The pillow was soft beneath her cheek, and for a moment Cordy wondered how she’d got home. Taking a deep breath and settling deeper into the mattress, she decided to think about the How’s later… but the deep breath drew unfamiliar scents into her lungs.
No… not unfamiliar- just not hers. This wasn’t her bed. Sleep fled and she bolted upright, her eyes flying open and shooting around in panic in the dim room she was now in.
“Why am I here?” the question shot out of her mouth as soon as her anxious gaze rested on the dark figure lounging in the chair pulled up next to the bed. God! This was all she needed right now.
Before the vampire could reply, the brunette was already rolling over and climbing off his bed. As soon as her bare feet touched the floor, she was off, running towards the French doors. This hadn’t been how he’d planned it. He rose lithely to his feet and stalked after her.
“Let go. NOW” being grabbed by her arm and yanked around wasn’t totally unexpected, but Cordy had hoped he wouldn’t go there. She glared up into his face, pulling at her captured arm, but he refused to loosen his grip.
“I mean it, Angel.” She warned, then her eyes widened and he watched almost dispassionately as a tinge of fear, and something else touched the anger already flaming in those honeyed orbs. “Not again,” the words almost whispered, and they acted as a trigger, his fingers flexing before jerking away as if scalded.
“What? – NO!” Angel raked a hand through his already tousled hair; a testament to the many times he’d done it whilst she’d slept. “That isn’t why I- hey!” he reached out again as she wavered, relaxed a little and then turned to go once more. “I’m not done yet,” his voice a low growl.
Cordelia swallowed tightly, her body as tense as a bow. “Well, I am.” Angel’s eyes narrowed at the finality of those words and instinctively he stepped back, pulling her further into the room. She struggled against his grip briefly before hmphing and instead holding her spine rigid, her gaze refusing to meet his as she looked past his right ear.
“We need to talk; we can’t go on like this-” for once her raised brow irritated rather than amused.
“Like what?” Cordy’s mouth set into a thin, stubborn line. No way was she making this easy for the bastard. Angel resisted the urge to shake her. Somehow he didn’t think that would help his cause- but then again, would anything he did really make a difference to what was already one big, fucking mess?
He took a deep breath and then released her to slide past her taut body and close the French doors firmly, then stood with his back to them and folded his powerful arms.
Cordy stared from him to the door, and then took a few steps back, imitating his stance and tilting her chin. When she thought the silence couldn’t get any worse, he spoke.
“Since I came back, I’ve been trying everything to get back what I lost-“
“You didn’t lose us, Angel- you threw us out, remember?” His jaw tightened and she could hear his teeth grind together for a moment.
“As I was saying, I have tried to make amends,” he continued doggedly, his darkening eyes flickered from her face to her body with an unreadable expression. “But you’ve been riding me from the moment I walked back in.” rough fingers raked through dark hair before he pinned her gaze with his own.
“I get that you were pissed- but so were the others,” Angel reminded her, and a small gasp left her mouth. “Okay, fair enough; we’ve known each other longer.” He added huskily
Cordy stepped forward until mere inches stood between then and poked him hard in the forearm. “It isn’t just a case of length here, Angel- I’m your frikken link to the PTB.” Her voice shook and for a moment she stopped and swallowed. Angel remained silent and still. “You didn’t just toss me to the curb, you also left us- humans to fight your mission!” abruptly she moved away and turned her back on him, then spun back around to face him again.
“I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that we weren’t killed- though that nearly changed,” her voice had leveled out, but the vampire knew rage still simmered under the surface.
“I stopped that happening,” Angel defended himself, then groaned inwardly. Even to his own ears that had sounded pompous and arrogant. Cordy looked long and hard at him and his own gaze faltered.
“Yeah, thanks for that. Pity you couldn’t have stopped that bullet tearing into Wes’ gut, too,” she folded her arms, glaring at his guilt-stricken face, almost willing him to lift his eyes and look at her. It didn’t happen. Suddenly, she was tired. Same old, same old.
“We’ve been over this too many times to count, Angel, and I’m sick of sounding like a broken record. That,” she waved a hand around vaguely, “has nothing to do with why I want to be *not* in here with you.” His eyes finally lifted, and for the first time she saw a glint that had been missing since she’d woken up.
“It has a lot to do with it, Cor.” He argued, his voice low but rich with feeling. ” ‘That’ is why we’re here now,” Cordy shook her head instantly even as she inwardly agreed to what he was saying.
“No; we’re here now because you crossed the line the other night,” it was out between them and a part of her wished it wasn’t. She doubted she was up to that particular conversation whilst emotions were still so raw and uncertain. Her chin lifted. “I came back because, unlike some, the Mission means something to me- I want to forget what happened and move on-” he was in her face in a second and the rest of her words dried up.
