The first six tries got Cordelia no closer to finding any relatives of the mysterious Alice Waterhouse.
When one man, C Waterhouse according to the phone book, asked if she was single, Cordelia kept him on the line instead of hanging up on him like she normally would any other sleazy guy more interested in her bra size than helping her.
So what if it was a deliberate attempt to annoy Angel. He deserved it for being such a jerk. She chatted with Chuck for about five minutes before she felt the hairs rising on the back of her neck. The phone line went dead.
“Oops!” Spinning around, she saw the phone cord in Angel’s hand. He shrugged and tried not to smile too much. “Must’ve snagged it.”
Seeing red, Cordelia gritted her teeth ordering Angel to, “Put that back right now. I wasn’t finished talking to Chuck.”
“You are now.”
Angel held himself perfectly still. “Hardly. Certainly not of Chuckie. You don’t need to throw yourself at strangers to prove you’re not interested in me.”
Outraged, she slammed the phone back in its cradle. “I was not throwing myself at him. I was trying to loosen him up a little. He was hiding something.”
“Notice you didn’t deny being interested.”
So maybe she couldn’t deny it anymore. Angel’s super-sniffer made it impossible to hide her body’s reaction. “Okay, so maybe under way, way different circumstances I might find you really hot, but it’s not my fault that mirror turns our reflections into something from late night cable.”
The guilt in his dark brown eyes was an early indicator of Brood Mode. That wasn’t the reaction Cordelia expected from her confession. Gloating, yes, but she certainly wasn’t ready for him to say, “I know. It’s my fault.”
“Not what the mirror does,” Angel rubbed a hand over his forehead, “but I think it’s reading my mind.”
Cordelia’s gaze narrowed. “Your mind?” That was all kinds of wrong. “Do you think you’re being chivalrous or something for taking credit for it? Thanks, but I’ll suffer with the consequences.”
Obviously, Angel hadn’t been the one reading Cosmo and thinking about mapping out his erogenous zones. Cordelia nibbled on her fingertip as the image popped into her head again. Or better yet, letting him map hers with a trail of touches, kisses and the wet slip of his tongue.
Now that was worthy of one of a long, hot bubble bath where she liked to close her eyes and let the cares of the day fade replacing them with something made of pure fantasy.
When her daze faded, Cordelia noted that Angel’s brooding expression had turned darker still. She turned away ashamed of thinking such thoughts about someone who was her best friend.
Crossing her arms at her waist, she walked away from the desk and pretended to be interested in one of the plants by the window.
The creak of the chair hinges sounded as Angel got up to follow her. “You don’t get it.”
Suppressing a shiver as he came up behind her, Cordelia shook her head. No, she was missing something from the big picture, but, “What?”
“None of this is your fault,” Angel assured her gently taking hold of her shoulders and pulling her back against the rock wall of his chest. She melted into him letting her head fall back onto his shoulder. “It’s both of us, Cordy. There’s some sort of sorcery involved. Whatever feelings exist—I think this mirror can bring them to the surface.”
A soft pfft sounded. “So you’re saying none of it is fake. That I really do want you.” Cordelia supposed there was no use trying to deny it anymore.
“No Cordy,” he turned her around to face him, his hands coming up to slide through her hair and cup her face, “I’m saying that I want you, too.”
With her heart thudding madly, Cordelia’s eyelids shuttered softly closed as the light dimmed and the space between them slowly slipped away. One feathery kiss, soft and sweet touched her lips. Another, determined, yet full of tender care.
A gasp left her lips as she moved closer into Angel’s arms, her hands seeking out the strength of his arms and shoulders, holding on for fear that she would fall into the waking world, that this was only a dream.
Angel slid his lips over hers, teasing, urging her to kiss him back. Her mouth chased his, capturing it with searing heat, opening up to the shallow dip of his tongue. She licked back, their mouths meshing hotly, a moan sounding between them. Cordelia arched into his hands as they swept down her spine and up again beneath the hem of her shirt, but going no further than the soft skin at her waist.
Kisses turned frantic.
They bumped into the back wall, the sudden contact knocking them both to their senses. Cordelia’s panting breaths drew his attention down to the rise and fall of her breasts. Frustration sounded on their lips, both wanting more, but aware that they’d already crossed a dangerous line.
A point of no return where there would be no putting their feelings back into Pandora’s box.
Quivering, “We can’t do this,” Cordelia planted both hands against Angel’s chest needing some support just to hold herself upright. Her legs wobbly rubber bands. Salty tears stung her eyes, a sob catching in her throat.
Just as devastated, Angel kissed her one last time, his free hand moving up to caress her damp cheek. He pulled her tight into his embrace, resting his cheek on the top of her head. “I know.”
