Puzzle Pieces. 4

The next week was all business. Personal business with Holtz and his gang of mercenaries. That was when I learned that Wesley had come across a prophesy involving me killing my son.

He didn’t want to believe it, but the nature of his business in dealing with ancient texts, the mystic and occult all suggested that one day I would be responsible.

Wesley informed me that if I hadn’t already made him aware of the permanency of my soul, which he verified with Lorne and several other sources after our meeting, he would have been led to desperate measures.

So the threat from Holtz was ended though he was but one of many who sought to capture or destroy my son. Wolfram and Hart, corporate evil itself, remained intact, but I made it clear that Connor is off-limits. They believed me when I threatened their lives because I certainly meant it and they’ve experienced what I’m capable of.

Don’t they know by now not to get to me through my family? Lilah Morgan walks a very thin line and if she ever crosses it again she’ll find that I’m not one to ignore my threats when I make them. She can consider it a promise should she ever again try to manipulate my actions by endangering Cordelia or Connor.

Somehow, we’d all made it through the crisis intact. I went through a period where I was being overprotective when it came to my son to the extent that I even distanced myself from Cordelia. I know that hurt her because I could read it in her eyes and if there is one person in the world I’d trust with him it would be her, but after all that had happened I needed a little one-on-one time with Connor.

So I can say without a doubt that what happened next was my own fault. By the time I learned that Cordelia was dating again, she’d already been out twice with the guy. Worse, this wasn’t some stranger that I could manipulate with scare tactics, or brush off by causing Cordelia to be so late that he would give up. It was someone who knew precisely who she was and whose background even I couldn’t deny was spotless.

Paul Fletcher wouldn’t be working as David Nabbitt’s personal assistant if his record wasn’t as clean a whistle. He was fully aware of Cordelia’s status as a seer, that she worked at Angel Investigations and that I was a vampire. No doubt he had been the one to garner detailed information on me and mine to begin with.

Obviously, short of tossing PA Paul into the trunk of the Plymouth and abandoning him in the middle of the desert, I was at a loss of how to stop this from happening. Wes pointed out to me that maybe I shouldn’t even try. Cordelia deserved to make a choice on her own.

I wondered if Cordelia even considered that I might be a choice that she could make.

So I tried to let go. To give her some space. I determined that I wasn’t going to follow them around town like I had with Trey ‘Hollywood’ Cummings. After all, I’d only done that because I didn’t know the guy or if he could be trusted. Not that I trusted any man when it came to behaving himself around Cordelia. From what I’d seen, Paul Fletcher was a gentleman. A rare find in today’s world and despite the jealous churning in my gut, I could understand why Cordelia would be interested.

I honestly tried to be good and be that supportive friend I’d promised myself that I could be, but it didn’t work out as I’d planned. As soon as I saw the flowers adorning her desk the morning after their first date, I knew it was a bad sign. I didn’t know what Nabbitt’s PA made in the salary department, but it was clear that he could afford the best.

Cordelia seemed overly pleased with PA Paul and gushed over the details of their date. She told me what a relief it was to find someone she could talk to about her real role and the happenings in her life. I listened attentively. Too attentively because I can probably recite the details even now.

When I caught them on the phone during work hours, I growled that personal lives needed to be kept personal. Work hours were for work. So what if it was a dead day with nothing going on. There was filing to be done. She had a whole pile of old cases that had been left in her ‘To Do’ bin during last couple of weeks.

She’d smoothly told Paul that she’d call him right back, hung up the phone and stalked over to where I was leaning up against the front desk watching her. Standing less than a foot away, she glared up at me with her hands on her hips in that stance that tells me I’m in trouble.

“You are not my boss,” Cordy reminded me smugly. “If Wes has a problem with me making a personal phone call he can tell me. YOU on the other hand can mind your own business.”

