked a little like a deer caught in the glare of the headlights as she glanced up at me, for good reason, too.

I had every intention of telling her she wasn’t going anywhere. There was no plan after that; I simply didn’t want her to leave.

That was why I needed to let her go, but not before I said, “Goodnight, Cordy.”

“Angel,” she sounded out my name and it felt like a caress against my skin. Palming her face, I pressed a kiss to her forehead and then another against her cheek.

***

I’d made the mistake of letting her out of my room, allowing Cordelia to escape my attentions. At the last second, I realized the destination of my next kiss and the sight of her lush mouth turned up to mine was almost enough to make me forget myself. It was so easy to let emotions rule your actions and mine were a twisted mess.

Unfortunately, the baby squirmed in my arms caught between us and I had to let her go. Cordelia stepped back with a hasty goodnight and was gone within seconds. The sound of her heart thundering against her ribs made it clear that I’d overstepped the bounds of friendship. Her footsteps in the hall and on the stairs carried her away at a fast pace.

So which was it…fortune or misfortune…a mistake? When it came to Cordelia, I was rapidly starting to lose touch with my own understanding of our relationship. In my head the difference between friends and lovers was always an absolutely defined line.

Then again, I’d never really had friends since my human days and even then they were my roustabout drinking buddies never female. I suppose that I never really knew the definition of true friendship until Cordelia came along. Doyle, Wesley, Gunn and Fred…I know exactly what category to place them in.

Fred’s a woman. Take her for example. She’s quickly become part of our close-knit family of friends. Her quirky ways and brainy schemes fascinate me. Part of me is completely relieved that she’s fallen for Gunn because it means that Fred has gotten over the crush she developed after I saved her in Pylea.

I’d defend Fred with my life just as I would the others, but comparing my friendship with her to what I have with Cordelia seems…well, I don’t know what it seems. That is half the problem.

I’ve known Cordy longer. We’ve been through so much together. She’s my seer. The pain she feels is real when the visions come and it’s all because of me, but she takes it and goes on. Between the two of us, I sometimes think she’s the real champion to put up with everything that the PTB send her way. I’m just the muscle that makes it happen.

Does she know how much I value her presence in my life, that I’d do anything for her, anything to keep her at my side? Is that why I’ve been so ‘overprotective’ as she calls it? I’m just assuring her safety.

Vampires are known to be possessive of things they’ve claimed. That includes their childer, mates, pets, minions and belongings. Most vampires don’t have souls or the emotional ties that I do much less true friends. Is it any wonder I have trouble in categorizing where they and especially Cordelia fit in my life?

I’ve known Wesley almost as long as Cordelia. We’ve had such ups and downs in our relationship and our friendship is stronger for it. He sees me for what I am and could be despite everything he knows about my past. He has a strength and determination I never would have suspected upon first glance back in Sunnydale, a resolve to do what is right no matter the consequences.

Because of that, I trust him with my life because I know he’d be willing to take it if the circumstances dictated the need to do so. I love him like the brother I never had. Despite my two-hundred plus years in excess existence, Wes sometimes takes on that older brother air, especially when he’s talking to me about Cordelia. I appreciate his counsel even when I choose to ignore it.

Gunn is the same, the younger counterpart to Wesley. If he wasn’t so caught up in his new relationship with Fred, he’d probably be trying to kick my ass for my recent behavior. He’s as protective of Cordelia as I am. Treats her like a sister and would be watching me like a hawk if he had the ability to read my mind, had a clue of what went on the night of the ballet or was observant enough to notice that I can’t keep my eyes off of her these days.

Not that I can’t be trusted. I’m doing my best to protect her. From me. I’m just not going to let anyone else take advantage of her while I’m at it.

Lovers fall into such a separate category from friends. At least they always have for me as I sit here contemplating the subject. I could draw a line down the center of a blank page and easily put people into columns.

Darla…that’s an easy one. She and my childer all fell into the same category and it wasn’t friendship.

When it comes to Buffy, I’m ashamed to admit it, but we were never really friends. I watched over her, fought for her, protected her and loved her, but we were never really anything but star-crossed lovers. I know that now. I think I knew it then, but would never have admitted it to myself. I was too caught up in her to see beyond the moment and it led to my own downfall.

Technically, placing Cordelia on that list should be easy. Friend. That’s what she is and always has been to me. Well, except when she was more of an irritating beauty with a penchant for hitting on me back in our early Sunnydale days. How different she is now than then only somehow even more beautiful to me because she no longer hides behind a metaphorical mask.

Cordelia is radiant and good and pure of heart and I’m drawn to that inner beauty as much as I am to her physical form. The more I think about her, the more I want her. She should be mine in every way there is to be mine. I fantasize about taking her, claiming her, loving her until she’s physically dependant upon me for the pleasure I can give her.

Maybe I’m just a little obsessed with the idea.

So to which category does Cordelia belong? She’s never been my lover, but I want her to be. She is my friend and I’ve fought so hard to get that back, I don’t want to chance losing it. I can’t lose it. I won’t lose it.

I just need to keep control. Be supportive. Be the friend that I say I am. Ignore the jealousy that pulls at my reigns whenever she dares to talk to another man. As long as she’s safe, as long as it’s what she wants, I have to try to let her live her life.

Now that her attempted dating stint with Dry Cleaner Dave was over, I thought that I could relax. Not so. As if my goodnight kisses, however close or distant they might have been to her lips, spurred Cordelia into action, she announced the next day that she had a dinner scheduled with yet another guy.

Where were these men coming from? Had they always been around and I never saw their interest in Cordelia or was it because she hadn’t been interested in them that I ignored their presence? This was someone else I’d never met and I figured to do the same with Musician Mike as I did with Dave from the Dry Cleaners. My plotting didn’t get very far. This time intervention came directly from the PTB.

Cordelia had a vision and had to cancel her evening plans thanks to the migraine that lingered even after the mission was complete. Part of me was selfishly grateful to the PTB for their timing, but seeing the woman I— seeing Cordelia in pain quickly squashed my momentary glee that Mike would be making music on his own tonight.

I’d bundled Cordelia into my arms, tucked her into my bed and arranged for Fred to take care of Connor just so Cordy could get some rest. So what if she has her own bedroom here at the hotel, I never consciously thought about it at the time. All I knew was I put her where she belonged.

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