That’s how Wesley found them some time later. Standing locked within each other’s embrace. After a slack-jawed moment where he could do nothing but stare, he made a loud rattling noise in his throat and rapped his knuckles on the door. “Ah, I see you two have, ah, made up.”
Cordelia lifted her head from its place on Angel’s chest and he tenderly combed his fingers through her hair smoothing it behind her ear. They were lost in each other’s eyes, a stormy sea of lingering emotions too tangled to clearly decipher except for one.
And that realization filled Wesley with gut-wrenching dread.
“Good heavens,” he muttered and then tittered at the words he’d chosen, the irony of it reminding him that this might be an appropriate time for prayer. For all of his bandying about with the crossbow earlier on, he’d never honestly suspected either one of them to possess anything more than a superficial attraction for each other.
The subtle supportive squeeze of Cordelia’s hand did not go unnoticed. Wesley was just waffling over the idea that something serious had happened between those two since he’d stepped out of the office. Angel headed back to his chair as Cordelia did hers.
A hint of ruthless determination sounded in Angel’s voice as he ordered Wes, “Have a seat.”
Wordlessly, he sank into the nearest chair already calculating the chances of Angelus making another appearance. His gaze shifted over to Cordelia who sat far too quietly compared to the norm, stunned, a little smile tugging at her lips.
“Might I suggest that whatever insanity happened whilst I was gone not recur for all our sakes?” Wesley knew better than to remind Angel about the curse especially as the vampire was looking rather hostile. Gulping, he tried to ease the tension with a joke, “And Angel—that’s not your color,” circling a finger around his lips.
Angel silently wiped the glossy smudges from his mouth and took a long look at the color against his fingertips. His eyes strayed back to Cordelia, a purely male smirk on his face despite the angst that was still palpable to everyone in the room. Cordy was grinning, too, and yet Wes found it difficult to bear watching silent messages passing between them.
If they were any other couple Wesley would be thrilled for two friends discovering hidden feelings for each other. No other pair had the threat of Angelus hanging over their heads. He could only hope that their mission and their friendship would win out against attraction. One misstep could be fatal.
“We’ve discovered how the mirror works,” Cordelia blurted when she couldn’t put up with Wesley’s wide-eyed stares any longer.
Getting back to business was the best strategy to distract him from delivering a lecture. The last thing she needed right now was a reminder that she had to put Angel’s kisses behind her because they could never have anything more.
Who needed Wesley’s old lecture anyway? Cordelia realized she had all of the facts. Having been face to face with Angelus was plenty of incentive to keep her hands to herself. Knowing the consequences didn’t make it hurt any less.
“It projects what you want to see,” Wesley commented before she could state her theory. “Deep-rooted thoughts, fantasies, small truths, little lies, an illusion brought to life through the power of a spell.”
Cordelia looked perturbed by his commandeering of her announcement glaring at him from the neighboring chair. “How’d you know that?” He’d been focusing on the spell to communicate with Alice Waterhouse, not the mirror.
“Simple observation,” Wes told her smugly. “However, I haven’t quite figured out which one of you—”
Snapping, “Nevermind,” Cordelia asked him what came next. They now knew where the mirror got its peep show material, but not any specifics on how that brand of magic connected with Alice.
“Actually, I was going to suggest a short break.” Patting his stomach, Wesley asked her if she wouldn’t mind arranging something whilst he continued researching.
Now that she thought about it, Cordelia realized she was hungry. “How about if I run over to the deli and grab some sandwiches?”
Angel was halfway out of his chair. “The sun set a while ago. I should go with you.” But Cordelia wouldn’t put up with him tagging along now any more than she would have before they kissed.
“I don’t need a babysitter.” After grabbing her purse from her own desk drawer, she took one last look into the office. “Besides, how is Mr. Worrywart going to have that little man-to-manpire chat he’s brewing up if you’re with me?”
Just how Cordelia managed to figure that out unnerved Wesley a bit. Disagreements with Angel over business matters were hardly the same as cautioning him about his personal relationships. Since Wes had joined Angel Investigations, his brooding boss never seemed in real danger of loosing Angelus upon them—excepting that one dire happenstance when that actress slipped him a drink laden with doximal.
Lecturing Angel against the dangers of falling in love with Cordy was not going to be pleasant. He’d been hoping for a few moments of quiet reflection before speaking to him about it. The odds of pinning Cordelia down for a similar chat were rather poor. And he quite liked his family jewels intact.
Given the odds of survival, Wesley would rather face Angel than Cordelia any day.
Lifting a hand to block her view of the mirror, Cordelia scurried across the lobby. No way was she going to get caught for another round of perv-o-vision. She slung her purse strap over her shoulder and dashed out the front door. The evening air, a little cooler in mid-October, felt fabulous after being cooped up all day doing research.
