Splintered 11a

***

As still as a lion awaiting an approaching gazelle, Angel stood his ground. He’d heard her cautious steps along the hall just as he was heading toward the bathroom for a hot shower. Even before she knocked, he had a hand on the doorknob, ready to swing it open, eager to see Cordelia and scared to the core that she might be a figment of his imagination.

As his whole body went on alert, Angel sucked in a deep breath of air, his head tilted against the doorframe, taking in the faint scent of her. It had been quite a while now since he’d had a dream that he couldn’t distinguish from reality. Every instinct he had told him this was real. That Cordy was now standing on the other side of the door.

Angel released his hold on the brass doorknob, taking a few steps back to wait for her to enter. Racing thoughts ticked off the passing seconds. Why had she come? Wesley and Gunn seemed certain enough that Cordelia was never coming back and he’d just spent the last hour pounding out his frustrations on the punching bag.

The guilt he’d come to live with had a permanent home inside him, weighing heavily on him. This surprise move gave him the tiniest spark of hope. Angel latched onto it as he held his immobile stance by the door. Most of all, he didn’t want to make any move that might scare her away.

The loud knock that came jarred him. In the past, she’d rarely bother with a knock on his door whenever she slipped in to tell him about a vision or, more rarely, a paying client he needed to see. Cordy had a policy about letting sleeping vampires…sleep. Instantly thinking of the day he dragged her into bed with him, mistaking his dream, kissing her— and her hard chomp on his lip waking him up, Angel found it strange that she chose to come to his suite.

If this was going to be Cordelia’s opportunity to tell him off for stalking and forcing her into having sex with him— what else could it be— then Angel was surprised that it was going to happen here. He deserved whatever she had planned, but if Cordelia thought he was going to let her leave again without giving him a chance to explain his actions, she’d be wrong.

After the knock, Angel counted the time in heartbeats finally deciding that Cordelia wasn’t going to come in on her own. Pulling open the door, the full impact of her sumptuous scent swept around him as he took in her rain-kissed appearance. Her cheeks glistened with a light sheen, damp hair curling in a riot of waves around her face just like when they were in bed together and her aroused body climaxed around his.

The reminder made him tense fearing that he’d get hard again as he often did over the memory of making love to Cordelia. That’s what it was to him, what he’d intended all along despite the fact that reality was a much different story. The loose material of his sweat pants wouldn’t exactly hide his reaction, Angel realized, somewhat mortified at the thought of what she might think, especially since her gaze seemed to be trained on the patch of skin just above his waistband.

Angel rubbed a hand across it, noting the way her eyes darted up to his and the flush sweeping across her cheeks. For a moment, he almost thought she’d been checking him out. Then Cordy blurted, “You’re all sweaty.”

He’d been training. Angel made a sorry excuse for attempting to explain that as he backed away a bit. He’d been headed to the shower when she arrived. Now he felt self-conscious at the thought of his fresh sweat being unpleasant to her in such sharp contrast to the way her own damp skin made him react.

“Are you going to invite me in already?” Cordelia finally demanded deciding to take the bull by the horns. Hovering out here in the hallway where Wes and Gunn might overhear made her anxious to get on with this. She only hoped Angel hadn’t noticed the way she was staring at him.

God, he looked sexy without even trying. What was it about fresh sweat that was so sexy on a guy? He smelled— manly. She licked at her lips remembering the taste of his sweat-dampened skin, the feel of his heavily muscled body covering hers, the way she clung to him as he took her.

The direction of her thoughts renewed Cordelia’s determination. After all, she wasn’t here for that. Who wouldn’t have a hard time forgetting what a guy with 200-plus years of experience could do? A part of her still longed for his touch, but it was overshadowed by hurt and anger at the loss of their friendship along the way.

Whether or not it was Wesley’s constant, gentle coaxing over the past few weeks, she’d decided she was sick of playing the victim. She’d gone as far as opening up the newspaper and circling calls for auditions, but never going. Cordelia knew why. She missed being at the office with the guys and she couldn’t move on to anything new without confronting Angel first.

Now that she was here, Cordelia just wanted to get on with it.