“Tell me you can forget it and then we’ll move on,” Angel’s whispered words slid down her spine like a forbidden caress and Cordy flinched visibly. Angel’s eyes noted her reaction and narrowed knowingly. “Tell me,” his voice lowered even more, and she felt as if he’d moved impossibly closer, even though his large body was completely still.
“I can forget it-” her hand moved up between them and pressed against his hard chest when he finally did move, keeping that small, safe gap between them. She could feel the play of his muscles under her palm and her fingers unconsciously flexed against his shirt. “But, if you won’t let me, then I’ll *have* to move on,” swallowing tightly, “away from LA; away from you,” she ended with a catch in her throat.
Hard hands reached up and caught her upper arms; a low growl worked its way though his chest, vibrating along her hand. “You know I won’t let you do that, Cordelia.” Even tone, yet threat threaded through leaving her in no doubt that he meant every word. She gazed into unfathomable eyes for a long moment. Instinct told her to refute him, but couldn’t. Mainly because she doubted she’d be able to follow through and walk away. This wasn’t just about her confused feelings over the vampire; she had the others to consider- the visions. Cordy knew from experience that they weren’t going anywhere, Champion or not. “Then let me forget, and I won’t.” Angel released her abruptly and moved away.
“I can’t do that.”
“Why? Why is it so difficult?” Frustration tinged her voice, even as her inner self laughed mockingly; she knew exactly why. But they needed to get past this. *She* needed to; her feelings were too confused and torn right now.
Angel turned to face her. “Maybe because I don’t want you to forget,” he replied baldly, and she gasped aloud. With an unreadable expression on her face, Cordy made once more for the door. Again he stopped her.
“I need to get out of here, Angel,” she literally pleaded. He ignored her and pulled her closer. “This conversation is over.”
“What will it take for you to understand, huh?” Angel shook his dark head, his eyes almost wild with too many emotions. “I want it back the way it used to be- and…” Angel paused and pulled her an inch closer, “I want more.” Cordy shuddered, her mouth parting. “I want everything, Cor.” His cool lips feathered along her cheek and she jerked her head back, sucking in her lower lip and biting down on it fretfully.
“More?” she whispered softly, but something in her voice made his head pull back a little. “Angel… you almost raped me the other night! – Is that what you mean by more?” his turn to gasp. But his grip remained firm.
“I-I lost it, yeah; I admit that,” his mouth tightened and he swallowed hard, then his head dipped until their foreheads touched. “But tell me you didn’t want it, Cor,” his demon smiled within when her eyes flickered and dropped from his. Taking a deep breath, Cordy lifted her lashes and locked eyes with him.
“Yes, I wanted, I admit it – but not like that. You weren’t asking, Angel- just taking in anger; yes, dammit!” at the automatic shake of his head. “You were mad, and you were using that emotion to punish me; I don’t want what you had with-with Darla.” She found herself released and pushed away. Her back hit the French doors, not hard, but enough to make her suck in a breath.
“Don’t go there,” his voice cracked like a whip. “Don’t ever compare what we have to her,” his eyes burned into her and normally Cordy would have backed down; she’d known him long enough to know when to retreat, but anger ruled common sense right at this moment.
“What we have?” eyes widening incredulously. “We *have* nothing, Angel! I don’t know where your twisted brain is right now, but let’s get this straight -” she stalked up to him, got into his glowering face. “There is *nothing* between us.”
They faced off like enemies at the onset of battle. Angel panted unnecessarily, fighting with the desire to prove the little spitfire wrong- but if he did, they’d be back to square one. The tiny shred of rational thought that remained attempted to find a middle ground.
Should he just let her win? Give her what she says she wants? Look for a compromise…? But Angel knew there was no room for compromise right now- for either of them. She was too angry, and he was too needy.
Cordy took a deep breath and stepped back. Her turn to run stressed hands through mussed hair. Looking at the floor between them for several seconds, she gathered her thoughts into some kind of order. She didn’t need to be a shrink to know Angel’s head was in a bad place, and she, unfortunately pushed his buttons far too accurately, the other night being a perfect example. She needed to calm down and take a step back.
Lifting her head to catch his gaze, she found he was already staring somberly at her. “Look, Angel,” she paused and then drew herself up. “We have been at each other for weeks now…” a wry grin touched her mouth for a fleeting second. “Well, me more than you, I admit it.” Her face reflected her conflicting emotions and Angel’s dark eyes roved restlessly before catching her gaze one more.
“You talk about things I can’t even contemplate right now- and, hello? What happened there, huh?” She injected a light tone even as her brow lifted in confusion as it finally sunk in how his feelings for her had seemed to change since they’d reformed AI.