I wanted to tell her that she was my business, that I didn’t want her cooing over the phone to PA Paul about his choice of restaurant or his manners or his smile or his foo-foo flowers. I was too damn jealous of the fact that the brilliant smile on her face was meant for him.

“You’re right,” I responded stonily. I wasn’t going to let it get to me. Didn’t I want her to be happy? Friends wanted their friends to be happy.

Cordelia looked at me suspiciously. My ready agreement floundered her completely. For once she was at a loss for words. Finally, she changed the subject, asking me, “Are we still training later?”

Not trusting my voice, I simply nodded. Maybe I knew that it wasn’t the best idea, but I wanted to be near her and that was the one legitimate way barring Connor’s presence that I could devise. It took focus and determination to concentrate on what we were supposed to be doing: sparring hand to hand, moving in sync together while we practiced offensive strategies and defensive techniques.

I was deep into thinking about the things I did that were not scheduled as a part of those training sessions: stealing caresses of her sweat-slicked skin, rolling on the mat just to feel my weight pressing her beneath me, drinking in her clean, salty, womanly scent as if it was ambrosia. Just the thought of doing that again today was made me twitch in anticipation of it.

Then Cordelia went on, “Because I think I should just reschedule. Paul and I have a date tonight. Don’t want to be late.”

I stared wordlessly as I realized Cordelia was canceling her alone time with me in order to go out with PA Paul. What was I supposed to do…lock her in the basement and force her to spend time with me? Sounded like a damn good idea.

“We can do it anytime, Cor,” I told her, my mind taking a side trip as it bypassed the training and went straight to thoughts of caressing her golden skin and kissing my way down her belly as I had the night of the ballet.

For a moment, I wondered if the husky tone of my voice had rekindled the memories for her as well because Cordelia’s eyes opened up darkening as they stared deeply into mine. Her tongue swept across her lips just before she commented, “Good, I’ll just let Paul know to expect me on time. That means I’ll be using the phone.”

The little jab was like a knife she kept twisting in my heart. It wasn’t such a dead useless organ as one might think. My misery was equaled only by Wesley’s. He was still moping about Fred while I brooded about Cordelia. She’d be the first to say that our manly bonding over pots of English tea was more like a pity party.

**
Two weeks went by. During which I tempered my resolve to let Cordelia explore this relationship through my frequent rendezvous with the basement punching bag. I can honestly say that I had nothing to do with the natural death of their potentially…nice relationship.

Even on the occasions I could tell that PA Paul had his hands on her or that he’d been kissing Cordelia, I had managed to control the urge to rip him apart. After all, he was truly a nice guy and was apparently willing to take things slowly with Cordelia.

I was certain that wouldn’t last. How could any man resist the temptation that was her? Not when it came wrapped up in silks and scented with perfume, accompanied by her smile and that blunt sense of humor.

When Cordelia arrived back at the hotel instead of going home after her date with Paul and I found her at the bottom of the stairs with tears in her eyes, I didn’t know what to do first.

Kill him or comfort her. She buried her face in my shoulder, her tears dampening my shirt. My arms wound around her pulling her close as I sought answers to the questions that were rattling around in my head.

“What is it, baby?” I smoothed my hands up and down her bare back, my fingers trailing along her spine. I don’t think either one of us noticed that little term of endearment. She was too busy sniffing away her tears and I was caught up in trying to sooth her.

Cordelia grabbed a handful of my shirt, just holding on. “It’s Paul. He…”

Worst case scenarios popped in, “He’s not dead is he?”

“No,” Cordelia answered in a way that sounded like that would be a better option. “I wouldn’t have to worry about him then.”

A growl rose up in my chest and Cordelia lifted her head away from the vibration of it against her ear. Her tear-bright hazel eyes looked greener than I’d ever seen them. I had to hear it from her lips even if my senses were already giving me answers. “Did he touch you?”

She looked a little confused by the query. “Paul touches me all the time.”

As if I wanted to hear that!

