Wesley turned on his heel and dashed out of the office. Watching him go, Cordelia couldn’t stop the grin that followed. Telling Angel, “He gets that dramatic exit thing from you.”
The smile faltered when her eyes moved forward again, meeting his. Harnessing the stormy sea of emotions within him, Angel admitted his mistake. “I should never have kissed you.”
Maybe it was selfish to be more concerned about them than Alice Waterhouse, but it was impossible to stop thinking about it.
Cordelia obviously had issues with it, too. Unlike him, she wasn’t prepared to face the fact that ignoring their feelings would’ve been preferable to this. “Don’t.”
“It doesn’t matter what we want.” Shoving away from the desk Angel walked around to her side. “Just forget it happened.”
Typically defiant, Cordelia had ideas of her own. “No, I can’t,” she shook her head. “I won’t. Are you telling me that you can, just like that?”
Angel had to walk away unable to look in her eyes. He stood at the office threshold rubbing his hand over his mouth and remembering the way her lips felt beneath his. “It was pure reaction, Cordy. The effects of the mirror had us both worked up. We’re friends. We have a mission.”
“That’s a lameass excuse, Angel.” She dumped her partially eaten sandwich and its open wrapper on the desk. “I’m not just going to accept some line of crap because you think it’ll be good for me.”
Tight jawed, dark eyes glittering intensely, he stared back wordlessly for several tense seconds before heading toward the stairs.
“Dammit, don’t you dare walk away from this.” The chair toppled to the ground unnoticed as Cordelia darted after him. Catching up to him behind the front desk, she yanked on his arm. “I want you to take that back.”
Circling around, Angel walked her back until she was caught between him and the desk for no other reason than he wanted her there. Intimidation came naturally to him and when it came to butting heads with Cordy, he had to fall back on instincts.
“That’s not what you want.” The demon in him liked it mean & nasty and right now that suited his purpose. “You want me inside you.”
Cordelia shuddered, but not in fear. It was true. They both knew it and that only made it worse. She’d wanted to talk about their feelings, not beat each other up about it. Outraged that he would throw their mutual desires in her face, she shoved at his chest, “Bastard,” and tried to squeeze out from her trapped position.
Reaching up before she could escape Angel took a fistful of hair and held her in place while she squirmed and scratched at him like a yowling kitten, and demanded that he stop acting like a jerk. “You’d have to put up with a lot more to be with me. Not that it’s possible.”
“I put up with you everyday,” she countered.
Focused on her mouth he leaned closer intent upon reminding her it was different now. Only he stopped short, his lips hovering above hers. Angel abruptly let her go. “I’d want more. That’s exactly why we need to forget this ever happened. Let it go.”
Softly, stubbornly, Cordelia refused, “No.” Her hands slipped up between them to slide around to the nape of his neck, her fingers brushing against the short strands of hair. “Maybe it does take a magic mirror to show us what we want. Yes, it sucks that we can’t have it all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have something.”
Angel let his forehead drop to hers, and opened up his fist to let her silken hair fall through his fingers. He grabbed onto the edge of the counter with both hands and closed his eyes silently vowing to find some way around the curse.
Deciding that he would say nothing about that plan, make no promises he couldn’t keep, Angel opened his eyes and pulled back enough that he could see her face. “I don’t know how that will work, Cordy, but I’ll try.” The instant he said it, a smile lit her face, hope shining in her eyes.
Upon Wesley’s return, he found Cordelia and Angel sitting outside in the courtyard. They were side by side, their arms and legs touching, heads bent close. They looked like a couple in love. He had to trust them to do the right thing by abstaining from total intimacy. They both were well aware of the risks involved, but it worried him nonetheless.
“Angel, Cordy,” he called out to them. Having prepared everything before disturbing them, he was ready. “It is time to begin.”
They gathered in the lobby noting that the mirror once again reflected all three of them. Angel put his arm around Cordelia’s waist and watched his mirror image press a kiss to her temple. He’d wanted to do that, but had chosen to stick to pulling her close.
“What is all this?” Looking around at the items Wesley had neatly arranged, it didn’t seem like he was preparing a communication spell. The theory that Alice Waterhouse was still alive might be true, but they still had no direct way of talking to her, Angel pointed out.
Wes picked up a mortar containing crushed glass. “You’re right. I plan to repair the mirror.”
