Wes, totally oblivious to his surroundings, opened the top drawer and blinked owlishly at the clutter. Instead of stationary, he was not all that surprised to find a plethora of women’s cosmetics in Cordelia’s desk. Taking the proverbial bull by the horns he finally reached in and grabbed a handful. As he moved to unload the items into one of the nearby boxes, one slipped out of his grasp and clattered onto the desk surface. He winced at the noise, quickly dropping the rest into the box and reaching down to grab the escapee; a bright pink tube with the words “Raspberry Ripple” printed on the bottom.
Wes frowned and pulled it apart, finding an unused lipstick. “Raspberry Ripple?” he murmured, bringing it closer to his face. “Doesn’t look like any raspberry ripple I’ve ever seen.” He peered closer at the deep pink color just as Angel appeared at his shoulder.
“Whatcha doing, Wes?”
“Eeargh!” Wes spun round, his hand jerking high as he did so, smearing pink across his cheek. Angel merely stared at him as he clutched his chest with a shaky hand.
“Dear God in heaven, Angel!” he finally spluttered unconsciously waving the lipstick around wildly. “Do you have to sneak up like that on-on poor defenseless people?”
Angel stepped back a pace as the offending item came a little too close to his face. Belatedly realizing, Wes cleared his throat, turning quickly to retrieve the lid and pop it into the box before facing the enquiring vampire. “Does Cordy know about your…” Angel pointed at the open drawer, “interest in that stuff?” If he hadn’t already had a suspicion as to what Wes was actually doing, Angel would’ve found the whole situation amusing, especially when the man flushed as pink as the lipstick smeared on his face.
“Oh…Oh! No!” Wes hastened to correct that assumption, then hesitated, and wracked his brains for a delicate way to put it. He couldn’t for the life of him, and instead hummed and arred before finally blurting out, “Cordelia asked me to collect the rest of her things.” His discomfort grew as Angel stood motionless, silently staring at him, but then let out a small sigh of relief when he broke eye contact and instead looked down at his boots for a long moment.
“Angel?” Wes cleared his throat and continued awkwardly. “I’m afraid Cordelia meant what she said yesterday. She actually resigned from Angel Investigations.” He shifted uncomfortably as the dark head remained dipped.
Though the words slowly sunk in, Angel said nothing at first as he focused in on the memory of last night and her stubborn attempt at leaving. That wasn’t for real; it was all show just to piss him off. Well, now it was working. Dammit, he didn’t imagine that her little huff would last this long. He’d expected to find her back at her desk this afternoon.
There had to be some mistake. Keeping a tight reign on his temper, Angel finally lifted his head, and Wes was a bit surprised to hear a thread of amusement in his quietly spoken question and nodded slowly, his face set in apologetic lines. “She actually said that she quit, that she wasn’t coming back?”
Angel pursed his lips and rocked back on his heels as he considered his options. Glancing at the boxes, he felt his anger grow by leaps and bounds, but kept his tone level, “Leave the rest. I think I should be the one to go over.”
Noting the gaping fish expression that appeared on Wes’ face, he added, “After all, this is my fault.” He lifted a staying hand to stave off the sputtering protests that he knew Wes would attempt to make. “I wasn’t exactly pleasant to her yesterday. I’ll take that box,” he inclined his head to the half full one.
Wes took a step forward when Angel picked up the cardboard box and turned to walk away. “But what about the rest?” he asked hesitantly.
“Hopefully, after I’ve sorted this out, Cordy will be back, right?” Angel paused on his way to the office. At Wes’ relieved nod of agreement, he continued on. As he grabbed the handle to close the door, he caught Wes’ anxious gaze.
“Oh, and Wes, I don’t think it’s a good idea to… tell her about the change of plan,” he suggested. “I’m sure she doesn’t wanna talk to me right now and I really want the chance to tell her how much we need her here.”
“That would definitely be an unwise move, yes,” Wes replied, in complete agreement, hope flaring that Angel could soothe her ruffled feathers and then they could put all this unpleasantness behind them and continue on what was the most important: the mission. After all, that was the reason they were all together in the first place.
Angel’s answering smile lasted as long as it took to close his door, then it disappeared abruptly.
“Geez, Dennis, just let him in,” Cordelia called out from the kitchen where she was busy pouring herself a tall glass of iced tea. “Wes is bringing over the stuff from my desk.”