Trying again, I found my clarification to sound harsher than intended. “Did he fuck you? Touch you in a way you didn’t want? Just tell me what’s wrong and I’ll deal with him.”

With a huff, Cordelia pushed away from my chest and turned her back on me. It only let me see what I’d been feeling. The backless dress that clung to her figure dipped all the way down past her tattoo barely covering the shadowy cleft of her bottom. I thought of Paul touching her skin and nearly went ballistic.

“Can’t you tell?”

She was answering my first question with a question of her own. Damned if I didn’t take it as an invitation to find out. I had a reason to be irrational. Surely that can be forgiven.

I covered the distance separating us in an instant, taking her arms in both hands and pulling her back until she connected with my chest. I buried my face in her upswept hair taking in her scent as my hands moved to the places that would contain lasting hints of Paul Fletcher’s touch.

They wound around to the front palming her breasts through the fabric of her dress noting her braless state and feeling the puckering of her nipples. Even as her startled moan sounded in her throat, I had my face pressed against it, her skin hot on my lips as I tasted her. Then reaching down to the juncture of her thighs, the heel of my hand circled her mound causing her to buck against me.

I groaned in her ear as her ass pressed hard against the bulge in my pants. “So you haven’t been fucked tonight,” I didn’t know if it was just an observation or a lewd suggestion on my part. I only knew that I recognized arousal and that her scent was pure Cordelia.

PA Paul hadn’t done more than kiss her goodnight. With that thought, I whirled her around to face me, but her tear-stained cheeks distracted me from my plans to kiss her into submission. That’s what it would be. I could tell by the glare in her eyes she hadn’t expected my touch.

“What is your damage?” she demanded hotly, her breath coming in heaving huffs of air that brought my eyes to her chest. “I come to you about Paul and you practically maul me.”

“Just making sure he hadn’t touched you,” I answered slowly realizing that my method of determination wasn’t exactly platonic or very gentlemanly. My hands curled at my sides as I tried to reign in the need to wipe away his kisses by replacing them with my own.

Cordelia poked a sharp finger into my solid chest. “So what if he did. I’m dating him, dumbass.”

“You were crying,” I tried to point out. “I thought he might ha—.”

“That he might have done what you just did?”

She had every right to be furious with me, I realized. Lifting a hand to the nape of my neck, I massaged away the building tension there. I could do nothing about the more obvious tension in my loins. Cordelia’s gaze dropped down to gape at the size of the bulge tenting my pants.

“Omigod,” she let out a little gasp as her eyes flashed back up to mine realizing just how much I physically wanted her.

My apology came quickly before she could say anything else. “I’m sorry, Cordy, I know I shouldn’t have touched you that way. I just reacted.”

“Duh!”

Considering what her response might have been, I considered that single syllable a huge break. She could have laid into me with a full array of verbal barbs, but she did not. So I grabbed the opportunity to redirect us back to the reason she came to me in the first place.

“Tell me what happened tonight.”

“David has business in Malaysia over the next few months,” Cordelia explained. “Paul has to go with him.”

“Oh.”

Would my feelings on that subject be too obvious if I sounded out a loud ‘Hell Yeah’ in front of Cordelia? I thought so too and decided to underplay it for now.

“He’s a nice guy. I like him a lot,” she admitted making me feel like a failure in the friendship department at being overjoyed at the thought that PA Paul was leaving town.

Cordelia went on to tell me that while Paul understood the many interruptions in their plans and the delays caused by her involvement with Angel Investigations as my seer, they were both too involved in their lives at work to make a real go of it. He couldn’t stay in LA with her and she couldn’t go to Malaysia with him.

“That wasn’t an option was it?” I asked Cordelia with a lump gathering in my throat at the thought of her taking off for the far parts of the globe.

Looking cross, Cordelia slapped my chest only to leave her hand there as she told me, “No, Broody. If I came back to LA from Pylea, I’m not about to choose Malaysia over you and Connor.”