Her impatience came across clearly and Angel reacted hastily to make room for Cordy so she wouldn’t have to brush past him. Though he craved even the slightest physical contact, just wanting to feel the warmth of her skin against his fingertips, he backed away knowing that any deliberate touch might scare her off.

Watching silently as she stepped into the room, he noted the way she looked around at the changes he’d made while trying to keep himself busy, a tactic designed to keep himself from thinking of her. One that rarely worked, Angel admitted as his eyes fell to her hips and the tantalizing way her skirt clung to the curves of her bottom. He thought of filling his hands with those taut curves, his fingers kneading her supple bare flesh.

Angel shut the door with a loud click that caused Cordelia to startle in response. She gasped at the sharp sound and glanced over her shoulder to find him leaning up against the door. Holding her breath for a moment, a frisson of fear shivered her skin. He was blocking the only way out— unless she went through the bedroom.

Then Angel casually stepped away from the door, moving around the room without actually approaching her. Cordelia relaxed a little when she realized that she’d been a little paranoid. Things had changed. Angel was supposedly back to normal again. He wouldn’t hold her here against her will.

“Don’t be scared,” Angel urged softly after watching Cordelia pace back and forth like a caged tigress, trying to sooth frayed nerves. Assuring her, “You’re safe with me.”

Consciously taking an unthreatening stance, Angel stood at the edge of the space she’d taken to work off some of that nervous energy. Seeing hazel eyes flashing with defiance, he knew any fear she felt was suddenly suppressed behind her irritation. He’d rather have her annoyed than fearing him, but now her defenses were up.

“Pfft! I’m not scared,” those defiant eyes trained on him. Only the fact that Cordelia’s absent fiddling with her purse strap gave away the fact that she wasn’t being 100% truthful.

Angel still couldn’t figure out why she’d come. There wasn’t a stake in her hand, so he ruled out her decision to deal with him that way. More than once, he’d pictured her telling him to stand still while she took careful aim at his heart. If dusting him was not on her list, then a tongue-lashing had to be somewhere near the top. He’d been anticipating it for weeks now, wanting to air things out between them. Each day, his hopes of reconciliation diminished.

Today, after Wesley’s return from seeing Cordy, he figured she’d finally made up her mind. Angel felt a rising wave of trepidation as he realized this might be the moment when Cordelia planned to tell him he was an evil bastard who had no place being near her and that she was leaving him and LA behind forever.

Whatever she planned to say, Angel sensed her nervousness. Hope tugged gently at the chains of his guilt when Cordelia raised her chin a notch, telling him, “I came here to talk.”

Talk sounded— promising. He could do that. Wordlessly, Angel motioned toward the couch. Cordelia stared at the couch, gulped and then held up a hand to push away the very idea of it.

“No thanks.” Cordelia took one look at it and knew she wasn’t going to put herself into a vulnerable position during this talk of theirs. “I’ll stand.”

Cordelia caught a hint of sorrow in those puppy dog eyes at her refusal and could tell he was going out of his way to avoid standing too close. She needed that right now. A little distance was what she needed to keep a clear head. Under normal circumstances Angel still had a tendency to crowd her space, but he’d finally succeeded in invading it— not in a good way.

Now she felt anxious, uneasy in his presence. It wasn’t simply about what happened. It was because she couldn’t get past her feelings about him or any of it. At least, not until she stopped hiding in her cave of an apartment and faced him. Cordelia had a million and one things to say, but where to start?

The silence between them was oppressive. Normally, Angel would have simply left it that way, but this was Cordy and silence from her was not normal. She glimpsed over at the door as if contemplating escape. He felt driven to stop her. They hadn’t had a chance to hash this out yet and dammit, he wanted this opportunity.

No, he needed it. “Cordy, I—”

“Wes told me—” Cordelia glared at him for interrupting her train of thought, but her eyes softened as she let out a nervous little laugh.

Angel’s muttered, “Go ahead,” prompted her to continue.

Without a hitch, Cordelia continued on. “Wes told me about the drugs. Basically, it was all a set up by Toady Central.” She made a face at the mention of their constant nemesis, Wolfram & Hart. “It figures they’d have their evil fingerprints all over this.”