“Here’s the thing… we need to work on being friends again, you know?” Angel shifted irritably. Did he really want to listen to her pushing his feelings aside? This was the big letdown, and irritation grew until he folded his arms and turned to pace around the room; it didn’t help, and he ended up back in front of her, his face one big scowl. “Just let me get this out there, okay?” Cordy frowned up at him, her earlier fear receding a little at the little boy face staring petulantly down at her.
“We didn’t have this big forever love kinda thing going- we got to know each other, and then, I like to think, we ended up best friends. Then…” Cordy looked down briefly and blew out a breath. “Okay, I need to lay off the bitch- and I will, but…” she glanced back up: yup, still petulant. “I’ll stop ‘riding’ you, as you so nicely put it- but those fences need fixing before I can even think of you as-as…more.” she finished, a little breathless.
Silence dropped again like a suffocating blanket and after several long seconds, Cordy shrugged. “You gonna say anything, or just stand there like pouty-boy for the next century?” she smiled tentatively up at him, but it faded as the pouting melted to be replaced with an emotion she couldn’t decipher
Angel stared into her earnest face looking for deception. Was she just placating him to get out of there- away from him? Once she left the hotel, what would stop her from keeping on walking? But she did say she was open for…. more. He decided to test that openness. “So, you’re saying that if we work on our friendship, we can move on from there?” Cordy’s eyes flickered for a second and his spine tensed.
Oh God. Right now, Cordy had no idea of her real feelings about anything concerning the dark vampire standing inches from her- and he wanted assurances? Angel saw her hesitation.
“You’re asking me now?” a small chuckle slipped from her mouth, but it sounded false to his sharp ears. Placating. An almost indistinct growl formed in his chest. “Jeeze, Angel, we need to take one step at a time, don’t you think?” Cordy stepped back almost imperceptibly and his eyes narrowed
“Baby steps?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah! Yeah… baby steps,” she risked lifting a hand and tentatively touched his chest. His hand immediately rose and covered it, and she couldn’t help but tense.
“I don’t know about that, Cor,” something in his quiet voice sent a tingle of alarm through her. “I’m thinking we got way past those the other night,” he literally purred and the alarm bells rang shrilly in her ears. She tugged at her hand, but Angel pressed it more firmly against his chest.
“The only step we took the other night was a giant leap to ground zero.” the bite slipped out as frustration and panic rapidly grew. As his face darkened, Cordy attempted to soften her words “Angel, we talked about this; can you work with me here?”
“No, *you* talked; doesn’t mean I agreed.” he returned softly. “Stop playing me, Cordelia, I’m not one of those little saps that follow you around, sniffing at your skirt, and whimpering when you slap them away.” Cordy gasped, stung by his accusation and his insult.
“Between the two of us, Angel, there is only one player here and it isn’t me.” she replied, a hint of sharp in her voice. Then she sighed heavily and moved nearer. “You have to give for me to take, don’t you get that?” Reaching up, she cupped the side of his face. “Come on, Angel, you have to trust me.”
Angel pressed his cheek into her palm for a second, closing his eyes briefly before pinning her with a sharp gaze. “If you want me to trust you, give me a reason” Cordy stared up at him at a loss. What the hell did he want from her?
He needed something… something from her to ease the fear in his soul. How could he believe she wanted to make it work when it seemed she couldn’t bear to be in the same room with him?
Surprising them both, Cordy suddenly rose on her toes and pressed her mouth lightly against his, pulling away before he had time to respond. It was the last thing she wanted to do right now, but deep inside, she felt it would say more than words ever could. Angel froze for a second; completely shocked that Cordy voluntarily kissed him. He hadn’t expected that. His mouth still tingled from the contact, the warmth lingering. Her small hand felt like a hot brand on his chest and his cool body devoured the sensation
The fact that Cordy had pushed aside her fears and touched him, touched his soul too, and he could feel the darkness slowly recede. He realized abruptly that he would do anything to ensure that she didn’t leave him; including trusting her to stay- which meant letting her out of the room and getting on with whatever it took to get to a place where he could feel those tempting lips on his again… and again
Baby steps…” his hand rose absently towards her face, fingers brushing tenderly against her lips, and then he stepped back. “It’s getting late. I’ll drop you home.” Slipping around her, Angel opened the French doors and disappeared into the living area.
Cordy’s whole body sagged with relief for a second, before straightening up and turning to follow him. Hope flared in her heart; maybe they could look beyond friendship once that was repaired. Her lips had tingled against his and she’d felt a moment of clarity. The need to flee had been wiped away by that one gentle touch.
It had felt…right. Cordy smiled then; one of relief and anticipation. The future suddenly looked good- for the both of them.
“Baby steps …” the smile widened, catching his dark eyes briefly as she walked ahead of him out of his suite.
Angel paused and watched as she walked jauntily down the dim corridor, and then a faint, hopeful smile crept onto his mouth, closing the door behind him and quickly catching up.