I wanted to read more into those words than I suspected was there. I said nothing as I trailed my thumb along her cheek wiping away the evidence of her tears. She cared enough for the guy to cry over it; the least I could do was appear to be sympathetic.

“What if I wanted to go?” Cordelia questioned and my thumb paused its journey at the edge of her jaw.

“Is that a hypothetical question?” I needed to know barely able to sound out the words in order to make the inquiry.

Cordelia asked me again, a determined glint in her eyes, “What if I wanted to go? Would you let me?”

As if I could stop her if she wanted to do anything. If I really had a choice in the matter the answer was simple enough.

“No.”

She nibbled on her lush bottom lip as she contemplated my response, her hand still on my chest and mine on her face until finally the corners of her mouth quirked up into a smile.

“Guess I should say goodnight to Connor and head home,” Cordelia told me and I knew that she wasn’t ready to explore the reason for my actions or her smile.

I didn’t want her to go, but after my behavior tonight it was probably for the best. I dropped my hand away and let her wander up the stairs. Following her up there was not the wisest thing to do, so I ignored the urge and simply stood in statue-like form focusing my senses on the floor above.

Listening in on the soft soothing sounds of Cordelia as she bade my son a good night and the answering coo of delight that followed her repeating, “I love you.”

Three simple little words. Even the baby understood their worth. It was a concept I couldn’t seem to grasp when it came tangled up in friendship.

I heard Cordelia descend the stairs behind me and felt the touch of her hand on my shoulder as she stepped down to the floor. She said, “I’m going.”

“Home?” I just wanted the extra clarification.

“Yes.”

She paused for a moment glancing back up at me with a question in her eyes. I had no idea what it was until those eyes flashed disappointment and then I wondered if Cordelia could possibly expect the same goodnight kiss I’d made a habit of giving her of late; even now, tonight, after Paul’s announcement and my inexcusable behavior.

I caught her hand as it slipped off my shoulder just as she started to move away. She looked down at our clasping fingers. “I’d better go.”

“Yes,” I agreed still holding on.

My hand crept up to her cheek and her head turned into my palm, her eyes closing for an instant. I touched my lips to her forehead and then to her cheek and then to the single flawed sun-kiss on her face that only accentuated her beauty.

“Goodnight, Cordy,” I whispered the words right over her mouth. I don’t know how or why I stopped myself from claiming her lips, but I pulled back and let her go.

Cordelia looked a little shaken; I could see it in her eyes that she thought I was going to really kiss her. If she had any idea…though I guess she did after all…know how much I wanted her, she’d make her escape. Guess that’s what she was trying to do when I stopped her from going.

Taking two small steps back, letting her fingers slide from my hand, she responded as she always did with the sound of my name like a honeyed promise on her lips, “Angel.”

My inner voice kept telling me I was ten kinds of a fool for letting her go again when I had her in my arms, her lips open and seeking mine, when I could taste the tangy heat of her arousal in the air. Knowing her body responded to my touch, to my kiss, to my desire. Knowing I wanted her more than any words could ever describe. Above me, beneath me, surrounding me in any of a hundred ways and those were just the ones off the top of my head.

This had to stop.

I only seemed to be driving myself insane with wanting Cordelia. I had to know once and for all if there was a chance that our friendship could be more than platonic; if it hadn’t already passed that point long ago without us admitting it. Was it so greedy of me to want to be her friend and her lover? Was it possible to have her and still maintain what we’d created? Would it be better than before or would I simply risk everything by asking?

***

Having been up most of the night weighing every possible permutation, I slept until Connor announced his hunger with a loud cry. I walked into his connecting room, the nursery Cordelia had designed for him and all of my friends had helped to build, and found myself smiling at the memory. Picking Connor up, we moved back to the little kitchenette in my room to prepare his bottle.

After settling my son down, I went to get ready for the rest of the day. Standing in front of my closet after my shower, I stared at the array of black, grey and white clothing and realized everything looked a little glum in comparison to my mood today which was practically cheerful for me.