Phantom Dennis made no move to open the door. That wasn’t Wesley out there, he knew, but Angel. Considering some of the things Cordelia had been saying to him about the vampire since last night, it seemed like a good time to watch and wait. He’d been observing them for weeks; months even, and had a feeling that something was about to happen.
With a roll of her eyes, Cordelia grabbed the door handle. “Getting lazy? If you don’t use all that ghostly energy, you’ll turn into a fat blob.”
“Who’s fat?” The question startled Cordelia who’d been looking behind her rather than at the door she’d just opened.
From the way her eyes slowly drifted down Angel’s tall frame, the ghost figured it should be obvious Cordy didn’t think it was him. But her gaze snapped back up to his as she demanded to know, “Where’s Wes?”
“I left him locked up in the basement, bound and gagged,” Angel responded so smoothly that Cordy gaped at him. For half a second, she believed every word. That only served to cause his level of aggravation to inch higher.
“That is so not funny,” Cordelia certainly wasn’t laughing. “I don’t want you here right now. Wes was supposed to come.”
Grasping either side of the doorframe as he waited for her to invite him in, Angel finally pushed away and took a step forward. Explaining, “This is between us. We need to talk.”
Cordelia watched him with a narrowed gaze as he swept past her into the living room. All things considered, she really wasn’t surprised to see him, even before the sunset. Figuring that he must have taken the sewer short cut from the hotel, she knew he had to be angry to be so impatient about getting there.
She stalked past him at a fast pace, shutting the door just this side of a slamming it, the sound jarring. “There’s nothing between us to talk about; you being my bad attitude ex-boss, me being the ex-slave-to-your-every-whim.”
All but fuming at her cavalier response, Angel told her, “That’s wrong on so many counts.”
There was only one place where Cordy answered to his every whim and somehow he doubted sharing those details would make her reconsider her decision to quit. “Whether you choose to remember it or not, I’m your friend.”
“Says the grumpy tyrant.”
Angel frowned, trying to come up with a reason that did not include the fact that he dreamt about her night after night and felt like he’d actually stayed up for the marathon sessions in bed rather than slept for hours on end. “I ha—”
“I know, I know,” Cordelia threw up her hands in exasperation. “You haven’t let anyone keep you from hiding out in your rooms. Brood, brood, brood. If it’s not the broody mode, it’s the bossy one.”
Only the slow grinding of his teeth kept Angel from growling his response as she started to mimic some of his latest requests. The completely exaggerated way in which she did it left him stewing in anger. He watched for a few moments as she paced across the room. “Stop that, dammit! I thought you had some respect for what we do, even if you could care less about me, personally.”
Snapping her mouth shut, Cordelia whirled back around to find him much closer than before, glaring down at her in a way that left her breathing fast, her heart pounding. “This isn’t about the mission.”
“You can’t quit,” Angel inched forward as he made his point. “You’re Vision Girl! You can’t just decide to quit the visions. You’re my seer. There’s a connection between us you can’t run away from.”
Breath shaking, standing her ground, Cordelia simply said, “It’s not the visions I’m quitting, Angel. It’s… you.”
Dead silence followed as Cordelia awaited his reaction. He didn’t yell, or pout or do any of the things she expected him to do. He just stood there, soaking in the silence, his expression a blank slate. She wished he’d just say something and get this over with.
“Say something,” the prompt only seemed to thicken the tension. Hugging herself as she crossed her arms over her chest, the little squeeze did nothing to ease her sudden discomfort. “Fine. You do a great impression of a clam. The Powers may call the shots on the visions, but there’s no rule book that says I can’t phone Wes on the hotline if I have one.”
After another eternity of waiting, Angel finally spoke up. His whole bearing shifted from stony and emotionless back to vibrant intensity within a matter of seconds. She could feel it, a palpable energy that wrapped around her making her body shiver in anticipation. A small part of her was afraid that he would notice.
Maybe he’d get the hint and leave if she ignored him. It was an impossible task. Angel stood within inches now, his broad shoulders blocking out everything else. “You don’t quit me, Cordelia,” the use of her full name and the semblance of a threat in his tone raised the hair at the nape of her neck.
