“Thank God,” Cordelia sighed as she filed the last of the folders in the cabinet. It had only been about five minutes since Gunn had left for the night, but she could shake the funny feeling that was growing by the moment. While she put it down to the oddity of the evening, she still would feel better in a warm bath where she could talk things over with Dennis. Sure, he wasn’t the chattiest friend she’d ever had, but he was one hell of a listener.
Grabbing her purse from its place slung over the back of the chair she turned to head out the door. Her heart stopped for a moment and then began an accelerated beat that almost hurt in her chest.
There, leaning against the door was the dark figure who’d been haunting both her sleeping and waking moments. He was looking down and for a moment she interpreted his posture as a sign of shame. But as his eyes began to travel slowly up the length of her body, stopping occasionally to lingering in strategic places she realized that shame was the last thing on his mind. As his eyes finally reached her face they were ablaze with desire in a face chiseled with clear intent. A sinful smile curved his firm lips as he watched her cloaked in an air of imminent satisfaction.
“Leaving so soon?”
It was strange. There she was, faced with the confrontation she’d been dreading for a month and all she could think was to wonder how the hell he’d gotten into the office without the bell over the door ringing. Shaking her wayward thoughts away, Cordelia pulled herself together and shot a defiant look at the vampire before her.
“Apparently not soon enough.”
Angel laughed; a warm, sensual sound that shivered its way down her spine, caressing her strained nerves as it passed.
Bristling at his enjoyment of the situation, Cordelia knew she needed to end this before she snapped.
“What do you want Angel?”
His smirk was firmly back in place. “I thought we’d pretty much established what I wanted the last time I was here.”
Cordelia just managed to catch her jaw before her mouth fell completely open.
“You have got to be kidding!”
Angel quirked his brows at her; but unlike her regal glare his expression denoted nothing but amusement.
“Why are you so surprised? I told you I’d be back for you. I told you to be ready. Are you ready kitten?”
This time nothing could stop the decent of her jaw.
“You’re seriously insane. Do you know that? I’m not ready to have anything to do with you, much less whatever pervy stuff you probably have in mind. And knock it of with the cutesy names; they don’t suit a bastard like you.”
“But they do suit you; hissing and spitting as if you have a chance of winning against me.” Angel pushed his large frame away from the door, moving towards Cordelia and beginning to circle her slowly. “You have to know you don’t.”
To say she was mad would have been a drastic understatement. She was angry that he’d left, she was furious that he was back, and she was livid that he was so obviously trying to intimidate her.
“Win?!? This isn’t a contest you jerk. This is my life; a life that no longer includes you!
The room was a flurry of shapes and colors as she was swung around in an instant and pinned to the bookcase in an eerie replay of his previous visit. Seeing that her struggles seemed to be both entertaining and arousing him, she ceased.
Angel was somewhat disappointed as he felt Cordelia still. Patiently he waited for her head to raise and her eyes to meet his.
“Your life, my life – there’s no difference anymore. I made sure of that the last time I was here.”
As Angel’s fingers grazed lightly over the scars he’d left on her neck Cordelia’s fingers also rose, brushing his as she, too, caressed the marks. It was a calming gesture and she hadn’t realized ‘til that moment how often she had done just that in times of anxiety and stress.
It was really only in the last week that she’d been able to shed her turtlenecks for her regular shirts and blouses. It wasn’t that the scars were no longer visible; it was just that once they had healed she knew that if either Wes or Gunn noticed them she could just excuse them as an old injury. After all, she grew up on the Hellmouth. It was very plausible that the bite mark was nothing more than a High School memento. Of course, if that didn’t work she’d just berate them for never noticing followed by much whining and complaining about their lack of attention and the ridiculous notion of calling her beauty into question. She’d give them thirty seconds before they cracked, apologizing profusely and running out to buy her lunch…and maybe flowers. Yeah, thirty seconds was probably a fairly generous estimation.
Honestly, Cordelia had just dismissed the peculiar shiver she felt every time she touched that spot, putting it down to lingering memories of that night. But hearing the seriousness, the absolute possession in his tone she felt a growing sense of apprehension.
“What did you do?”
Realizing that she was finally grasping the gravity of that night amber briefly flashed through his eyes. The colorful burst in no way distracted from the look satisfaction that settled on his face.
“I made you mine. Well,” He paused as a small smile tilted his lips “you were always mine. I just made it official. And now? Now I’m back for you.”
Although his words caused the butterflies to flutter wildly in her stomach she stood her ground and pushed at his chest, surprised when he actually stepped back, giving her space to move.