Today was the day I was going to tell Cordelia about my feelings for her. While that scared the hell out of me, I couldn’t stop myself from grinning like a fool at the idea of being in love with Cordy.

If I was ten kinds of a fool, being a fool in love had to top the list.

So I pulled out a pair of black slacks and the one blue shirt hanging in my closet because I knew she liked me in colors. Don’t ask why I only wear red when I’m evil. Just a habit, I suppose. Now that Angelus is no longer a threat, maybe I’ll have to rethink avoiding his half of the wardrobe. I know Cordelia likes me in leather.

Pressed and dressed, Connor and I headed downstairs only to hear the buzz of conversation in the lobby. Everyone was there except Lorne whom I figured was still asleep in his room on the upper level. Gunn stood with his arm around Fred’s slim shoulder. Wes and Cordelia were standing side by side facing a young couple. The woman looked a little familiar, her café a lait skin, dark eyes and thick curling black hair reminded me of someone I’d seen before.

“Oh my God! Cordelia Chase, is there something you’ve forgotten to tell me?” I knew I recognized the voice and all I could think of was that she was one of Cordy’s friends from Sunnydale.

Cordelia obviously didn’t notice the direction of her friend’s line of sight. “What are you talking about, Aura?”

I recognized the name: Aura. She had kept in touch with Cordelia by phone over the last couple of years. She’d gone to Sunnydale University for a year before getting a job in public relations.

“I’m talking about Salty Junior over there,” she nodded this way. I could only hope that she was referring to the baby.

Slowly, Cordelia glanced over her shoulder sending me a too wide smile with her cheeks flushing beneath her tan. “That’s Connor, Angel’s son.”

I’m not sure why Aura would automatically assume Cordelia was Connor’s mother, not without seeing them together, but it was clear that she’d made that leap within seconds of seeing me with the baby.

As I approached, I noticed the man standing next to Aura bore a strong familial resemblance guessing him to be her brother. He stood silently watching as Cordelia automatically reached out for the baby when I stepped up beside them.

Ignoring her friends for the moment, Cordelia made her usual greeting to Connor who gurgled back and grabbed onto her hair. Wesley noticed my interest in their little gathering and realized he might need to make introductions.

“Angel, you’re just in time to meet Aura and Reginald Albright,” Wes told me with a smile. I hadn’t seen that silly grin on his face in weeks. “Aura is one o—”

“The Cordettes,” I nodded trying to be friendly. “I remember.”

“That was a while ago,” Aura hinted that she was no longer into Cordelia worship even though they remained friends.

“I was going to say one of Cordelia’s friends from Sunnydale, but it seems you do remember,” Wes clarified sounding slightly put out that I’d interrupted him.

With a genuine smile, the man held out his hand, “Call me Reg. Aura and I came to invite everyone to lunch at Chez Renard.”

I shook the hand and thanked him for the offer. Obviously, I wasn’t going anywhere. Cordelia apparently told her friend Aura only so much when it came to her life here at Angel Investigations. “That’s kind of you, but Connor and I have some father-son things we need to do today.”

Reg nodded in understanding, but his outspoken sister had apparently studied blunt speak at the School of Cordelia. “They don’t let you bring babies there anyway. It’s kind of like the anti-smoking law. Chez Renard is a no-crying zone.”

Cordelia sent me a small smile hiding it as she nuzzled Connor’s head. Her friend went on to tell me that she was here in LA to attend her brother’s gallery opening which was scheduled to take place tonight. She thought Cordelia could go as Reg’s date. I wasn’t certain if Aura thought she was taking pity on Reg or Cordelia by arranging that.

That certainly wasn’t how I’d planned the day. I was only slightly mollified when Reg invited all of us to attend the opening. This way, I’d at least get to keep an eye on them.

“Guess this means I’ll be renting a tux again,” Gunn commented with a frown. Fred laughed beside him. I heard her tease him about the way he looked reminding him that he was gorgeous.