With the aid of a spell and the waving of a few stinky herbs, the cracks on the glass surface sealed. No sooner had Wesley’s incantation ended than the lobby lights went dim again and a bright green glow began to shine from the mirror. Mist poured into the room clinging low to the floor swirling around their feet and a gust of wind blasted from an open dimensional vortex.
Papers from the desktop went flying. A short scream sounded as Cordelia’s hair whipped around her face. She wrapped her arms around Angel’s waist tucking her face into his chest for protection. He held her tightly, standing against the force of the wind.
Wesley held his arm up to block the most of it from hitting his face as he tried to stay focused on the aperture.
As suddenly as it opened the vortex closed with a schwoop. The mist dissipated and the lobby lights flickered back to full power. The mirror’s surface no longer reflected three figures, but four. An elegant redhead in a silk nightgown stood behind them, a glittering necklace of gold and emeralds at her throat.
The husky tones were real this time. Not in their heads. They turned to find Alice Waterhouse smiling at them, tears of gratitude streaming down her face. “You’ve done it, Wesley.”
“Y-You know me?”
“Of course,” a slow nod followed. Her light grey eyes scanned Wes’ face before they slid across to Angel and Cordelia. “I have been aware of everything that has passed within a certain radius of the mirror since my entrapment.”
Instantly fascinated by the concept, Wesley started to rattle off questions.
Cordelia interrupted him. “Stop pestering the woman, Wes. She’s been trapped in some weird mirror for decades. All she wants now is a hot shower, some food and a change of clothes, not to be interrogated.”
Ordering Wes to go fetch his uneaten sandwich, she told Angel they’d be borrowing his rooms for a while. “I probably have some stuff you can wear,” Cordelia offered. “Of course they might be a little loose up top.”
“I am grateful.”
“Oh, we do this all the time,” Cordelia shrugged it off and started to usher Alice in the direction of the stairs.
Wesley ran back in from the other room carrying the club sandwich. “Can’t you at least explain how you were trapped or whether the necklace protected you?”
“I can see that you are resourceful,” Alice touched her fingertips to the necklace. “If you know of the necklace, then you must know about me.”
With a proud countenance, Alice announced, “I am a daughter of Amara, a race of sorcerers, healers and mystics who strive to protect the weak and to vanquish evil where we find it.”
Angel realized that her stay at the Hyperion was not coincidental. “You were here to defeat the Thesulac.”
“Yes, though it evaded me for quite some time.” She explained some of the demon’s history, that it had been there far longer than the hotel itself. Its non-corporeal state made it difficult.”
He remembered the fact that she was there with the mob. “It affected you, too.”
Again, Alice answered in the affirmative, shame and embarrassment making her pale and flush within the space of a few moments. “I sincerely regret the outcome of our first meeting. My actions then were deplorable, but out of my control.”
“Ah, the necklace protects against physical harm, but not so mental forms of attack.”
“That is correct.”
“So where does the mirror come in?”
Alice smiled. “It is an antique belonging to my family. I take it with me when I travel. For me it provides a little taste of home and shows me what I am missing when I am away.”
“We got the Skinemax version.” Cordelia’s tone was enough to explain what she meant.
“Hidden desires are easily revealed by its magic.”
“What else do you desire, Cordelia? My release earns you anything within my powers to grant.”
Snapping at the chance, “Angel’s soul—,” she was cut off before she could finish.
“It must be something not tied to the others here. They will receive their own chance to gain something they desire.”
Thoughts of stardom, designer clothing and tons of cash flashed through her head. It was exciting to think about it, but Cordelia wanted to think big. She glanced over at Angel and Wesley asking for advice, “What do you think about Dennis being able to hang out at the Hyperion whenever he wants? I’ll be spending more time here in the future.”
Angel noticed that she wasn’t asking for his permission, just stating that as a fact. “I think that’s a great idea.”
“Really?” Cordelia let out a squee. Hugging him, she kissed his cheek and turning in his arms to face Alice explained, “Phantom Dennis is a ghost. I hate to think of him spending so much time alone.”
“You surprise me,” Alice smiled and agreed to the request. “I expected something quite different from someone so young.”
Cordelia wasn’t sure if that was an insult or a compliment. “Thanks, I guess.”
Turning to Wesley next, she held out her hand to him. “You are a treasure. Thank you for repairing my mirror.” Alice squeezed his hand. “When the demon confronted me, feeding upon my own fear of failure, I attempted to use the mirror against it. I opened a gateway wherein I hoped to imprison the thesulac.”