Angel’s possessive tone rankled her already frayed nerves. “Not your decision. I can do anything I want. This is my life. Maybe I am the source of the visions that let you earn your chance at redemption, but that doesn’t make me yours to bully around the office.”
“I don’t bully you.”
“Hah! You’ve been an ass, lately,” she said hotly, her eyes sparkling brightly with rage. It was more than just his gruff behavior, especially when Gunn was around. “All you do these days is sleep, complain and act… weirder than usual.”
That description was hardly flattering, but to Angel’s mind there was only one reason for it: Cordelia herself. If he slept, he dreamt of her. If he was tired, it was because he couldn’t sleep thinking of her. The complaints were all because of his own damned jealousy and the fact that he was too tired to control it. As for acting weird, he had no idea what she meant.
After staring down at his feet, Angel raised his soulful brown eyes to stare into hers. Then giving into temptation, stroked his knuckles against the curve of her cheek. Cordelia leaned into it for an instant, until she jerked away from his touch.
“If it was just the attitude, I’d just put it down to the norm. Moody and broody is just your style, for the most part. That’s not the only reason I’m leaving.”
Angel didn’t care about reasons. “I just want you back where you belong, where I know I can watch over you.”
“I can look after myself. This decision is for the best. You may not see that now, but I know it,” Cordelia urged him to understand what she was saying. “You’ve been acting so creepy lately. You’ve been all over me. Hello, breathing room is necessary for us humans.”
He didn’t stop to think about it. Angel just leaned in closer, hands slowly sliding up her bare arms and making the space between them narrow to mere inches. Tiny tremors tingled along her skin as the gruff edge to his demand came oh, so softly, “Drop the pretense.”
Hotly denying it, “I’m not pretending anything,” she futilely attempted to move out of his iron hold. Now still, the hard contours of his chest pressed against her breasts and they peaked in reaction. “I just want you out of my personal bubble, my apartment and my life.”
Calm, almost too calm, Angel focused on her involuntary responses rather than her words. “I don’t believe you. There’s something between us that goes beyond visions, beyond friendship. It excites you, doesn’t it?”
“Scares me!” she rebutted as he hit that particular target with perfect accuracy.
“You think I don’t know that you want me? That I can’t tell when your pulse is racing, like now, or any of a hundred other little signs.” Ones he’d never noticed before, amazingly enough. His fingers weaved into her hair, “You smell so good,” but his face was buried at her throat when he said it.
Cordelia pushed against his chest. Any signs of hers were unintentional. A frisson of excitement and fear shot along her spine. Pleading for him to see reason, “Just back off,” she curled her fingernails into her palms letting the sting remind her of the reason it was necessary. “You know this can’t go anywhere.”
Straightening up, Angel let her hair fall back into place, but kept his hand on her shoulder. A glint appeared in his nearly black gaze that left her trembling as she realized she’d said something that actually pleased him. He looked like a racecar driver just given the green light to go ahead.
“So you admit that there’s something,” Angel raised a brow, looking almost smug as he said it even as Cordelia huffed in exasperation. “All this time I thought you saw me only as a vampire.”
Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to remind your obsessive ex-boss that he owned a pair of fangs, but it seemed to be the only option available. “You are a vampire, dumbass.”
“Is that the only thing you see when you look at me?”
Thump-thump-thump, her heart was beating to its own wild tune, sounding in her ears followed by a rush of white noise. Cordelia stared, recognizing the want in his eyes and feeling her own aching response to his touch. He was handsome; she’d never denied that, but it was the way he looked at her lately, the way his mouth parted as he stared at hers. The way she wanted to run her hands down every inch of him and revel in it.
But she couldn’t forget the main thing she saw. It was hidden now, behind those handsome features. It was the part of him he wanted her to forget though it was impossible. Cordelia knew her next words would be painful, but in the here and now they were her only weapon. “I see a demon who wants to be a man, but you aren’t, Angel, not yet. I’m not going to be the one to get in the way of that. Being together day after day… I just don’t feel safe anymore. It’s getting dangerous.”
Stung, Angel simply wanted her to want him in the same wild, passionate way he wanted her and had her in his dreams. That wasn’t so much to ask, was it? There was so much potential for passion inside her. He saw evidence of that everyday. He wanted that energy focused on him. If she could only learn to listen, to hold her tongue and, for once, simply do as he wanted without lecturing him, asking a hundred questions or debating him about a better way to do it.
