Firelight danced off of fine crystal stems, brimming with champagne. Fine china was laid out precisely on the linen tablecloth, gleaming and delicate. A crown of rib sat in the middle of the table, basted with mouthwatering juices.
Cordelia felt a tug and looked down at the fingers holding hers. Smiling, she allowed herself to be led around the table but the one leading her was blurry and she was unable to make out the face. Around the table slowly they strolled. She reached out for a flute of bubbly champagne, but her hand couldn’t quite reach it.
She felt a nervous shimmy up her spine and looked again just as her hand was dropped.
Slowly she turned around and her confusion cleared as she neared the bed. Dim and shadowed, the figure on the bed raised one hand out to her and she smiled as she took it and climbed up onto the thick mattress. Moving in closer and running her hands up and down his body, she smiled into Angel’s face, clear at last.
“You found me.” His voice was gentle.
Her brow wrinkled. “You weren’t lost.” She leaned into him, her lips parting slightly to brush against his. Just as she felt his lips at hers he suddenly burst into a cloud of dust, tiny motes dancing about in the air. Cordelia’s eyes opened wide to see Darla, lounging on the bed, holding a stake in her hand where Angel had been reclining.
“Winner takes all.”
Cordelia shot up in bed, crying out. She panted softly, and her heart beat a frantic tattoo in her chest as she clutched the covers to her disoriented body. She felt herself calming as deep breaths filled her lungs. Her hand rose to rub at her eyes and she swung her legs to the side of the bed, sitting quietly for a moment.
Her mind flooded with images of Angel. Angel, throwing her over his shoulder and carting her upstairs, slapping her ass when she kicked at him and hit his back. Angel, poised to take her, stopping only when her soft pleas reached his hidden soul. Angel, catching her when a vision racked her brain.
She rose and wandered listlessly to the heavily draped window, grimacing as aching muscles protested at the fresh movement. Wow. Coupla rounds with Darla, and she felt like she’d been hit by a truck.
Darla. Cordy swung her gaze around to the large bed that dominated the room. The new bed. She sighed, leaning against the wall and staring at the bed as if it held answers to all her questions. He got a new bed.
He took a walk on the skank side and got rid of the bed. Why?
She and Angel had danced the Me Angel You Cordy dance up here and Angel had come to his senses just in time. She had left, and Darla had slunk in and she and Angel had had some Extreme Makeover sex that apparently destroyed the French doors.
And then he tossed the bed. And he came back to her. Well….to the agency. To the fight. And then….then he came to her.
Smoothing the comforter, she let her fingers dance lightly over the fine satin, noting for the first time that the colors were the same as the comforter on her bed in her apartment. The pattern was similar, too.
He did this. He picked something……something that he thought she would like. For his bed. Before they even…..before they belonged to each other.
Angel rose slightly in his seat, looking up at the ceiling. She was awake…and…..he sat still for a moment. He could sense her, her pulse racing wildly. He listened for a moment to her heartbeat…a siren’s song to him.
“What is it?” Wesley’s voice broke into his reverie. Angel looked at him and settled back in his seat.
Wesely looked back down at the book on his desk, silent for a full minute. His voice was measured when he finally spoke.
“Angel.” His gaze met the vampire’s and held for a moment. “What I said before…about hurting her….” Angel tensed but held still. “I meant it. I don’t know what happened exactly, but I know it involved Darla. I can guess at the basic premise.”
He looked back down absently at his book, and his voice stayed low. “And yet somehow, Cordelia’s here, and she hasn’t staked you herself, though I would imagine she was tempted.”
Angel blew out a gust of air, nodding. They were both quiet for a moment. When he spoke again, Wesley’s words seemed to be carefully measured.
“Cordelia didn’t really choose this, when you get right down to it. Dress it up all you like but you just decided you wanted her and you took her. This isn’t about her finding out something dicey from your past. That’s always going to be there, right in the middle of you both. This is about you and your total ineptitude in making one intelligent decision. Your whole life has been you want, you take.” Controlled anger made Wesley enunciate each syllable carefully.
“God. Did you ever raise a glass in Ireland and think, well, I could try to be a better man? Did you ever once in your life think, I want that, but it’s not right?” Wesley leaned forward in his chair and spoke between gritted teeth,
“Did you ever one time, one moment, think, I can’t do this to her. It changes everything, and she deserves better?”
“Every fucking moment.” Angel bit the words out. He closed his eyes and leaned back, resting his head against the back of the chair. “I think about it all the time. I think about all I’ve done, and what I could do, and all the filth I’ve rolled around in.”
“And that seems to not matter one whit.” Wesley’s voice was flat.