Aura looked like she might agree as she eyed him. Then she glanced back at me, “I don’t think you’ve changed a bit since Sunnydale except for the new attachment.”

She nodded toward Connor who was now sleeping on Cordelia’s shoulder. Curiosity sparkled in her dark brown gaze and I knew it wouldn’t be long before she would find a way to ask Cordy for the details. If she only got half the truth in return it would still be a hell of a story.

Then that gaze slipped from me over to Wes who hadn’t really taken his eyes off the stunning young woman except for the brief period of the introductions. “Are you sure you’re the same Wesley Wyndham-Pryce that Cor pointed out at the prom? That boy was geeky, freaky and too wimpy lookin’ to be you.”

Gunn was laughing as Wes appeared to cringe under the intense scrutiny of Aura’s stare. I supposed that the former watcher had made quite a transformation from his Sunnydale days maturing into a stubble-jawed rogue demon hunter as well as being the competent head of Angel Investigations.

“You’re going to be my date to night, sugar,” Aura slid her hand around Wes’ arm.

“I-I am?”

“Mmm. Definitely.”

Wes looked like he’d swallowed a lemon. Some of the stories Cordelia had told us about Aura and her other Sunnydale friends was enough to frighten any male into sudden surrender.

“Very well,” Wes agreed as if accepting a challenge to a chess tournament. “I’ll pick you up at eight.”

“Seven-thirty,” corrected Aura as she tugged on his arm and pulled him toward the door. “I want to be there for the big meet and greet. Reg is gonna be famous after tonight and I want to see and be seen by everyone.”

Gunn and Fred headed out the door behind them. “Yo, Wes, we’ll follow you in my truck.”

I noticed that Reg patiently waited as Cordelia handed me the baby. As soon as his sister was out of earshot, he commented, “Don’t feel pressured to go out with me tonight because of Aura. Especially if you two…,” he waved a finger between us as if we were supposed to automatically fill in the blanks with our choice of continuation.

I knew what I wanted to say, but was caught up in the thought that I must’ve been looking a little territorial. Guess it just comes naturally.

“Oh, no,” Cordelia was quick to point out. “There’s nothing. No pressure.”

Wait a second. What did she mean by nothing? I didn’t care if there was an audience in the room or if Connor might hear a word or two that he shouldn’t, “What the hell do you mean by nothing?”

“Nothing,” Cordy shrugged.

That was my answer. The ‘nothing’ was nothing.

“How can there possibly be anything when there’s nothing there to be pressured about?” Cordelia’s logic completely confused me. “If I thought it was something then I might be tempted so say that it wasn’t just nothing, but I can’t. So he’s free, I’m free. We’re all really free to do whatever we want.”

“If that’s what you want,” I answered back rather stonily.

Cordelia hesitated for a moment’s pause before adding, “You’ll be there tonight, won’t you?”

“Count on it.”

“I’ll see you then,” she told me taking one last look at the two of us before turning back toward the door where Reg was now waiting for her. Cordelia smiled as she realized both Connor and I were wearing her favorite color, “Blue?”

I shrugged. “Blue.”

“Fred and I have shopping this afternoon,” Cordelia explained and I remembered the big deal they made about getting ready for the ballet. “We’ll probably leave from my apartment.”

I knew I wouldn’t see her again until tonight when she was the official date of the guest of honor. Maybe Cordelia hadn’t set this date up like she had the others, but she was still on the rebound after her sudden breakup with PA Paul. I wasn’t about to let Reginald Albright’s high class charm and Sunnydale roots get in my way tonight.

Frankly, I didn’t know what would happen.

“C’mon, Connor, it looks like we’ll have to beg Lorne for a favor again. He told me how much he loved watching you the night of the ballet. Would hardly let me forget that he got to baby sit you. Bet he’ll jump at the chance to watch you while we’re at the gallery.”

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