“There’s nothing dangerous here,” his soft assurances whispered across her lips. “It’s just you and me, Cordy.”
Call it a flashback to her high school crush, but for an instant she believed it to be true. The fact that she wanted it to be true drowned out her better sense in favor of fulfilling a burst of curiosity. Just this once, she told herself. Leaning in, she felt the softness of his mouth against hers as their lips touched tentatively and then collided together. Sudden need, desire, desperation all tumbled into a series of hot clutches. A flurry of deep kisses, shuddered gasps, caresses and moans left any tender exploration behind from the first.
Hot, blinding need held them in its grip when Dennis finally decided to put a halt to the activities. Splashing them both with the contents of the glass of iced tea, they lurched apart. Shocked by the icy bath, the realization of how far their kiss had gone had a similar effect on Cordelia who trembled at the intensity she’d experienced. Geez, he knew just how to kiss her, as if he’d done it a hundred times before, leaving her mouth aching and her body tingling from his skillful touch.
Cordelia lifted a shaking hand to her bottom lip, still swollen from his kisses, her eyes widening as she realized what might have happened. Hit by desire stronger than she’d ever felt, it would be so easy to lose herself in his arms, to give in to that. But Dennis definitely made a good call despite the tea stains. Though being non-corporeal was probably for the best right now considering the look of fury on Angel’s face.
That reaction was enough to remind Cordelia why she’d left in the first place. This couldn’t happen again. She knew exactly where kisses like that would lead, and when it came to Angel that was simply a place they couldn’t go. “I want you to go now,” her voice didn’t betray her inner trembling. It was full of renewed resolve.
Dripping wet, Angel tried to control his own reaction, but he was too wound up to easily mask his irritation with the interruption. Having Cordy in his arms for real left his dreams in shadow. He wanted more of that, so much more, but the cold sensation of the crushed ice that had fallen into his collar combined with an initial look of horror on Cordelia’s face. The ice was an irritant, but the way she stared, as if expecting him to go straight for her throat, made him think twice about any attempt at convincing her to let him kiss her again.
A curse rattled off in his head as Angel realized he needed to leave before he made it worse on them both. This was far from over. Cordelia needed time to get used to the idea that she wanted him, while he had to come up with a way to convince her that there was nothing to fear about being together. “I’m going, but I’ll be back.”
He could try, Cordelia thought, resolved to make sure this didn’t happen again.
As Angel moved toward the door, he told her, “I brought a few of your things. They’re in the hall outside your door.”
Cordelia hadn’t expected that. “What about the rest? I should call Wes.”
“The rest stays where it is,” Angel told her firmly, still not backing down on that subject. “If you want it, you know where to find me.”
When the door closed behind him, Cordelia leaned against it, her palms flat on its painted surface, her flushed cheek resting on the back of one hand.
Wes looked up as soon as he heard the basement door open and rose to his feet, the tentative feelings of hope squashed at the dark expression on the vampire’s face as he strode through the lobby without stopping.
“C-Cordelia?” He had to ask, although he felt a surge of unexpected unease at the possible reply. Just Angel’s demeanor alone told him things obviously hadn’t gone well.
“She hasn’t changed her mind… yet,” Angel coolly replied, not breaking his stride until he reached the stairs and then took them two at a time. Pausing at the top, he looked down at Wes’ obvious distress.
“Oh dear! That’s…. what about the visions? We can’t—” Wes began to state the obvious but Angel cut in.
“Aren’t a problem. Cordy said she’d phone them in.” Sucking in a breath, he raked a hand through his hair, grimacing as the sticky strands clung to his fingers. No doubt Wes would make a point of going to see her now, and he wondered just how much she’d tell him.
Knowing Cordy as he did, Angel relaxed a little. He had no real worries on that score. As irritating and voluble as she was, he knew one thing for sure. Cordelia Chase didn’t open up about her personal life with anyone. His brief stay in Sunnydale had shown him that.
“Go home Wes,” he advised tiredly, forcing the tension from his tone. “It’s late, there’s nothing to do and I’m going to bed.”
Watched mutely as the vampire turned away and disappeared from sight, Wes slowly turned back to his desk, absently collecting his things before walking across the lobby and pulling open the main door. Reaching out to turn off the lights, he took once last look up to at the galleried landing above.