“No. It matters. It…..” Angel’s voice trailed off. He sat, and listened to Cordelia’s strong, giving, beating heart, and all of a sudden, he felt peace pour through him. It was as if she had reached out, all fear and pleas and frantic whispers, and touched him somewhere in the dark all over again. He looked at Wesley.
“I haven’t been much of a man. But I will be. And I can promise you it’s because Cordelia Chase is right there at my side.” He leaned forward, his voice quiet. “I have to go make it good, and I have to start by being honest with her.”
Wesley stared back down at his book for a moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and steady. “I haven’t been fair to you. I’ve just been worried…..” He broke off and looked up at Angel, a calm settling over his face. “Go start. She’s waiting.”
A shimmy ran down her spine and she raised a hand to the small healed wounds at her neck just as a soft rap came at the door. Cordy sighed. Her new Angeldar. “Come in, Angel.”
The door swung open slowly and he stood just in the doorframe, hands in his pockets as he looked over at her. She slowly walked around the bed to him and stopped inches away, her hands on her hips. He looked at her uncertainly, as if he expected something thrown at his head….or a stake plunged into his heart.
Good, she thought. Let him wonder. Keep him on his toes.
“I don’t know what happened with Darla, Angel. Well…” She broke off on a snort and he flinched slightly. “I think I have the general idea. I mean….ya get down to it it’s all the same no matter what. But I don’t want details.”
She stepped back and finished making the bed, pulling the comforter up and smoothing its surface with gentle hands. She looked down at the muted pattern and thought carefully before speaking. She didn’t look at him as she finally straightened up and tugged at a large pillow, fluffing it as she continued.
“What I want to know is…what do you want? I mean, right here, right now, tell me what you want. Are you in or are you out?” She felt him tense up in surprise but carefully kept her gaze on the pillow as she placed it precisely on the bed before walking around to the other side, picking up the other pillow.
“You shouldn’t even have to think about it. Tell me right now.” She paused, looking down at the bed, and could almost hear her own shallow breathing as they both held still.
“I’m in.” His voice was even and almost detached. He hadn’t moved from the doorjamb, and his hands still shoved deep into his pockets as he watched her. Cordelia took a long breath and let it out and turned to face him, her chin up.
“Well, alrighty then. We’re in.” He seemed to relax a little and took a step into the room but stopped when she held up her hand. “Whoa, Punkin. A few little details.” His own chin lifted a bit as she strolled towards him.
God. Whatever that was just waiting to come out of her mouth was going to be good. He could tell. Cordelia on a tear was scalding, bright, chaotic energy, and right now, it was all directed at him
“It’s amnesty day. Anything else ya wanna get off your chest, because I’m running a twofer on forgiveness.” He remained silent, and she waited a moment.
“I mean it, Angel. Speak now, or forever…well, you know. Because this is your get out of jail free card. Ya got any other little secrets; this would be a good time to spill ’em. ‘Cause after this moment, we’re on a new page. And I won’t listen to anymore crap after this. So…..anyone else you throw through a door recently? Anyone else showing up to wrap us in the happy? Any other little surprises you’re hiding from me?”
Angel closed his eyes and felt his head drop. Oh god. He was going to have to sit here and list his freakin’ sins? This would take weeks to get through, and no way would she have him in her life after he ticked off all his past misdeeds. She’d be so horrified, she wouldn’t be able to pack fast enough and she’d roar out of town and he’d….
“Angel?” Her voice nudged him patiently.
He slowly raised his head and opened his eyes. “Cordy….” His hands flexed in his pockets. He could do this. He could be the man she needed, and he could do the right thing, and he could be honest.”Cordy…” His eyes held hers, a plea in the dark pools of the windows to his soul. “Cordy….my life…..before, during, and after…..it’s been….I’ve always…..I’ve done things….”
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed as she tried to follow his rambling attempts and opened wide as she finally got the gist of where he was going. She leaned over and smacked his shoulder, ignoring his soft “ow.”
“Not every stupid sin, Dumbass. Just the stuff between you and me. Just the middle part of your third century. Specifically the part where you see the hottie and claim her. Jeeze.” She shook her head. “Like I have 20 years to listen to that caca.” Angel stared back, blankly.
She took his hand and yanked him into the doorway, pausing a moment to lean out and yell down the hall, “Go away, Wesley.” She waited a moment, and then Angel heard the soft pad of footsteps down the stairs to the first floor and he glared at Cordelia. She shrugged.
“Don’t blame me. You’re the one with the superhero hearing. And don’t blame Wesley. He cares about me. He….” She shut the door firmly and turned to face him. “…would never be anything less than honest with me. As for you and me…..” She walked towards him slowly, hands on her hips.
“As for you and me….I don’t care about what you did when you were Liam, the village drunk studmuffin. I don’t wanna hear about the adventures of Angelus. Been there, a little, I can guess at the rest. It’s there. It always will be. And I accept that. Because, Angel…” She stood an inch from his body and looked up at him, certainty in her face.