Cordelia began to pace back and forth under Angel’s amused gaze before spinning around angrily, hands on her hips.
“You know what, I don’t know what you think you did and I don’t really care. You left, Angel. You left your mission, you left your redemption, and you left me. One night of sex doesn’t change that.”
He moved over to her the desk, crossing his arms as he leaned against it, a scowl on his face.
“It wasn’t just sex, Cordelia. You know that. You feel it every time you wake up aching for me; for my touch.”
Angel watched as a fiery blush swept her entire body merely confirming what he knew to be true.
“But if you don’t want to take my word for it we can always discuss it with Wes. As a former watcher I’m sure he’d be able to answer any question you might have about exactly what happened between us.”
His smirk returned as Cordelia’s blush receded leaving her startlingly pale. It was a clear indication that she understood his implicit threat. Cordelia was fiercely protective of those she loved. She had to know that if Wesley learned about that night he was certain to come looking for him with vengeance on his mind. And as unpredictable as Angel had been recently he knew that she wouldn’t chance an altercation in which Wesley might get hurt. And while Wesley being a part of his family kept the ex-watcher perfectly safe, he wasn’t about to share that information with her.
“No! You can’t do that. He’s not well yet, he needs peace and quiet.”
Cordelia’s panic was palpable; he could taste it in the air and he savored it knowing that it gave him the upper hand in dealing with his proud and independent seer. Angel knew that it was finally time to inform her of the next move in their little dance.
“And I won’t. But you have to do something for me, Cordelia. You have to come back. It’s time.”
“Why?” Cordelia cried. “Why now? Wolfram & Hart are still standing, and I’m sure the ditzy duo could use your attention.”
Angel addressed her second concern first.
“Darla and Drusilla are dead.”
The shock of that announcement was enough to send Cordelia stumbling backwards. Instantly Angel was there, gently steadying her with strong hands.
Cordelia speechless was a rarity, but the confusion in her eyes demanded answers to questions that her words could not articulate. Angel’s hand moved to her face, his fingers gently trailing across her silken skin.
“They would have hurt you, Cordelia. Eventually they would have figured out what you mean to me and they would have come after you. I couldn’t let that happen. I’ll never let anything happen to you again.”
She couldn’t doubt the sincerity of his words. He’d killed them – his sire and his childe. Sure, he’d killed Darla for Buffy, but not Drusilla. He’d allowed her to roam around Sunnydale wreaking havoc and now he’d killed them both – for her.
And as soon as it appeared that warm, protected feeling vanished as the enormity of the situation settled in. He’d killed them for her. Not even because they were an actual threat, but because they were apotential threat.
That’s when she knew; this wasn’t a game he was playing. This was serious. He was serious.
Angel’s smile became sharp and predatory as he saw it all click into place in her mind. That wasn’t one night of sex; he was in this long term and he was expecting, demanding the same of her.
“No, no, no.” Cordelia’s hair flew around her face as her head shook back and forth in support of her spoken dissent.
His hand grasped her chin, stopping the wild movement and forcing her eyes to meet his.
“Yes, Cordelia. You are mine. All the denial in the world won’t change that fact. Now I’m willing to give you time to adjust, but that adjusting will be done together.”
He was so certain, so absolute. Cordelia didn’t know what, but something had changed; something that shifted his focus away from Darla and Drusilla, even away from Wolfram & Hart and settled it solely on her.
“What happened, Angel? What changed?”
Angel’s hand fell to his side and he turned from her. Walking over to the desk he resumed his leaning position, stretching out his long legs and crossing them at the ankles. He’d been expecting the question, knowing that Cordelia wouldn’t just accept his presence back in her life without some kind of explanation. Not that she had a choice. Still, this process would be easier the more cooperative she was.
He chose his words with care, knowing that she’d be picking them apart as soon as they left his mouth. “I guess you could say I had an epiphany.”
“An epiphany? An epiphany! You finally realized that you were a dumbass? What kind of epiphany is that? I’ve told you that hundreds of times.”
God he’d missed her; her spirit and her sass. He couldn’t wait to have her back where she belonged – underneath him in their bed as he lost himself in her searing heat.
This time there was no ignoring the explosion of gold his eyes at the thought of her naked, writhing in his arms as she gasped out his name.
“You were my epiphany, Cordelia.”
Her doubt was clear, and while he understood it he knew that soon she’d comprehend that somewhere between their time in Sunnydale and now she’d become the most important thing in his world. She’d know and what’s more, she’d love it.
“I realized that fighting against Wolfram & Hart was a losing battle. They beat me before I even started – I lost my family, I lost my redemption, I lost my connection to life. I lost you. And even if I reduced Wolfram & Hart to rubble, if I don’t have you then I didn’t win a thing.”
