Every faint sound from upstairs drew their attention. Anxiously, they listened for a hint of an argument, a sign that the insanity that they had just witness was never going to repeat itself. Only the faint sound of mumbling broke the silence, and that was theirs. There was no screaming, or shouting, no breaking furniture, or even, unthinkably, the rhythmic squeaking of a mattress.
Except that wasn’t quite as unthinkable as one might think…or, um, not think, Willow admitted to herself considering what she’d seen through the keyhole of Angel’s study.
Obviously, that had not been a first-time smooch session. Cordelia and Angel had been dating right under Buffy’s nose. Willow saw that her friend’s lips were drawn into a thin line, her face pale as she focused her attention above. Every now and then, they could hear something that sounded like a voice, but the old mansion’s thick walls muffled almost everything much to her frustration.
Willow was not the only frustrated eavesdropper. Scowling in the direction of the stairs, Xander muttered under his breath, “What are they still doing up there?”
Her green eyes flitted in that direction. “Umm…”
That was an interesting question. If Cordelia’s attitude were any indicator, she would guess that they were arguing. Angel had looked kinda determined to make her take back what she had said about them breaking up. He was not exactly the type to sit around to talk things over.
Nope, Angel was definitely an action-oriented kind of guy. Speaking of action, now that Willow knew that Cordelia & Angel were an item, it made perfect sense to her. The little looks, Angel’s reaction when she had been hurt or kidnapped, the way Cordelia could get him to do anything, all added up. Two plus two definitely equaled four.
“What do you think?” snapped Buffy now glassy-eyed with tears. “Your girlfriend’s got her claws into Angel. He felt sorry for her, that’s all.”
“Hah! Dead Boy couldn’t wait to take advantage of Cor’s misery,” Xander countered just as quickly. “Her grandma just died for cripes sake.”
Shrinking back as Buffy and Xander stood in a furious face-off, Willow suddenly recalled that old saying— about the rock and the hard place and being stuck in between. Ground zero was not exactly a comfy place to be.
Buffy huffed, “Like that would stop her?” cheeks blotching with patches of red.
“Don’t blame Cordelia if your undead boyfriend can’t keep his hands to himself,” he protested. “She’s not like that. You don’t know what it takes for a guy to get into her panties.”
Making a face, Willow let out an, “Eew,” which went unnoticed by both of her friends. The subject of Xander trying to get into Cordelia’s panties was too much information. Not that he had succeeded since she had admitted to being a virgin.
A random spurt of silly satisfaction hit Willow at the thought that she had been one up on her childhood nemesis. Of course that meant they now had something in common in a very weird sort of way, her first time being with wolfy Oz and Cor’s with vampy Angel. Although that meant Cor had the exact same thing in common with Buffy, and so Willow figured it would not be a good idea to point that out.
“This is Cordelia Chase we’re talking about,” Buffy planted her hands on her hips, “self-proclaimed Boy Slayer. Maybe she got knocked down a peg or two after you two started dating, but you don’t get to be Head Bitch of Sunnydale High without knowing how to twist guys around your little finger.”
Xander actually looked insulted by that. The hurt pout appeared and then disappeared quickly. “You’re not being fair. Buffy, you know what he’s like: evil at the core. I’d think you’d be glad to be rid of the bastard.”
“Do you really want him back, Buffy?” Willow finally cut in. Her query forced a pause in the argument, both of them staring first at her and then at each other.
Finally dropping her gaze to the floor, Buffy seemed undecided. Then her head snapped toward the staircase as if she had heard something they could not. “I—I don’t know,” shrugging almost imperceptibly.
Willow’s eyes widened as they followed Buffy’s gaze. Were Cordelia and Angel still arguing? It seemed awfully quiet up there to her. If Slayer hearing was any better than normal humans, she wondered exactly what Buffy could detect.
“When Angel came back from hell you said—”
“I didn’t know about his soul being safe,” Buffy cut her off. “I didn’t know. Somehow, he just seemed different, but I thought it was me. We couldn’t…I couldn’t do that to myself again. All of this time we could have been together, but I—I pushed him away.”
Inching closer, Willow tried to reach out to her, but Buffy deliberately stalked out of touching distance. She hated to see her friend heartbroken, but Angel had seemed pretty certain that he was not going to pick up where they left off. If Buffy had given him a chance when he returned to Sunnydale, Angel would have jumped at it.
It was only natural that she looked at this a little more objectively than either one of her friends. “Technically, Cordelia and Angel are your exes. Think about it for a minute. They’re not your current girlfriend or boyfriend. Can’t they date anyone they want?”
Buffy gaped “No!” as if Angel was supposed to go dateless for the rest of his very long existence.
“Not each other,” Xander glared toward the upstairs again. “It’s too quiet. Maybe he got fed up with her yelling and—” He stopped, eyes widening, and then took off across the foyer.
Dashing after him, Willow caught up with him half a step after Buffy who grabbed his arm and whirled him around. Demanding, “Where are you going?”
A wild guess told Willow that Xander was afraid for Cordelia. After the protective vibes Angel had been giving off lately, that was one thing they didn’t need to worry about. Besides, she was pretty certain, “Angel wouldn’t bite Cordelia.”