On nights like this couples went out on leisurely strolls, holding each others hands and stealing kisses under the glow of street lights.
God that was such a depressing thought.
Head down and lost in thought, Cordelia walked down the street toward Manny’s Deli almost on automatic pilot. Having admitted that she was attracted to Angel was one thing, but to know he felt the same way was both wonderful and earth shattering at the same time.
She loved Angel as a friend and her champion, in so many ways that it made her heart hurt. Being in love—was she?—wasn’t exactly hearts & flowers when a curse was involved.
Cordelia almost wished she’d taken Angel up on the offer to accompany her to the deli. She imagined doing nothing more than holding his hand, or snuggling on the couch, and maybe, just maybe, signing up for more of those kisses.
It didn’t seem possible to work with Angel every day and know that he was thinking about making love to her without jumping his bones.
It was official. Her life sucked big bumpy horny toads.
Arriving at the corner store that was half-delicatessen, half-butcher shop, Cordelia pushed open the door barely noticing the jingling bells that announced her arrival.
Like most of the store owners in the area, Manny knew her by name and benefited from being situated in close proximity to Angel’s territory near the hotel. She was the girl with the friendly smile who liked her deli sandwiches with extra cheese and always took a ‘Sanguine Special’ to go.
“What ya doin’ here, doll?” The beefy butcher had moved to L.A. from New Jersey because he wanted to act and preferred the West Coast to Broadway. He’d actually gotten bit parts in three local commercials.
Cordelia leaned up against the tall counter resting her chin in her hand. “Oh, the usual.” Maybe it was strange that the butcher who supplied them with toasted deli sandwiches and pints of fresh pig blood would be a source of inspiration to her, but she always thought of it as proof that anyone could make it in the business.
While Manny layered the contents of one deli club together, he chatted about his day and finally got around to asking, “Troubles, toots? You look like you lost your best friend.”
“No, I found him,” Cordelia answered with a wobbly smile.
Minutes passed by after Cordelia’s departure without a single word being spoken. It wasn’t a pleasant silence. Wesley started to squirm and then went still as he fell back on his training. If this was Angelus instead of Angel he would know precisely what to do. He wondered where friendly concern crossed the line with interference.
Still, he felt compelled to say something. Surely Angel would hate him for bringing it up, but honor demanded that he not let this go.
During the entire time, Angel’s steady gaze had been fixed forward in his direction, ready for confrontation, aggravation and anger bubbling just beneath the surface. “Just say it,” the order growled out when Wes babbled in effort to speak his name. “Once and get it over with.”
It was a free pass that wouldn’t come again. “Be careful.” Both a warning and a plea, the two words were sufficient to get the point across.
Angel scowled darkly as if imagining dastardly deeds that involved his throat. Slowly, the anger faded away to a look of lost hope. For a startling moment, he thought the vampire might actually shed a tear.
He didn’t, of course, swiveling his chair back to center himself at his desk, carefully paging through Meader’s Guide of Incantations and Enchantments.
Slumping back in his own chair, Wesley started to wonder if the loophole in the curse was actually a loophole at all. Being denied true happiness was just as torturous as the deep remorse Angel felt for his past. He couldn’t walk away from Cordelia like he did Buffy.
There were ties between them wrought by the Powers that Be and nothing as mundane or extraordinary as love would break them.
Wesley watched him for a few seconds longer contemplating the nature of the gypsy curse. He asked himself if it was possible to remove the curse, yet keep Angel’s soul intact. Inklings of ideas and possible avenues of research started to swarm around in his head, but he shook it off. That would have to wait for later.
Right now they had a mission.
“Take a look at this,” Angel passed the book into Wesley’s outstretched hand. There was no need to point out which particular illustration he wanted examined. “Maybe this can shed some light on the situation.”
Before murmuring affirmatively, Wesley carefully studied the sketch’s design and thoroughly read the short description. “The emerald necklace.”
“Alice’s necklace is in that book?” asked Cordelia walking into the office carrying a paper sack containing the sandwiches and blood. “So I’m guessing that it’s not some cheap knock-off.”
Wesley paraphrased the information in the text as he translated it from the original Latin. “Apparently, the emeralds are of ancient Roman origin once possessed by an emperor. He gave them to his mistress when she gave him a son.”
“Huh, men,” Cordelia rolled her eyes as she started to unpack their dinner. “Typical.”
She put Wes’ sandwich down on the corner of the desk. He paused long enough to glance at the white paper wrapping “Rye or pumpernickel?” smiling delightedly when she gave him the answer he’d hoped for. “Good job.”