“I need you. I need your warmth and your humanity, your smiles and your tactlessness. I need the guidance and direction you give me in this fight. I need you, Cordelia. You’re the epiphany. I guess it’s a good thing for me that you’re mine, huh?”
Cordelia was drowning in a tidal wave of emotions. Angel was here, with her, and he was saying things that deep down she’d so desperately wanted to hear in these last few long lonely months. But she didn’t dare let herself believe him, wouldn’t, couldn’t be that vulnerable again. She’d given him everything – including, apparently, her life according to the doctors, and he’d thrown it all away. And for what? Some stupid obsession?
And so what if she was his new obsession of choice. Really, even Darla had only lasted a few months. Angel was fickle, even in his neurosis.
Taking a deep, calming breath she steeled herself to say what had to be said.
“It doesn’t matter, Angel. If you’ve had some kind of revelation then good for you. I wouldn’t want to see anyone go down the useless path you’ve been so determined to follow. But whatever new path you’ve got in mind, I’m not a part of it. And if that means Wolfram & Hart wins, well that’s your doing not mine.”
“I was there for you, Angel; having your visions, being your friend. I gave you everything I had, everything I was. But that wasn’t enough for you. I wasn’t enough for you. Well that’s just fine with me. You made your bed, and now you can lie in it – alone.”
Her answer wasn’t unexpected. Sure, a part of Angel had hoped that she would see the changes in him and throw herself in his arms, happy just to put this terrible mess behind them, to get back where they had been, to where they were going. But the realist in him knew that it wouldn’t be that simple. And honestly, he didn’t want it to be.
He was a demon, a vampire, and that made him inherently a hunter. He wanted to pursue Cordelia. He wanted to break down her defenses, to demolish her resistance. He didn’t just want her to admit his absolute possession of her, he wanted to leave her no choice but to acknowledge it, so there was no other options, no excuses to offer – just him, filling her life, pushing everything else aside until he was her sole focus once again.
He could afford to be patient, to take his time; because no matter what she believed those marks on her neck didn’t just mean something, they meant everything. They meant that he’d won this game before they’d even started. Of course that wouldn’t stop him from playing it.
Schooling his features into a stern expression he moved to where Cordelia stood, once again circling her in a vaguely menacing way that was creating a gratifying sense of anxiety in his seer.
“Hmmm…An interesting decision, Cordelia. And honestly more than a little surprising.”
He smiled as he rounded to face her in time to see her brows rise in silent inquiry of his last statement. An inquiry he was more than prepared to answer.
“Oh, it’s all well and good for you to wash your hands of me, but what about poor Wes and Gunn? Not quite champion material, are they? Sure, they’ve got the heart and they certainly give it their all, but it’s just not enough, is it?”
“Have you asked yourself, Cordelia, what would have happened to Gunn tonight if I hadn’t shown up?”
Angel merely smiled at the fear that briefly consumed her face.
“I see you have. It wouldn’t have been pretty. Of course encounters with Teznor demons rarely are. Dying that way – it’s really not a fitting reward for all of Charles’ service to the cause.”
Cordelia’s expression reflected both her anger and confusion at his words.
“But you said that you were back. That you were going to fight the good fight again.”
“No, I said that I’m ready to fight the good fight again.” Angel gently corrected her. “But that’s not why I’m back. I’m back for you, Cordelia. And since it seems that you’re a package deal since you’re not willing to have me without the mission and I’m not concerned with pursuing the mission without you, then it’s all or nothing.”
Cordelia glanced up at him through her lashes, a thoughtful look in her hazel gaze.
“What makes you think I won’t choose nothing?”
Angel reigned in his smug grin before it could make an appearance. He didn’t want to antagonize her when he was this close to achieving his goal, no matter how fun it was.
“Because you love Wesley and you care about Gunn and there’s no way you’d send them off to their deaths if there was anything you could do to prevent it.”
He watched in satisfaction as her eyes closed in defeat. Knowing that by tomorrow she’d be back in his care he decided to alleviate at least a few of her fears.
“Don’t worry, Cordelia. All I’m asking is that you come back to work at the hotel…for now. The rest will work itself out.”
She looked up into Angel’s almost painfully beautiful face, determination etched into hers.
“Fine. I’ll come back. But just to work, Angel. There’s nothing for us to “work out”. And if you think that there is, you’re just going to be disappointed.”
Angel smiled. Her will was strong. His was stronger. Stepping forward he breached the distance separating them, his arms banding tightly around her before she could take a step back.