A snort sounded, one Angel couldn’t quite translate as giving him a clean slate. That would be far too easy. He narrowed his gaze and watched her pace back and forth in front of the couch, tensely expecting her to get to the part where he was a low-down scum of the undead who’d seduced his seer.

“They’ve stuck their noses into our business too many times,” Cordelia huffed loudly as she paused nearby, tousling her damp hair with her fingers.

Angel held completely still as he noticed she’d said ‘our business’. Maybe it was just a slip. It might have meant nothing to her, but it gave him hope that Cordelia was here for something more than just a venting session. He allowed himself a brief hint of a smug smile. “I think they got the message.”

She looked puzzled. Wes had obviously not given her the whole story on their recent takedown of the W&H operation at the pier. He wondered what they did talk about as Wes was usually closed-mouthed about the details.

“Um, good,” Cordelia muttered, a little startled by the comment and more so by the smile. It disappeared so quickly that it might have been her imagination. Angel’s mouth was drawn into a straight line, the lips that had kissed her with such heated passion now as immobile as the rest of him.

She’d been talking about the technical stuff, deliberately avoiding the personal angle. Sticking to the facts— hmm, maybe that was why Wes was so into facts— helped her to suppress some of her anxiety. Thinking of Wes gave her another fact to latch onto. “Hey, I heard that Wes’ spell worked. Your soul’s here to stay.”

Angel was quick to point out, “Lorne confirmed it.” He wanted Cordelia to know that it wasn’t just Wes’ opinion alone.

“I know,” Cordelia grinned because she couldn’t stop her smile from spreading at the rush of happiness she felt on Angel’s behalf. “That’s fantastic, really.”

If Cordelia wasn’t around, Angel figured that avoiding perfect happiness wouldn’t be much of an issue. So permanent or not, it really didn’t matter.

“Yeah,” his half-hearted agreement caused her smile to vanish. Things got instantly awkward.

Any confidence Cordelia had picked up during the early part of the conversation took a downward spin when she realized they’d covered all of the non-personal stuff. An awkward, tense silence billowed up like a gigantic bubble waiting to be popped.

She dropped her gaze to her fingertips, taking a suddenly avid interest in the color of her nail polish, feverishly trying to think of something to kick start her tongue and begin the difficult and truly uncomfortable task of tackling the more intimate issues left between them.

The most tempting idea was avoiding it all together by brushing it all under a convenient rug. Her eyes lit up at the idea as she peeked up at Angel whose slumped shoulders and dipped head suggested he wasn’t as thrilled as he should be about his permanent soul. That made no sense.

All she wanted to do was clear up things between them, but her conflicted thoughts and Angel’s strange attitude caused Cordelia’s anxiety to skyrocket again.

Thinking more or less the same thing, Angel wanted not only to clear things up, but to fix them. For the past weeks, he’d thought deeply about it and come to the conclusion that he would be unable to just ignore everything that had happened between them, what it had meant, what it revealed to him and most of all, how he did not want to avoid or attempt to forget how he felt about her— and how he yearned to explore the possibilities.

So he’d spent a lot of time mentally rehearsing what he’d say if and when Cordelia finally decided to give him a chance. Angel knew this was going to be his one and only opportunity, yet he sensed her standoffishness and the awkwardness between them.

Risking her enmity, Angel broke the heavy silence. “Cordy, I never meant to hurt you.”

Cordelia’s head jerked up, fake nail interest lost as she was swallowed up by his stare. His eyes, darkened and tortured, matched the world of pain and regret revealed in that one sentence. Overwhelmed at the stark intensity there, Cordelia’s thoughts roiled at the realization there would be no more delays.

Their matched gazes held for a moment longer as they shared a look of pure intensity. Then both glanced away. Cordelia, unable to bear Angel’s tortured expression, felt a conflicting wave of concern and satisfaction. After everything he’d put her through— she sighed deeply until she felt the pull of his renewed attention.

Angel’s gaze hadn’t traveled far. His eyes caressed every luscious curve remembering the way she responded to his touch. He knew that he’d never be able to make up for what he’d done. Though he wanted things to be uncomplicated the way they used to be, Angel knew he was lying to himself. They’d never been that uncomplicated even before this fiasco.