She released him and walked to examine the mirror. “Instead, I fell into the trap of my own making. The necklace protected me from harm, kept me alive, let me live through the mirror’s magic.” The memory of it was clear despite the years that had passed. “My escape route was cut off. The demon was furious that it could no longer reach me. Its tentacles struck out at the mirror cracking it.”
“What will you have of me, Wesley?” she walked back to him. “You are man of many talents and possess knowledge of the true world. If information and understanding are so important to your happiness, might I choose a gift for you?”
Curious, but content to let her do so, Wesley nodded. Any answers she gave him to the many questions buzzing in his head would be worth it.
Alice grinned delightedly at his decision. “Then you must accompany me for a night and a day when I make my journey home.”
“Where exactly is home?” Cordelia’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Not that I don’t trust you, but you know what they say about gift horses.”
“Evasive much?” Behind Alice’s back, Wesley was giving Cordelia the sign to shut up. “Fine, okay, sheesh!”
Then it was Angel’s turn and Cordelia’s bristles went up again. She wasn’t sure why, but Alice Waterhouse gave her the shivers. Maybe it was the spooky grey eyes that seemed to sense what she was thinking. Or the fact that she’d witnessed some very private fantasies that were none of her business.
Whatever it was, Cordelia tried to convince herself to shut up. If the woman had the ability to do what she promised, then things would be a lot different. It was scary to want something so much. Sensing her nerves, Angel threaded his fingers through hers as Alice approached them.
“My people and I owe you a great deal, Angel. You have taken part in saving my life, yet I attempted to deprive you of yours.” The irony of it played across her face in a wry smile before she continued. “You have vanquished the demon responsible for the accident that trapped me when it was my duty to end its existence. And today I have learned that you destroyed the lost ring which was the shame of my people, created at the behest of a master vampire who threatened to wipe out our bloodline.”
There was far more to that story, Angel realized, but the thickening of her voice as she spoke suggested now was not the time to ask for details. Maybe Wes would find out during their night and day, though he had a feeling that providing knowledge was not the only thing Alice had in mind by arranging an escort home.
“Thrice have I indebted myself to you and so must I repay it in kind.” Alice’s words called for his attention.
“You know what I want,” Angel wasn’t going to dance around it, “but it’s impossible.”
Observing him quietly for a moment, Alice agreed. “Wesley suggested that the Gem of Amara might secure your soul. He was right, vampire, I believe that it would.”
Cordelia loosed herself from Angel’s hold pulling away to face them both. “I don’t understand. Why is it impossible? You just said that it would work. That necklace has two emeralds.”
Giving one to Angel would still leave her with one, Cordelia pleaded to no end. “You said you owed him.”
Trying to calm her down was useless. “I can’t take it, Cordy.”
“Nor is it mine to give,” explaining that the necklace belonged to her people. “The gemstone Angel destroyed was originally part of a larger emerald. It provided its wearer a method of attaining vast power. Greed and jealousy led to betrayal and the ring fell into another’s hand and then another’s at the cost of many human lives. I cannot allow that to happen again.”
“But Angel isn’t like that—not with his soul.” Cordelia had to concede that Angelus would’ve loved to be indestructible. And the thought of what he would be capable of if he could walk in sunlight without turning to dust gave her an instant understanding of Alice’s fears.
Angel reminded her about Spike’s betrayal. “Word would get out if I had something like that ring again. I can’t take the chance, Cordy, not with you—or Wes. And before you say that the two of you face dangers every day, I already know that. This would be different.”
Gulping down her frustration, Cordelia knew it was selfish of her to want Angel’s soul to be secured, but she couldn’t help it. Was it really asking too much to be able to be with Angel? To show him how much he meant to her when now it seemed dangerous to say the words.
Everything they’d talked about in the courtyard seemed like a distant memory now. Promises of openness, decisions to let things progress slowly, to do things that didn’t always start out with stakes, crossbows and a patch up job.
If Alice couldn’t give him one of those emeralds, that actually changed nothing. Their plans were still the way they’d left them.
Only it seemed like they’d been cheated. A way around the curse was within their grasp and yet denied them. One more bump on the horny toad of life, she decided, miserable about it.
“There may be another way,” Alice seemed hesitant about bringing it up. “Curses are not exactly my forte as they are more like prayers for harm rather than magic.”
Her comment left them all a little confused. “A young Wicca of our acquaintance was the one to reinitiate Angel’s curse after his soul was lost for a time,” Wesley told her. “It was a spell she cast using the information collected about the original curse.”