Closing his eyes he relished the feeling of her soft breasts pressing erratically against his chest as her breathing quickened.
The angry look she shot him was her downfall as he immediately took advantage of her upturned face to capture her lips in a branding kiss that left her shaken and breathless. Leaving the delights of her plush lips, he followed an invisible trail to her neck and the marks she bore there. Sucking her flesh into his mouth gently he scraped at the pale scares with his blunt teeth. He wanted nothing more than to reopen the healed wounds, filling himself with Cordelia and reaffirming his dominions over the brunette beauty in his arms.
But Angel knew that if he let his iron control slip he wouldn’t be able to stop himself and they’d end up once again on the decrepit couch…and her cluttered desk…and Wesley’s orderly one. And while it would be paradise, the timing just wasn’t right.
Still, it didn’t stop his hands from moving to the buttons on her blouse, deftly undoing them in the blink of an eye until her lace covered breasts came into view. Pulling the flimsy material away he exposed her golden flesh to his equally golden gaze.
Bending his head he imprisoned a straining peak in his cool mouth, tugging gently at the distended tip with his lips.
The gasp that escaped her sapped away his good intentions and one hand traveled her body skimming over her soft curves until he reached the creamy smoothness of her thighs. Sweeping firmly over the silky warmth he pushed her skirt steadily upwards until he reached the source of scorching heat.
His questing fingers encountered a scrap of lace that he was sure matched her frilly bra. With his fingertips he began drawing tender yet firm circles through the material. Drawing her breast further into his greedy mouth her breathy grasps were like a symphony in his ears.
Cordelia also heard the gasps; it just took her a minute to realize they were coming from her. The sounds shocked her back to her senses and as she became aware of her position, of Angel’s position, she clasped her thighs tightly together. Unfortunately, instead of halting the escalating situation it merely succeeded in effectively trapping his hand flush against her.
Angel’s deep chuckle let her know that he’d noticed the tactical error also. Embarrassment lending her strength she shoved at his chest knowing that the maneuver would only work if he permitted it to.
Loathe to leave her warmth after so long in so cold a place, Angel nonetheless knew that this was neither the time nor the way to prevail in their battle of wills. So, acceding to her wishes he allowed her action to create some distance between them.
“You bastard.” Cordelia practically spat at him as her trembling fingers righted her clothing. “What happened to just coming back to the business?”
“Actually, that was more of the “working things out”.
And then Angel did something that was more dangerous then all the things that had occurred put together. He smiled. Not the smirk he’d been wearing all night. Not that sinfully sexy twist of his lips. No, this was a hundred times worse. This was soft and tender and while the other smiles went straight to her libido, this one tugged directly at her heart.
The urges of her body she could fight, but her heart was another matter. It always had been. That’s why she was so careful with it, with who she let in. And there was no way that she was opening that poor battered organ to the flighty vampire again.
Closing her eyes she clenched her teeth against the desire to believe in this Angel, to run into his arms and the safety she used to find there. She reminded herself that that Angel had been an illusion. It had only hid the one who was all too happy to leave her. No, she wouldn’t fall for that act again, no matter how badly she wanted it to be true.
“Look. I said I‘d come back to work tomorrow and I will. But it’s not because I like you, and it’s not because we have anything to “work out”. It’s because you aren’t leaving me any other choice. But let’s be clear about one thing Angel – We’re not friends. I’m a seer, and you’re sort of a champion, when it suits your purposes. We’re no more than that so get any ideas to the contrary right out of your head.”
Judging by the hard look on Angel’s face, she hadn’t succeeded in derailing whatever plans he had, but at least she’d wiped away heart rending smile. That was something. At least it would give her time to gather herself and shore up her damaged walls.
Angel knew what she was doing. She was protecting herself from more pain. And while her words cut into his very soul with the proof of how badly he’d hurt her, they also gave him hope as they clearly showed that her heart was in no way immune to him.
“Don’t worry, Cordelia. It’s probably for the best that we stopped when we did. After all, as much fun as it was tearing off your clothes last time, I seem to be short of a jacket to send you home in.”
Making his way to the door, he turned his head to pin her with steely eyes.
“As for us being friends, you’re right – We’re not friends. We’re far beyond that simple connection. We’re bound on levels of which you cannot conceive. But you will, in time. Until then I expect you at the hotel tomorrow. Wesley and Gunn are welcome to come back, too. But you – like you said, you don’t have a choice. Making me prove that would be a huge mistake, kitten.”
And with a wink he vanished through the doorway leaving a furious Cordelia to struggle once again with the ramifications of a meeting with the vampire.