Now he held out a tiny bit of hope for the possibility of more. No longer content to remain still and silent Angel took a step forward and then another until he was close enough to reach out and touch her, though he kept his hands at his side. “I should’ve realized something was up,” Angel knew it wasn’t really an excuse for his behavior, “but I didn’t. Darla—”

At the mention of his sire’s name, Cordelia backed up, raising a staying hand. A look of distaste showed on her face. “I didn’t come here to talk about her.” She frowned, adding, “She’s dust. Let’s just forget about it.” There was a no softness to her words and she made no attempt to hide it.

Angel faltered a bit. While he didn’t really want to talk about Darla, her involvement in this whole scheme was important to his defense. Seeing Cordy’s reaction to the mere mention of it, Angel suddenly realized that tactic was a mistake. He could clearly picture Cordy snapping, “I don’t care about your lame Darla-made-me-do-it defense.”

Deep and meaningful discourse was hardly his forte. Gathering his thoughts, Angel found the thread he was searching for. “You’re right. Darla has little to do with what happened between us.”

Only Cordelia was too busy barreling along, her words cutting across his, to notice that his held a deeper meaning. “Our lives are full of risks, Angel. I just,” she blew out a breath, “never thought you could be one. Angelus, yeah, but not you.”

The intensity in her voice told him it was obviously something that was playing on her mind. The accusation cut into him and for a moment he was at a lost of what to say. So far, his ‘speech’ was going to hell in a hand basket. There was only one way he could answer.

“It was the drugs,” he reminded her firmly. “Without the effects of the drugs, it would never have happened. Not that way,” Angel tagged on.

Cordelia hugged her arms across her chest as she thought about it for a few seconds before finally conceding that Angel was right. With her lips pressed closed, she gave him a slow nod.

Then he added, “We got lucky.”

Instantly, Cordelia picked up on his ‘not that way’ because it sounded like Angel was suggesting something more intimate could have happened between them without the influence of the drugs. That led to his statement about luck, which was something she had told herself a thousand time, but wasn’t sure if he meant it the same way.

The sensitive subject of his lack of soul lossage still stung, even though she’d long ago quashed down that irrational feeling of insecurity. Now it came surging back with a force that almost knocked her off center. Realization of her strong reaction jolted enough that Cordelia made a conscious effort to relax her features into something less revealing as she asked, “What do you mean, lucky?”

How else would he mean it? Angel wondered staring back until the proverbial penny dropped. His first instinct was to touch her, to reel her in for a hug that provided some silent reassurance that his feelings for her ran deep. Angel got no further than a hand on her suddenly flaming cheek as he reacted to the panic in her eyes even though she didn’t budge from her spot.

Deliberately, he kept his hand there, his touch gentle. “It’s a given that I would’ve lost my soul if Wes hadn’t intervened when he did.” Angel watched Cordy closely for her reaction. He held such an unwavering belief that it would’ve happened that her incredulity surprised him. “My feelings run too deep to doubt that.”

Cordelia didn’t disappoint him. A flash of stunned relief showed before her lashes shield her expression and for a second Angel was overwhelmed with optimism. He felt her relax under his touch as she released a soft breath of air against his wrist. Sensing it was time to give her a little more space again, he let his fingers trail across her soft cheek before dropping his hand to his side.

The loss of Angel’s touch was felt instantly, but Cordelia was already caught up by the fact that he’d just told he had feelings for her. She was pretty sure he could tell that her heart was pounding and she instinctively pressed an open hand to her chest as if that would muffle the sound. Totally unprepared for him to be so direct with her, she felt flustered, her defenses going back up, her eyes unable to meet his.

Considering Cordelia’s reaction, Angel was starting to feel a little euphoric. The way she seemed surprised about something that was so obvious to him made Angel realize Cordelia believed his behavior simply came out of left field. That it wasn’t based on existing feelings. How was it possible that she was so damn clueless?

He decided to keep going before he lost his nerve. “Did Wes tell you how the drug worked?”

“The whole playing with your head and turning you into obssess-o-vamp thing?” she replied almost vaguely, making a swirly gesture next to her temple.

That casual response stung, leaving Angel wondering if Cordelia really understood what he was saying or, far worse, if she didn’t care that he actually felt something for her “It wasn’t some random drug, Cordy” he stressed only to be cut off.

