Their system was down pat: Buffy washed, Willow dried and Cordelia put the dishes away. She was the most familiar with where everything belonged. Only the fact that Willow’s constant presence kept her from having a necessary talk with Buffy made it frustrating. They both needed to get this out of the way. The longer it was delayed, the more frustrating it got.
Blurting out what she really wanted to say was on a five second countdown. Angel had asked her not to push it when she said that Buffy was going to hear about it. Being pissed off that her ex was dating someone else was understandable, but trying to injure him out of pure spite was another. Five seconds—that was about as tactful as Cordelia could be.
Buffy, decked out in rubber gloves, was scrubbing hard at the bottom of the frying pan where Xander’s cooking efforts had created a dark crusty mantle. She tackled it like it was any other demon. It was the last thing left to clean. “There won’t be any supposedly non-stick surface left after this.”
“It’s not like Xander knows how to cook,” Willow defended him by reminding that he had volunteered for the job. “And we did say that we’d help with clean up.”
“Yeah,” Cordelia let out a little snort. “He ran out of here fast enough.”
The vigorous pan scrubbing stopped long enough for Buffy to glare in her direction. “And why do you think that is?”
“Xander has a severe allergy to cleaning up? One look at his bedroom will tell you that. Not that I blame him.” Cordelia propped a hand on her hip and leaned against the counter. “Next time, the guys take their turn.”
Willow added, “And Faith,” not forgetting that the other Slayer had gotten out of this job because it was her turn to patrol the grounds.
Angel had taken both Watchers to another part of the mansion to discuss a potential vulnerability in their overall defensive strategy. He had definite ideas and was not the least hesitant in conveying them. In fact, Cordelia thought his take-charge attitude was kind of a turn on. But then, lately, anything about Angel was sexy.
Normally, he would have let the others take the lead in the decision-making and just go along with the plan. He would be there to help them, but not do anything that would steal Buffy’s thunder, heaven forbid. That had all changed since they started teaming up as if Angel suddenly realized he was free of that leash that tied him down, held him back.
She had always known Angel was hot. Pure aesthetic value alone was sky high. He was definitely more than just eye candy, though. Cordelia sensed she was just scratching that broody surface and wondered what it would be like to bring Angel out of that shell a little more. God, if today’s totally hot quickie was any indication it was going to be hard—really hard, she smirked inwardly—to keep their hands off each other in public.
But then, it was not so much their hands that Cordelia worried about. Even now, she felt excited, her body tingling and warm. Pushing aside any guilt that lingered over thinking about sex with Angel instead of mourning Bev, she told herself it was what her grandmother would want anyway. She would be the first to tell her to live her life, to take as much as she could from it, and be with the man she loved.
It would have been interesting to see Bev’s reaction if she had discovered that Angel was a vampire. Cordelia had been determined to protect her from the truth, but the truth just had a way of coming out here in Sunnydale. Knowing Bev, she would have treated Angel like anyone else she cared about. The thought of her grandmother’s capacity for love—not to mention taking in stray relatives—still surprised her especially since Bev had pointed out that they had so much in common.
Thinking about it distracted her from Angel’s entry into the kitchen. Normally, Cordy would have noticed the moment he walked into the room. Buffy noticed first. Either her Slayer or ex-boyfriend senses alerted her to Angel’s presence. She met his gaze, nudged Willow with an elbow, who got the hint by putting on a too-bright smile.
“Hi, Angel,” she waved her damp dishrag by way of greeting. Cordelia noticed that he was looking past Willow to her. “We’re almost done here. Everything’s clean and shiny—except for the frying pan.”
Angel might have heard Willow muttering about Xander’s valiant efforts to cook for them, but Cordelia knew his thoughts were all on her. She could see it in the subtle tension in his shoulders and the stark look that spoke volumes. Keeping his distance, Angel still managed to renew that tingling desire she felt deep down. One sweep of his eyes across her mouth caused her lips to part. The intent stare left her trembling at the thought of bedtime and the fact that it was still hours away. She wondered what Buffy and Willow would do if she jumped him right here and now.
Cordelia grinned at the thought and for a second, Angel was equally distracted by whatever signals her body was giving him. He shifted around nervously as he stood in the doorway, rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and looked like he found it hard to remember why he was there.
Finally, it came to him. “Done? Willow, yes, good, we need your help with a spell.”
“A spell?” Willow tossed the dishrag aside practically bouncing her way toward the door. “What kind of spell? I have ideas. Lots of ideas.”
Before turning to leave, Angel looked back at Cordelia one more time the barest hint of a smile on his face. Willow’s incessant questions about what they had planned could be heard all the way down the hall. Cordelia had to laugh at her enthusiasm. “Eager much?”