“It seems I’ll be paying Cordelia a visit after all,” he murmured before flicking the switch and pulling the door closed behind him.
“He’s an ass.” Cordy rattled cups noisily as she readied them for the pot of tea she was making, keeping her back to her friend.
“That’s a personal opinion, Cordelia, not an answer to my question.” Wes leaned back in his chair and watched as she made herself busy.
From the moment he’d arrived Wes had a bad feeling. First her muted voice as she apparently had words with her phantom, and then her calling out to ask who’d knocked her door.
As soon as he’d replied, it had swung open and he was faced with a scowling expression and annoyed hands-on-hips posture, demanding to know why he hadn’t warned her of his change of plans and Angel’s pending arrival. Her pfft at his explanation said a lot more than words, what she thought about it. When he’d dropped his head and turned to walk away, she’d then told him off for being ‘so damned touchy’ and to get his skinny ass inside.
Now they were ensconced in her kitchen, fifteen minutes had passed and still he was none the wiser about the events of Angel’s earlier visit. Her evasiveness only caused more anxiety, and left him with the distinct feeling that something unpleasant had most definitely occurred.
Cordy delayed joining him at the table for as long as she could, but at least now had what she thought was an acceptable scenario to tell him, but first a little distraction was in order.
“I was looking through my stuff after Angel left. The piddly bit he let me have, that is,” she scowled, placing the spare teapot Wes had brought round and left shortly after the explosion, plus cream, sugar, and the two cups, then sat down opposite him gesturing for Wes to pour it out. As he did so, she continued.
“Well, I thought my ‘asswipe-ex-boss’,” ignoring the frown thrown at her, “had been messing with my stuff. One of my new lipsticks was totally wrecked.” Cordy stifled a grin when Wes immediately dipped his head as he added sugar and cream to the cups.
“But, I was wrong there. I know exactly what happened to it.” Wes’ head jerked up, the flush of guilt slowly rising at the knowing eyes that met his. Leaning forward she ran a few fingers along his cheek and pulled away to show him the smear of pink across the pads.
Wes’ mouth opened to explain when she instantly raised the hand in a staying gesture. “I don’t wanna know, okay?” she replied, adding, “but don’t ever play wifey with my makeup again. Buy your own. Ah-ah,” again she quelled his words.
The flush deepened at the twinkle Wes caught in her eye and he sighed resignedly before changing the subject. “So what happened earlier to make Angel return in a pall of doom and gloom?” She liked blunt, so he took a leaf out of her book.
Cordy shifted in her seat and then described her version of events. “He told me I couldn’t quit cos I was Vision Girl, and went on about my obligations to ‘the mission’” she air quoted with a scowl. “And, yes, I know it’s all about ‘the mission’, but I didn’t quit that, Wes,” she assured him earnestly.
Nodding in understanding, Wes let out a sigh of relief. Having not been certain of that fact himself, it was good to hear it from her lips. And yet it was clear to him that Cordelia had no intention of coming back, especially after Angel confirmed that in his own delightful way. Perplexed, he listened on.
“His almighty didn’t like what I had to say,” Cordy huffed, “and got… personal about it.”
Ouch! Their little tiffs had all gotten quite nasty of late. Personal barbs and sharp tongues made standing in the crossfire an uncomfortable place to be. This was not quite the reasoning and apologetic tone Wes had hoped for when Angel told him he was going to see Cordelia. Personally, he thought Angel should have let him mediate, but on thinking of his mediating abilities right now, he wasn’t really sure he himself would have been any more successful.
“Angel mentioned that you’d be ringing in the visions for an indefinite time until he persuades you to return,” Wes told her, then wished he hadn’t when her expression immediately turned stormy.
“Oh, he did, did he?” Cordy fumed inwardly. So, Angel had convinced himself she’d fold and go running back, holding his hand with a clueless smile plastered across her face?
What the hell was he on? The idea that had formulated in her mind as he left, but had until now, hesitated to implement now seemed like the best thing to go for after all. Plus now she had an opening to ask without feeling uncomfortable doing it.
“I don’t want him coming back here, Wes.” She paused at the instant curiosity she saw in his eyes. Dammit, she hadn’t meant that to come out so desperately. “This is my decision and he’s too pushy and determined to have his own way to let me have mine. His attitude is just getting worse and I don’t want it focused on me.”