“I know that, geez,” Cordelia flailed and moved away again, “enough with the chemistry class. Do we have to go through that again?” she snapped defensively as she came to a stop near a pair of leather chairs sitting at a perpendicular angle to each other.

Tossing her purse down on the chair, she kept her back to him, needing a minute to think before facing him again. A small statue of some strange native design on the coffee table randomly caught her attention. She picked it up and stared into its beady hand-carved eyes only set it back down when she realized that Angel was actually trying to open up to her and she was doing everything possible to avoid hearing it. Slowly, she turned around to see the hurt now masking his face that he ineffectively tried to hide from her.

Angel’s head dipped down, his hands propped on his hips where his low-slung sweats held on. If she wanted to know whether he was capable of being his brooding former self again, Cordelia got her answer, though she had mixed feelings about that, too. Now she felt like a bitch for snapping at him when he obviously wanted to tell her something important to him.

Before she could tell him to get on with it, Angel’s head lifted up, his eyes meeting hers again with a look of such determination that her breath caught in her throat.

“The drugs don’t act randomly,” Angel pointed out, holding his ground despite the fact that he wanted to be up close and in her space. “Feelings— desires have to exist beforehand.”

Cordelia’s mouth formed a circle as his meaning sunk in and Angel knew he finally had her attention. He licked his lips, shifted his stance and rubbed at the back of his neck all the while realizing that he needed to get over his nerves and just tell Cordy what she deserved to hear from him even if it meant rejection. As he heard himself speak her name, Angel knew he had to try to salvage any scrap of their friendship he could manage.

Starting cautiously, “You have to know how much I value your friendship.” Moving forward with the same kind of hesitation, he judged her reaction to every word and each step. “And your sacrifices,” he added, “for me.”

Expecting a snarky rejoinder, Angel wasn’t sure what to make of her silence. She looked a little stunned, pleased and confused all at the same time. So he pressed on with what he had to say, gulping at the knot in his throat this time, “There’s more to it than that.”

“Oh?” Cordelia tried to sound casual, shrugging one shoulder as she propped a hand on her hip.

After a long pause, Angel blurted, “You’re so damn beautiful and somehow you crept in under my skin until I— I miss you, Cordy. Nothing is the same around here without you.”

Gaping like a goldfish, Cordelia blinked and held up a hand to stop him from rattling on. After the first few words, it was all a blur. She wanted to hear it again just to be sure she’d heard it right. “What was that again?”

“I miss you,” Angel repeated. “Nothing is—”

Cordelia huffed, interrupting, “No, dumbass, the other part.”

It took a moment for Angel to realize what she was talking about. He was trying to figure out a way to tell her that he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him without sounding like an obsessed nutcase when Cordy waved a hand and prompted, “Y’know, the beautiful creeping part.”

Angel was just pleased that she didn’t seem repelled by the fact that he’d said it. Though he wasn’t quite sure why she needed to hear him say something that was so obvious. A hint of a smile tugged at her lips in obvious anticipation of what he had to say, hazel eyes sparkling. He certainly owed her that much.

“Everything about you is beautiful to me.” Angel hoped that didn’t come out quite as corny as it sounded in his head because he meant every word of it. He shifted his stance again, nervous about where this conversation was going because he knew that after everything that had happened, he didn’t deserve more than a compulsory grunt of acknowledgement.

Her smile blew him away as he stood there dazzled by its intensity knowing that finally he’d said something right.

Hot and flushed, Cordelia couldn’t believe Angel had said that. He’d been capable of saying anything while under the influence of the drugs and told her more than once how beautiful and sexy she was to him. That could be explained away as the effects of the hallucinations. Now Angel was admitting that those feelings were there before.

“So I get under your skin, huh,” she teased, pursing her lips into a pout, adding, “like some kind of irritant?”

Angel’s gaze focused on her lush lips. “Only the best kind,” he muttered as he dipped his head toward her mouth.

Jerking back a step, Cordelia bumped into the edge of the chair cushion, losing her balance and plopping down with a yelp. “Angel, I don’t—”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have—,” Angel quickly attempted an apology, but stopped at the sound of the husky chortles caught in her throat. Damning himself for moving too fast, he rubbed a hand over his mouth as if to stop any further spontaneous idiotic ideas from springing forth.