Buffy let the frying pan sink back into the now-grey depths of the dishwater. “Willow just wants to help. We’re all here to help.”
The tone made it clear Buffy would not be here if she felt she had a choice. Propping her gloved hands on the edge of the metal sink, she stared down into the cloudy water as if looking for something else to say. Cordelia snagged the opportunity to get back on track. She was five seconds away from letting Buffy have it before getting distracted.
Without Willow or Angel around, it did not even take that long. “Maybe if you’d just do your job and track down the demon that killed Bev you wouldn’t have to be here.”
“Don’t go there,” Buffy’s jaw clenched. She turned to face her, one hand still on the sink, the other now dripping water on the floor, unnoticed by either of them. “I’ll do what it takes. I’m sorry about your grandmother, but you know this is the last place I want to be right now.”
“That doesn’t give you the excuse to take it out on Angel,” she snapped back coolly. “That stunt you pulled earlier nearly left him a crispy critter.”
Buffy looked guilty about it for a fraction of a second. “I warned him to get out of the way.”
“Not fast enough.”
It was clear that Buffy thought Cordelia had stolen Angel away from her despite the fact that the Slayer had been the one to call it off between them. Not to mention that she was also the one to throw them together on patrol night after night. Now Buffy had the gall to be snippy about it.
So maybe she would mention it. “We’re together because of you. It was your idea to have us do the Team Chase thing. Two hotties stuck together on patrol—you get it.”
By the pinched, red look on her face she certainly did. “Angel thought you were just a spoiled bitch.”
“He was supposed to make you see sense and make you quit,” Buffy admitted the fact as she pointed a drippy gloved finger toward her. “But you’re too stubborn for that. Or you just decided it was a good time to get your hooks into Angel.”
Cordelia knew it was dangerous to rile up someone who could break her in half if she put her strength into it, but at this point she didn’t care. Ignoring the rudeness of the pointy finger, she stepped forward, using her height to give her the tiniest advantage over Buffy’s natural intimidation factor. Well she could be damn intimidating, too, when necessary.
“Why would I want to spend time with a Slayer-whipped vampire? Angel wasn’t even on my radar back then. It just took a while to see that he wasn’t quite the lapdog I thought he’d become.” Cordelia watched Buffy go a shade paler.
“Am I supposed to like the fact that you’re with Angel now,” Buffy’s hazel eyes were pinpoints of anger glaring through narrowed lids. Sarcasm dripped thickly, “Fine. I really love it that you can be with him when I can’t. You’ve got what you always wanted.”
“Yeah, guess I do.” Cordelia quickly agreed. It might not have been intentional to fall in love with Angel, but it felt good to say it. “Angel finally took the blinders off, Buffy. He loves me now, so I suggest that you just back off. Now that we’ve discovered the truth about the curse there’s nothing to hold us back.”
Buffy squirmed visibly, her grip on the sink making squeaky rubber noises as it tightened. Any final doubts she had about Angel and Cordelia having had sex were about to be cleared up. It hurt like hell to ask, but Buffy needed to know. “Are you really sure about the curse thing?”
With her usual no-holds-barred policy, Cordelia gave her a smug smile. “We’ve field tested the permanent soul a few times if that’s what you’re getting at. Total bliss was had, so don’t even try to suggest otherwise.”
The pain on Buffy’s face was obvious making Cordy the tiniest bit aware that it might not have been necessary to wipe her nose in it quite so hard. There was no response so she reminded her, “Even you should be happy that Angelus is no longer an issue.”
Not that it really made up for Cordelia getting Angel, but it was better than nothing. Buffy did concede that point. “It’s a relief.”
That was something, she supposed, but this little chat was not exactly going to make the hurt feelings go away. Cordelia figured she could deal with it, but wanted Buffy to be clear that she was not going to put up with her getting nostalgic about the Buffy and Angel Show. “That’s over now.”
Buffy snapped, “You can’t control what Angel feels.”
“Hello! My point exactly.”
“I’ll deal,” Buffy let out a grunt of discontent, “but I’ve been served enough helpings of bitch today. I’ve heard enough.”
Cordelia raised a brow. Was that actually a white flag of truce or just a brief pause to gather up steam for another confrontation? “Fine with me. Topic closed. Now are you ever going to finish with that frying pan? There are so many other things I’d rather be doing.”
The sudden sound of Xander’s voice echoed back to the kitchen, “Yo! Dead Boy. Get out here. Drusilla wants to see you.”
Dru was here? Cordelia watched wide-eyed as Buffy instantly went into Slayer mode. She whipped out Mr. Pointy from its belted spot behind her back and darted out the door.
Arm outstretched, Cordelia called out to warn her. “Buffy, wait!” Too late. There was no stopping her now.