Shrugging, she admitted, “I’m a woman who likes to take care of her guys—even if some of them are chauvinistic little oinkers.” Before Wes could do more than look affronted, “That reminds me: one Sanguine Special,” she lifted the pint out of its separate plastic covering. “It might’ve gotten a little cold on the way over. Want me to heat it up?”
“It’ll be fine, thanks,” Angel took it from her carefully ensuring that their fingers did not touch. Right now even that slight sensation would be more than he could take.
“Angel knows how to say thank you,” Cordelia pointed out. Taking her own sandwich out of the bag, she grabbed a napkin and sat down.
Wesley reached for his sandwich. “Thank you kindly for fetching it.” He yelped as she slapped his fingers faster than a striking cobra. “Ouch! I said thank you.”
“Finish the story first.”
“It’s rather vague,” Wesley explained after deciding that the quickest way to get to his sandwich would be to continue. “Although a Roman slave, she was a noblewoman in her native land. During the chaos after the emperor’s untimely death in battle she escaped, returning to her homeland where she was reunited with her family and her future husband.”
Thinking that it sounded like the plot of a cheesy romance novel, Cordelia swallowed down her first bite to ask about the baby. “Did she escape with her son?”
Wesley scanned the text again. “No mention of him. The woman’s family belongs to a matriarchal society. A bastard son, even one of an imperial ancestry, would be of little consequence to history.”
“Yeah, who cares,” Cordelia agreed. Babies were something of an adorable mystery that she really didn’t want to think about. “Get on with the part about the emeralds.”
“Over the course of time they were passed from person to person along the maternal bloodline. The gemstones were discovered to contain various protective properties further enhanced by mystical energies to render the wearer nearly invulnerable.”
Cordelia had to point out, “That didn’t help Alice.”
“Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” Angel raised a brow and waited to see if either of them would make the same connection he did.
Nearly dropping her sandwich, Cordelia gasped, “The ring you destroyed.” Snapping her fingers as she tried to recall the name, “Alpaca, Ampata—no, that was that Incan mummy girl. Am-something.”
“Amara?” Wes enunciated the word carefully forgetting about any interest in food.
“Yes! That’s it.” Cordelia relaxed again. Remembering that Wesley had already left Sunnydale by then and hadn’t yet joined them, “Oh, I guess Angel forgot to tell you about Spike’s little visit.”
Angel didn’t exactly want to reminisce over that. “It’s not important.”
“I tend to disagree,” Wesley was of another opinion on the matter. “Vampires down through the centuries searched everywhere for the Gem of Amara because its power could protect them from their natural vulnerabilities. Please tell me that you haven’t destroyed it.”
“I had to.” Since Wesley wasn’t going to let the topic drop, Angel needed him to understand why he did it.
“As long as I was in possession of the ring, Spike and any other power-mad lunatic would be after it. I couldn’t take the chance that somebody else would go through Cordelia or Doyle to get to me.”
Angel surprising capacity for heroism went up another notch in Wesley’s estimation. There were not many out there who would give up something so powerful. He had to say it, though he suspected Angel might already know. “It might have protected your soul.”
A little gasp sounded from Cordelia.
The cool detachment on Angel’s face gave away none of his inner turmoil, but his two friends knew him far better than that. “That changed nothing, Wes. It made the temptation to keep it harder because of Bu—because of what I thought I wanted at the time.”
“You can say Buffy’s name, dumbass,” she snorted. “I know who she is. Just keep in mind that every time you say it gives me the okay to talk about Xander.”
Sending him a high-wattage smile, Cordelia enjoyed the scowl that flashed across his face at the name of her ex-boyfriend. They stared at each other for a few seconds until Wesley cleared his throat to remind them they were onto something important.
If there was a remote possibility that the Gem of Amara originated from the same emeralds in Alice’s necklace, it needed to be explored.
Cordelia heard Wes’ voice, but was too caught up in thinking about Angel being safe from harm, and from the effects of the curse. “You should’ve seen Angel standing on the beach after taking out the asswipe who tortured him. He looked so—”
The thought of it glimmered with temptation, but Angel knew that it didn’t matter. He would choose the same thing again for the same reasons. To protect the people he cared about the most and to prevent anyone dangerous from using it for evil.
“This whole conversation is pointless. Whatever happened to Alice Waterhouse it is clear that she wasn’t invulnerable despite wearing the necklace.”
Taking the book, Cordelia looked at the illustration. “It looks exactly like the one we saw around her neck. But Angel’s right. If that necklace is magic it didn’t save her.”
“Actually, I think it a distinct probability that it did,” Wesley rose from his chair and walked to the door. “There are some supplies I need. If I’m right about this, Alice is not only alive, but she can save herself.”