Turning, he sank down into the chair opposite to hers, trying to relax into it, but his body was taut with tension. “We don’t have to…” he faltered and started again. “I want our friendship back. Just tell me what I need to do to make it happen.”

Cordelia sighed, her lashes dropping down to shadow her eyes. He made it sound as if she could hand him a list of tasks he could tick off one by one. Maybe the fact that Angel thought she was hot gave her a needed ego boost, but it could not erase everything that happened between them. That was impossible to forget and there was no way she could push it aside.

“It’s not that simple,” Cordelia shook her head, leaning forward with her elbows together on her knees. Hands clasped together, she pressed them against her mouth searching for a way to put her feelings into words.

Cordy found herself staring at the carpet and the way Angel’s foot subtly ground into it almost undetectably. She skipped up the length of his legs distracted from her thoughts by the hand resting atop his thickly muscled thigh noting the strong fingers pale against the dark fabric of his sweats.

The image hit a memory chord calling upon flashes of those same fingers and how they contrasted against her tanned skin, the gentle way he threaded them through her hair, the way they’d cupped firmly around her breast or sought out her most intimate places. Then his fingers flexed against the fabric, stretching it in intriguing ways causing her to swallow hard.

Flushing hotly, Cordelia’s eyes jerked up connecting instantly with dark brown. For a second, she couldn’t look away. Then, clearing her throat, finally dragged her gaze away and leaned back in her seat uncomfortably.

Angel had a pleasant shock. He’d drifted out of his thoughts and looked towards Cordelia seeing the distracted look on her face– and strangely heated eyes. He’d followed her gaze almost compulsively and when he realized she was staring at his hand, his fingers automatically flexed as he felt an instant responding heaviness in his groin. Eyes lifting rapidly towards her again, Angel caught her almost guilty gaze and felt certain that he wasn’t imagining the confused arousal in her dilated eyes.

Cordelia sat back in her seat after breaking eye contact when realizing he was looking right at her. She crossed her legs, nervously smoothing the soft fabric of her knee length skirt. Sitting down had caused it to ride halfway up her thighs. The actions drew Angel’s eyes to the golden length of her legs. He knew they felt like fine velvet-satin after running his hands from ankles to thighs that night, also recalling the feel of them as they hugged his naked hips tightly. A shiver ran down his spine and it brought him back to the present with a jolt. Blinking away the vision, Angel pulled himself together before his body betrayed his thoughts.

He chanced a look her way and again their eyes connected for a stunned second. He read her awareness and his gut clenched.

They both looked away that time.

Reeling, Cordelia knew there was no way she could mistake the heated desire seen blatantly in his dark eyes as they traveled the length of her legs. She’d chanced another look in his direction after smoothing her skirt and now wondered whether she should regret that or just enjoy the flare of pleased shock that ran through her.

When she’d first got there, uppermost in her mind was the badness of it all and how she would react to seeing him, but when finally confronting him all she could feel and recall were the gentle moments, the passionate moments. Any earlier thoughts she’d had of leaving had completely vanished.

Cordelia realized that she didn’t really want to. True there was still a fission of ‘oh god, what the hell am I doing here’ fear running through her, but the cautious anticipation was running a very close second. Mostly though, she had come to the conclusion that she wanted desperately what they once had. It was just like Angel said. She wanted their friendship back and just needed someone to tell her how to make it happen.

There had to be a way to work their issues out and maybe, just maybe…

Needing to break the cloying silence, Cordy cleared her throat audibly and leveled her gaze back on Angel, and was thankful to find his expression had returned to calm waters. She could handle that.

“How are you feeling now?” she asked sticking to small talk, clearing her throat once more to rid the annoying tinge of husk.

“About you?” Angel asked without thinking, still a little bit in the moment.

“Huh?” Cordy’s eyes widened, startled before blinking rapidly. She’d been asking about his health. “Obviously, the weather would’ve been a safer choice.”

Angel freaked inwardly, but didn’t move a muscle. God, he’d been planning to say something more about his feelings for her. It was on his meticulously developed list of things they needed to discuss. As usual, planning and Cordelia didn’t really mix well. Trust her to take their conversation on some random track forcing him to keep up.