“..that was then. And this is now. I’m willing to take on all that, as long as you’re level with me. So dish. Since we…..grew together, has there been anything…any….” She seemed to stop to draw a breath. “Anyone else?” She waited, sure that her heart could stop beating at any moment.
He shook his head slowly, his eyes holding hers. A shudder seemed to go through her and she sighed. “Alright. Ok. Then, let’s move on to the rules.”
“Rules. There’s rules?” Angel looked distressed as she pushed him back onto the bed. He sat back and looked up at her. “Cordy, I don’t think you’re getting the whole structure of the claiming…”
“Fuck the claiming. I’m Cordelia Chase. Buncha old vampires sitting around thinking of new ways to torture mankind never saw me coming. They don’t like it; they can come deal with me.”
“No. No, I don’t think anyone ever really sees you coming, babe.” His voice was dry, and Cordy looked at him suspiciously.
“Did you just make a joke?”
They looked at each other a long moment and Cordelia smiled a little. “Rule one. Do that more often. Rule two. I’m a little flip about the claiming thing, but the truth is, I know it’s huge and I know it’s kinda major and I know you think you own me…..” she looked at him.
“Because like that will ever happen.” He looked away, smiling to himself. She climbed onto the bed and faced him, crossing her legs. “…but here’s the deal. We have this tie…this bond. I get it. I’ll deal. But you have to deal too. ‘Cause I’m not some little wimpy girl in your pocket. I’m your partner. Got it?”
Angel nodded, feeling his chest constrict.
“Good. Rule three.”
“How many of these rules are there going to be?”
She looked at him a long moment. “Four hundred and fifty-six. So shut up and I’ll get through them quicker. Rule three. And this is a biggie. No secrets. None. From here on in, we’re an open book with each other. This isn’t about protection or fear, Angel. This is trust. And it starts now.” He nodded. “And rule number four.”
She looked at him. “We don’t go on just because you’ve claimed me.” There was silence. “I mean it. I need a better reason than that. If you hadn’t decided to take a little drinkypoo, why would you hang around me?”
Angel felt like he stood at the gaping chasm of a steep cliff. One wrong move and he’d be toast. Smashed, bloody toast. “Um. I would…uh…hang around….because…..” she looked at him with a closed expression. No help there. He sighed.
Honesty. God, it could just kick you in the ass sometimes. “I’d stay right there by you, Cordelia, because I love you. There. Happy now?”
Time hung, suspended, his words thick in the air. Suddenly, she launched her body at him, pushing him over onto his back and straddling him as she leaned down and kissed him with a big smacking noise.
“Yeah. I’m happy.” She laughed as she kissed him, softening as she lay across his chest. Her laughter stilled when his hands rose and held her head to him as he hungrily opened his mouth against hers and stroked her lips with his tongue. “Very…very…..um…..happy.”
He smiled softly, burying his fingers in the thick waves of silken hair that spilled down around their faces. He held her head gently, and rolled so that she lay under him, pressed to his body as he covered her on the bed.
“Go on, Cordy….I think you were on rule five.” He leaned down and pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth. Her pulse picked up and thundered in his ears, and his lips traveled down the soft down of her cheek to her jaw.
“Um…whaddya say we just make up the other four hundred and fifty-one as we go along?” Cordy’s voice was a little breathy, and her hands rose up to clutch at his shoulders. “Because Angel?” He looked up at her. She looked back, sexy and warm and soft and…vulnerable. “Angel? I love you right back.”
He didn’t move. He lay there, feeling her heart thud against his solid chest, and he couldn’t move one small inch. Cordy looked up at him. “OK. That seems to have put a damper on things.” The vulnerability in her eyes tore at him. “I mean, you said it, I said it….”
“No.” Angel reached to stroke her hair back from her face gently. “No damper. Fuel to the flame, hon. Fuel to the flame. I’ve said it, I’ve heard it, but here…now…..” His eyes darkened. “It’s real.”
She looked up at him and smiled softly, her own gaze clearing. “Yes it is. Ok, one more rule. Rule five. We go forward from here. No looking back and second guessing. We’re right here, right now, and we take that and run with it. Whaddya say?”
He leaned down and breathed into her ear softly, just before nipping gently at her throat, “I say, Welcome Home.”
Across the seas, across the lands….
He leaned back in his chair, his back aching from hunching over the opened scroll that unrolled across his desk. Good God. He looked down at the writing and breathed in deeply. If this was accurate…..if he read it correctly…..
He took his glasses off absently and cleaned them while his mind raced. He needed to go to Los Angeles. And Rupert Giles needed to round up the old gang……to save the world.
The End of Fine Tuning….but more adventures to come. *g*