A grin dimpled Alice’s cheeks, a light laugh bubbling forth. “Then I can help. If your soul was lost that means the curse was broken, Angel. Giving it back to you was an act of magic, not a true curse.”
“The original curse contained a soul-lossage loophole,” Cordelia explained that Willow had to use all of the words she’d found in Jenny Calendar’s notes. “She was afraid it wouldn’t work.”
Alice moved toward the mirror again, speaking a few words that Cordelia recognized as Latin, but didn’t understand. The mirror reflected the four of them. A green glow appeared within the glassy surface separating out into two balls of light that hovered over Angel’s head and her own.
“What is that?” Cordelia swatted at the light until she realized that it only appeared in the mirror. She also knew that she was the only one in the room who had no clue about the words Alice had used in that spell.
Angel cleared it up for her. “It’s a detection spell of sorts.” The puzzled look he gave her turned to one of deep concern. “Cordy, are you okay?”
Hesitating for a moment too long, she answered, “I’m fine. Ticked off, but fine.” She glanced nervously toward Wesley who stepped closer with that same look of concern on his face.
“That spell was cast to detect illness.” Alice told her that she thought the condition of Angel’s soul might respond to a mystic cure. The glow indicated her theory was right.
Cordelia backed away from all of them. “Then why is the glowy ball above my head? I’m not sick.”
A dire tone sounded in Alice’s voice, “Yes, I am afraid that you are.”
“The visions,” he thought about the effects they had. Asking Wes, “Could the effects be cumulative?”
He’d never considered it, but it now seemed clear what Angel would ask from Alice. Doing so in his stead, “If they are life-threatening or harmful, you must help her,” Wesley hoped that she would agree. Technically, it would be helping someone other than Angel, which might not fit within her little scheme of rewards.
Luckily it seemed that Alice had her own way of getting around the rules. “Cordelia’s health is your happiness and so I will make it the second of your gifts. A healer from amongst my people will attend you both.”
“Cordy will be okay?”
“Whatever her ailment it is within our power to cure permanently.” Confident of it, Alice assured them that it would not affect Cordelia’s visions. As they had explained that they were from the Powers that Be, she smiled somewhat secretly and promised that all would be well.
Cordelia was still a little rattled about the fact that she had some weird vision trauma and didn’t know it. “What if we hadn’t found your mirror—I might’ve gotten sick.”
If it was possible for Angel to be any paler than normal, the thought that he had no idea that Cordelia was being affected by the visions was enough to do it. The selfish thoughts of the life they might have together once his soul was permanent were nothing next to his desire for her to be safe from harm.
“The visions are painful.”
“I do not know if the pain may be diminished,” Alice admitted. “That may be part of the vision itself that our healing powers cannot change. But the harm they cause can be eradicated.”
The news added to the hefty burden Angel carried close to his heart. “Cordy, I’m so sorry. I should’ve noticed. Done something.”
“It’s not your fault, Angel, and even I didn’t really think anything was wrong.” The post-vision headaches had always been bad and had seemed to get a little worse, but Cordelia hadn’t really thought about it much.
Putting up with the pain was just her part of the mission. “Besides, Alice says I’m fixable, so it’s all okay. I get to keep the visions at no risk.”
Quietly pleased that she was making progress in discovering how she might repay Angel for what was considered an immeasurable debt, Alice prompted him, “What of your third gift? State your desires.”
Looking down at Cordelia who was once again sheltered in his arms, Angel had only one wish that came to mind, but he knew what Alice’s answer would be even before he mentioned the Shanshu Prophesy. “I cannot grant you humanity. That is beyond my abilities. Redemption must be earned and that is between you and the Powers.”
It was the answer he expected.
Wesley suggested Angel hold off on answering. “You might need a favor one day.” But the idea did not sit well with the sorceress who claimed to dislike owing someone a debt.
Pushed to decide on the spur of the moment, Angel caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. The novelty of seeing his reflection hadn’t worn off. “I don’t suppose you’ve got another one like that hanging around somewhere?”
“No way,” gasped Cordelia slapping his arm. “Some client will walk in and it’ll be in full fantasy mode.”
Bending closer to her ear, Angel murmured softly, “I didn’t say we had to hang it in the lobby.”
Cordelia blinked and then his meaning finally sunk in. “Oh. That could be fun.” She smirked at the direction her thoughts were taking.