Taking a moment to pull his wits together, Angel was glad when Cordelia seemed to recover first and continue talking. “Wes told me a little about the Wolfram & Hart thing, so I suppose you’re obviously feeling better if you’re up to kicking some ass.”

Nodding, Angel responded quietly, “I wanted to make sure you’d be safe.”

Cordy shifted in her seat then decided to take the moment to bring up the mission. “I haven’t had a vision in a few days, maybe a week, but knowing the PTB, I doubt it’ll last long.” She glanced toward the ceiling and made a face at it.

Responding hesitantly, Angel wondered where she was taking this. “Yeah, I heard that you plan to call them in, which is okay, if—”

“Actually,” Cordelia broke in, “I’ve been thinking about maybe coming back…’cos it would be easier. And I think I’m needed here,” hastily adding, “at the office,” when it occurred to her that ‘here’ sounded a little too intimate, considering where they were right now.

Cordy’s correction went over Angel’s head. He was too busy letting the rest of her words sink in.

Eying the silent vampire and feeling a little disconcerted at the length of time he took to respond, Cordy tagged on, “If you’re okay with that?”

That got his attention. Angel’s surprise sounded clearly, “You’d do that?”

“If you want me,” Cordelia replied, and then realized how he might take it. “Well, duh! Vision Girl!” For a moment both were transported back to a time when everything was okay between them.

“Of course I…” Angel was glad she’d interrupted before he made a fool of himself, thankfully leaving the ‘want you’ part off. He doubted she would have appreciated such a blatant reply. “I… we need you here. It isn’t the same without you,” he added wholeheartedly and she smiled.

“Pfft! I bet you guys loved not having a girl around to keep you in line.” Hearing Cordy tease brought a lump to Angel’s throat and he was glad when she went on to matter-of-factly tell him she’d need help hauling her stuff back to the office.

Angel started to offer, nodding in agreement, but then his expression became hesitant, his mouth half opened before snapping shut. Reading him like a well- loved book, Cordy made it easy for him.

“I could do with the help- that is, if you don’t mind?” she asked with a lift of a finely arched brow.

The lump in Angel’s throat grew larger until he had to swallow hard to get rid of it. The subtle hint that the uninvited would no longer be a problem hit home. That was a BIG step for the both of them – and one that said a lot to him.

“Of course I don’t mind.” He paused before adding,” I could bring Gunn with me to help.”

The suggestion hung in the air between them. Then her face softened for a moment at his offer: an understanding and willingness to compromise so she wasn’t alone with him.

“How much stuff do you think I have?” Cordelia raised a brow and dared him to comment. “I didn’t take the kitchen sink with me, so if it’s missing, you are looking at the wrong suspect,” she retorted lightly and gulped a little when her comment brought a hint of a smile to his face before smoothing into seriousness.

Leaning forward in his seat, forearms resting on his spread thighs, his fingers steepled, Angel asked somberly, “Are things gonna be okay between us, Cordy?”

His whole body tightened as he geared up to ask the ultimate question. “I need to know, so I’m going to just ask: do we pick up where we left off?” It was out in the open and he found himself holding a reflexive breath as he watched the play of emotions that ran across her face.

Cordy thought about it before answering wondering exactly what he asking her. A frown marred her brow as she looked at him closely. Surely he didn’t mean that on a romantic level? For the moment, her mind instinctively rebelled against that idea. She’d be lying if she denied that her head was still screwed up enough by past events and a big part of her just wanted to go back to the beginning, before this whole mess had almost ruined everything between them.

There was still a part of her that wasn’t fully sure of her feelings towards Angel. Fair enough, if asked now, she would most likely say the feelings were returned, but how much of those feelings were just an echo of what happened between them?

The way she saw it was that she agreed to come back to work. That was difficult enough without clouding the issues by thinking of more. Cordelia rose to her feet no longer able to remain seated. Gazing down at Angel, she finally asked, “You mean start over?” and felt equal amounts of relief and sadness on seeing a slight slump to his broad shoulders.

“Okay,” Angel finally agreed after a long pause shaking off the disappointment even as he berated himself for even considering Cordy would be ready for more, “we’ll start over.”