Although frowning at Cordy’s accusation, Wes silently agreed Angel’s behavior yesterday had been somewhat unpleasant. In fact, he’d been horrified by the venom expressed. And it if were true his behavior earlier had been much worse, then he could honestly understand Cordelia’s reluctance to have him bringing it to her home.
She leaned forward, her voice earnest and her eyes deadly serious. “I want you to do the anti-invite spell for me.”
“Don’t you think that is going a little too far?” Wes baulked at such a measure; mainly because he knew that his involvement in it would definitely bite him on the arse at a later date. He gulped at the thought of Angel, the vampire in question, finding his next visit less than welcoming.
“No, Wes, I’d feel safer if you did it. Dennis threw something at Angel earlier ‘cos he felt I was being threatened. Didn’t you, Dennis?” she called out to the room in general, and Wes’ cup rattled in response.
The concern for his own health instantly melted away and was quickly replaced with Cordelia’s. There was no attempt made on her part to mask the unease she obviously felt regarding a vampire who, up until lately had, in his eyes, a place close to his undead heart for her.
“Very well,” he agreed promptly, finishing his tea and rising to his feet. “I’ll need to collect the herbs required first, but that shouldn’t take too long.” He shrugged on his jacket and walked out of the kitchen.
Cordy took a deep, shaky breath as it finally sank in just what measures she was willing to take to keep Angel as far away as was possible. With the imprint of his hands and mouth still tingling her skin and remembering his impassioned words, the belief that it was what he wanted without thinking of the consequences, he’d left her no choice.
Warm night air ruffled the spiky strands of his hair as Angel drove the Plymouth around town, cruising the streets in search of trouble and finding none save the constant stream of traffic. He couldn’t get Cordelia off his mind. The short nap he’d taken upon getting home only made things worse as it picked up exactly where their kiss left off, nor did another turn in the training room help ease the tension that kept him so on edge.
This was typical Cordy behavior that ate away every scrap of patience he had. It was all too clear that she wasn’t going change her mind about leaving. Certainly not overnight. She was just stubborn enough to hold a grudge, for some reason he still couldn’t figure out, and would probably put herself in some kind of danger in the process. There might be a vision, one of the violent ones where her body flailed out of control, and the only one there would be Dennis.
Angel’s hands gripped the steering wheel at the thought of the phantom menace watching her at all hours of the day or night. He was there when she slept, when she undressed and bathed; a silent witness to her most intimate moments. When Dennis dumped the iced tea on them— mainly him— it was proof of the ghost’s obvious jealousy.
Though the sight of him kissing Cordy was just something Dennis would just have to get used to. That was something he planned to repeat soon, and often. When Cordelia came to her senses and understood that things could be perfect between them, she’d give into the desire that swelled between them. He’d given her just a taste of it before the untimely interruption.
A loud honk jerked Angel out of his thoughts as he realized he was holding up the long line of traffic. Stepping on the gas, he pulled ahead and maneuvered the car along the busy street. Though he had no real destination, he simply felt the need to be out and moving. Just his luck, the next light turned red and he braked to a stop, muttering a curse.
Waiting for the light to change, Angel’s attention wandered again. This time there was a cold sensation that kept him alert rather than focused on recent memories. A familiar laugh sounded on the breeze causing Angel to whip his head to the left. There in the passenger seat of the new silver Mercedes idling next to him was a blonde woman with an unmistakable profile.
“Darla!” The name was on his lips before he knew he’d spoken it, shock at seeing her ringing in his voice.
After a pause, she turned his way, but stared blankly. There was no recognition in her eyes. Angel shifted the car into park and reached for the door handle. He had no idea how it was possible for Darla to be here, but he was going to find out. As he moved to open the door, she looked almost frightened, turning to speak to the dark-haired man behind the wheel.
Angel was halfway out of the car when the Mercedes took off, speeding through the red light and the cross-traffic. Tires screeched and horns honked followed by the immediate crash of metal on metal. Steam billowed into the air from the two cars that swerved to avoid the silver Mercedes only to crash into each other.
Though he leaped back behind the wheel and quickly shifted gears, Angel found himself stuck behind the pile-up as the traffic backed up right to left too close to allow him to maneuver through it. He watched through the windshield as Darla’s car disappeared into the night.