“Good heavens,” Wesley slapped a hand over his eyes. “Angel will you please get Cordelia away from the mirror before she dreams up something else.”
On the circular couch in the mirror, Cordelia was straddled across Angel’s lap kissing him enthusiastically. Watching, wide-eyed, Alice muttered, “I never thought of using it that way.”
“Is it voyeuristic to watch yourself making out?” Cordelia wondered just before Angel kissed the tip of her nose.
He let out a short laugh, amazed that he could after all that had happened today. It was a knack she’d always had with him: the ability to make him smile. “Maybe we should save that question for later.”
“The mirror is yours,” Alice claimed to have seen more than enough of that particular looking glass. She assured them that no danger existed. Its magic was quite simple.
When lights of the taxi disappeared around the corner, Cordelia let out a sigh. “That was a let down. Not exactly a flashy exit. I thought a sorceress would use some kind of hocus pocus to get home.”
Shrugging, Cordelia rolled her eyes at her own folly. “I don’t know. Come to think of it just getting a cab at this time of night was probably magical enough.”
When Angel turned to go back inside the hotel, an idea she’d had earlier came back to her. “Hey, let’s stay outside for a while. We can stroll around the block or go get some ice cream or something.”
“That’s not a very exciting first date,” Angel mused as he jogged down the steps and held out his hand to her.
“Pfft! That depends on the person you’re with.”
The slide of his cool skin along her fingers made a little zing of electricity shoot down her spine. Surprised, she jumped and laughed at the way her body reacted to such a little thing. The way his much larger hand engulfed hers clasping it to his own was so simple and real that her heart thumped happily.
Angel guided her down the Hyperion steps and onto the sidewalk that wound around the block. The old hotel was really a beautiful building despite its dilapidated state. Its foundation had survived countless quakes and mystical phenomenon.
Though the inside was a little rotten in places, with sections left unexplored, Cordelia found her plans for renovation popping back into her head.
Only now she was confused about what to do. The whole dynamic between her and Angel had changed today. Earlier this afternoon she’d been planning to spruce up the place, looking for a bedroom that was far away from Angel’s second floor domain. She stopped in the glow of the corner street light to search his face for any sign of Angel having second thoughts. Her stomach was twisting in nervous knots.
“What is it?” he asked lifting a hand to caress her face.
“Doesn’t it seem strange to be doing this?” Cordelia’s free hand settled on his chest. “Things change so quickly and it’s hard to keep up. When I woke up this morning I had no idea that I—I’d be in danger of falling in love with my best friend.”
Stunned was the only word she could come up with to describe Angel’s expression. Admitting attraction was one thing, but—oh, God—she’d just used the ‘L’ word, hadn’t she? Cordelia’s nervous knots were joined by a swarm of butterflies that melted away under the sudden onslaught of Angel’s kiss.
They were locked together in an out-of-control mesh of roving hands and mouths and moans.
Lost in a hungry haze of sensation, Cordelia let out a tiny mewl of protest when his lips pulled away. “Neither did I,” Angel muttered against her lips. His eyes were full of wonder as Cordy slipped hers closed again lifting her mouth back to his for more kisses.
Angel’s grip slipped to her shoulders and pushed her away as gently as he could. “I think we should stick to the hand-holding, Cordy. Hearing you say that, being able to touch you, to kiss you—I don’t know that the curse is just about sex.”
Dawning understanding forced Cordelia to step back. “I guess my kisses are just that good, huh?” she teased feeling too happy to stop smiling even when reminded of the curse. “Guess you’ll just have to learn to be patient.”
“I’m not the one who needs the lesson,” he smirked as his meaning sunk in. Angel had practiced control over baser urges and reigning in his emotions for a long time. Cordelia, on the other hand, tended to want things her way and pronto.
“Are you suggesting that I can’t keep my hands off you?” Cordelia raised a brow as if he’d just issued a challenge. “You’re not that irresistible.”
She took off down the street at a brisk pace only to find him in front of her seconds later. “No fair sneaking up on me with the vampire speed.”
Reminding him that they were supposed to be out for a walk, Cordelia tucked her hand in the crook of his arm and nodded in the direction they’d been going. “Think we can make it around the block without ripping each other’s clothes off or getting into a fight?”
Angel closed his hand over hers, his thumb circling slowly, just that slight touch enough to make her tingly all over again. “It’s worth a try.”
A little hitch of anticipation sounded as Cordelia answered, “I think so, too.”