A new start taking it from the beginning, he could do that. Angel figured it was better than nothing- and to be totally honest with himself, so much more than he thought he’d have before Cordy had turned up to talk. “From the beginning,” he replied more strongly, rising to his feet to stand beside her, glad that he’d said it when the fine tension he’d noted minutes earlier seemed to drain from her.

Cordy nodded, relieved, a smile slowly forming and her tone upbeat as she spoke, “And you can start by—.” The familiar aura of lights flashed behind her eyes signaling the oncoming vision. “Oh crap!”

Reacting instantly, Angel caught Cordelia before she fell against the coffee table, pulling her close. It was as if the PTB decided to mark their reconciliation with a big bang. He cursed vehemently as the vision tore through her. This bit he didn’t miss, and never would: the pain that was so apparent in her face wracking through her fragile mind and body without respite.

As she calmed, Cordelia heard the soft sound of Angel’s soothing whispers noting the gentle strength of his arms as he held her against him. Feeling his hard still chest pressed against the side of her face, and a large cool hand cradling her nape, she breathed in deeply and for a long moment enjoyed the scent of him as well as the closeness.

How had it even crossed her mind that this was something she could easily give up? Her fingers curled into the soft fabric of his muscle shirt and the instant flex of hard muscle against her cheek had her loosening her hold and pulling back enough to tilt her head up. She opened her eyes to find that familiar concern painted across his handsome face and realizing that being in Angel’s arms wasn’t awkward at all. In fact… she shivered slightly, it felt entirely too good for where her head was right now.

Angel, too, became aware of their closeness. One moment, he was focused only on her well-being, but as the vision ended and she opened her eyes, he caught a glimpse of the trust that once existed between them. His hands moved as she pulled back, dropping to curl around her waist. As he felt her shiver in his arms, another speck of hope was added to the slowly growing pile.

Crouched together on the carpet in the tight space between the table and the chairs, they held still, both afraid to move and end the moment. Finally, Cordy took a deep breath and eased back a little. “There’s a big stinky green demon with a bad attitude planning to take out a bunch of tourists at the WB studio. I’d better go tell the others.”

Angel’s hands were still resting on the curve of her waist. When Cordy glanced down, he took it as his cue to release her. Slowly, he helped her to her feet and reluctantly dropped his hold. The heat of her body still imprinted on his own lingered even when she slipped around him and walked towards the door. Unsure what to do or say next, he just stood there, watching her get further away.

Already feeling the loss of his touch, Cordelia cleared her throat and moved away until she got to the door. Pausing after she opened it, she glanced over her shoulder, asking expectantly, “You coming?”

He looked at her, and hesitated. It seemed so long since this familiar scenario had played out. Until now Angel never thought it would happen again and a gamut of emotions hit, keeping him pinned to the spot.

Seeing the play of emotions that darkened Angel’s eyes and tightened his face caused something to stir deep inside Cordelia. Realizing this wasn’t the time, and probably wouldn’t be for a while at least, she shoved down her answering feelings and pulled herself together. Mouth softening into an encouraging smile she instead teased him gently. “Got some major kick-assing to do. Tempted?”

A slow smile appeared as Angel nodded. Glancing down at his clothes, he tugged at the muscle shirt and grimaced. “Do I have time to change?” Sweat stains were slowly forming and although he knew there would be more to worry about than sweat by the end of the night, the need to be clean at the onset weighed heavily on his mind.

The smile on Cordelia’s face widened. Typical Angel and his fastidiousness. “We got time. See ya downstairs then.”

Angel felt a surge warmth run through him at the sparkle he hadn’t seen in a long time lighten her eyes. As Cordelia closed the door softly behind her, he stared at the wooden barrier for a moment thinking that today had turned out much differently than expected.

Stripping down, Angel took a quick shower and tried to keep his mind on the fight ahead instead of Cordy, but it was a losing battle. He headed for his closet after drying off, selecting something suitable for a fight. Dressed and ready, he headed for the door, pausing in thought as his hand connected with the brass knob.

Starting over with Cordy was far more than he expected and deserved. Patience was something he could deal with if that’s what she needed. Feeling hopeful, with an edge of anticipation, he opened the door and left his doubts behind him.

THE END

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