“Maybe not,” he agreed a little too quickly to suggest that she was right, “but Cor tends to keep on arguing until she gets…”
Willow and Buffy shared a shrug. “What?”
“Um,” Xander looked rather uncomfortable admitting it. “It’s kind of a turn-on. For a vampire, it’s probably like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
“Oh, like the study. I could only see a tiny bit through the keyhole, but wow they were…,” Willow gulped at the devastation on Buffy’s face. She chirped, “Or not. It’s not at all like that. Maybe it was just something in my eye. I didn’t mean to suggest that— hey, where are you going? The stairs— no…”
This time it was Xander holding Buffy back. “Don’t let it get to you, Buffster. It’s Angel’s fault.” From his tone, it was clear that he blamed Angel for everything. “What was he doing that with Cordelia if he didn’t know about his soul?”
When Buffy sank down onto one of the bottom steps, Willow followed along. She was close enough to hear the softly whispered, “It’s not his fault. It’s mine.” Her golden hair shrouded her face in shadows as Buffy’s head dipped low. “I did this. I made them patrol together.”
“It’s no one’s fault,” Willow assured her though she could recall that Buffy was up to something when she assigned Cordy and Angel to team up. Guess they teamed up a little more than Buffy intended.
“Nobody can control who they love,” she commented randomly. “I mean, I suppose they’re in love. I’m sure it wasn’t just pity sex, but if it was maybe Angel was just trying to be nice and make her feel better.” Then she paused for half a breath. “Of course, they might just be doing it because they’re both kind of hot, but— you don’t want to hear that, do you?”
Willow came out of her own little thoughtful fog to find Buffy and Xander glaring at her again. Oops! It was back to that rocky hard spot again. “Am I babbling? I think I might be babbling.”
“Trying to be nice?” Icy shivers crept along her spine at Buffy’s cold tone.
“Anyone else would send a Hallmark card,” Xander sneered, “but no— Dead Boy has to get creative with the move making.”
Feeling awkward and sorry for them both, Willow focused on the positives. Even they would not be able to deny the truth. “Gotta look on the bright side. No more Angelus.” Trying to sound perky about it did not seem to be making any headway with either of them.
After a long pause, Xander finally let out a grunt of agreement. “Not gonna miss that guy.”
Willow gave herself points for progress. Now for a little extra credit, “I suppose this lets Cordelia off the hook, too.”
“What hook?” Buffy asked, her eyes narrowing.
“The prophecy hook. Kinda hard to be a virgin sacrifice when you’re not a virgin,” Willow explained her logic.
Buffy unfolded her petite frame from her sitting position to walk back toward the center of the room. Clasping her crossed arms in a self-hugging motion, she sent Willow a rueful look. “Can we not talk about this anymore tonight? It’s late. We’ve got a lot to deal with tomorrow.”
When Buffy’s gaze strayed back upstairs, Willow suggested, “Maybe we should go home.”
“No way,” Xander headed back to his sleeping bag and sat down on top of it as if staking his spot for the night. “I’m not going anywhere until Cordelia comes down here and tells me she’s okay with this.”
Despite pointing out that neither Angel nor Cordelia were likely to come out of the bedroom anytime soon, Willow could not change their mind. “We’re still here for a reason,” Buffy reminded them. “There’s a demon out there who’s got no idea that Cordelia isn’t as ‘pure’ as she was a few hours ago. It may come after her again.”
According to Giles’ research, crosathnam demons were primarily nocturnal. While they could move around in the daytime, it affected their natural tracking abilities. “Whether I like it or not, I’ve got to stick around,” added Buffy somewhat bitterly.
She was still the Slayer. One of them, Willow corrected herself. With Faith in jail for murdering Cordelia’s grandmother, things were going to get even stickier around here. There were trials and publicity and jail sentences and lethal injection in their future unless Faith managed to escape or Giles and the Watcher’s Council pulled off a miracle.
Willow shuddered at the thought, but it made her consider the fact that Angel and Cordelia being in love was hardly their biggest problem. Though telling Buffy and Xander to mind their own business was definitely hers. Honestly, Willow was not that concerned about Xander. He might be a little jealous over the fact that his ex had moved on, but he did not seem to be crushed by it.
As long as Xander did not do anything stupid— like confronting Angel, then he would be okay. It was Buffy she worried about the most.
Buffy put on a brave face that did not fool anyone. Willow only hoped they would not have a repeat of the last time Buffy lost Angel. She had abandoned Sunnydale leaving her family, her friends and her role as the Slayer behind her. Willow found it hard to imagine what she had gone through after killing Angel to save the world from being sucked into hell.
They had talked about it when Xander was not around. She knew that Buffy thought of Angel as a soul mate; tied to her in some cosmic way whether or not they could be together. She had given him up when he returned to Sunnydale because it was too dangerous and had confided to Willow that she could not make it through a repeat of the tragedy that was their love.
Now that Buffy did not have to worry about Angelus, Willow wondered if she was simply going to accept Angel’s new relationship without a fight.