SEASON of SOLACE
21: The Summers' House, 1630 Revello Drive, Central Sunnydale
The sun shone through the kitchen window scattering dappled light across the countertop and chrome fixtures. Its cheery glow seemed quite inappropriate considering the gloomy nature of the headlines causing Joyce Summers to sigh deeply as she read the details of the top story in the Sunnydale Press.
“Morning,” Buffy greeted somewhat glumly heading straight for the cabinet to pull down a bowl and a box of Wheaties.
Joyce wondered if her daughter already knew about the tragedy. The tone in her voice suggested that there was something bothering her. Though it had been a few months since Buffy’s return, they were still patching their relationship back together. It wasn’t always easy to correctly guess her moods.
“Buffy, there’s been a horrible accident. Some students from your class were involved,” she paused, waiting for some reaction.
It came almost immediately and sounded rather detached. “I already know, Mom. Tony Smithson died. There was a fire.”
Buffy poured the cereal into the bowl, put the box away and opened up the fridge to get the milk. “I could make you something if you prefer,” offered Joyce. “What about pancakes?”
That got her a smile. “No thanks. I’ve gotta jam.”
“It’s Saturday morning,” Joyce reminded her while taking in the fact that Buffy was already dressed for the day. Glancing at her watch, she added, “You’re up a little early for a weekend.”
“So are you.”
Joyce planned on conducting an inventory of the gallery today. She’d been hoping Buffy might come with her. There were times she still felt nervous about letting her out of her sight. This article just brought it all back and the thought of losing her child gripped her heart with fear.
Walking over, Joyce put an arm around her daughter’s shoulder and placed a kiss on her head. “I love you, honey.”
“I love you too, Mom,” came the automatic response. Buffy sent her a strange look as if questioning the need for the declaration. She sat down on a stool and started to eat her cereal.
“Just promise me that you’ll be careful out there. The police don’t know who is responsible for the fire,” Joyce missed Buffy’s expression as she trailed a finger under a line of newspaper text. “Witnesses say that Tony spontaneously burst into flames, but the police are looking for evidence of foul play. Especially since his girlfriend went missing.”
Coughing as a droplet of milk went the wrong way, Buffy gasped, “Missing?” She pulled the paper off of the counter and skimmed the article. “It says Karla is a suspect. That she vanished last night before the police got there.”
Joyce nodded, “Her parents must be terrified.”
“But that’s not true,” Buffy tossed the paper down. “Giles was there. He and Faith saw the whole thing. The police were going to escort Karla home.”
Clearly Buffy was trying to defend her schoolmate. “The police chief says that’s not the case. It’s right there in the article. Maybe Mr. Giles and your friend were mistaken.”
“Maybe,” answered Buffy with that I’m-giving-you-the-answer-you-want-to-hear tone that most teenagers thought they got away with, but never did.
Joyce watched Buffy polish off the rest of her cereal. She wanted to offer an ear if she needed someone to talk to, but it seemed that the subject was closed. “I’m going to be at the gal—”
“Knock, knock,” Xander’s chipper voice sounded from the screen door.
Grinning, Buffy jumped off her stool and went to open the door. “Is that a knock, knock joke or are you just happy to see me?”
“I’m always happy to see you,” Xander waggled his eyebrows. Catching sight of Joyce over by the sink, he froze for an instant and then let out a nervous laugh. “Um, hi, Mrs. Summers.”
“Good morning, Xander,” she tried not to laugh at his expression. Noticing that Willow was trailing in slowly, looking bleary-eyed and yawning wide, she added, “You too, Willow.”
Willow simply waved and crawled up onto one of the kitchen stools. Propping her elbow up on the edge of the counter, she cupped her chin with her hand, eyelids drooping closed. “Sleepy now,” she muttered through another yawn.
“Wake up, Will,” Xander walked over to massage her shoulders only to switch to a rousing back pat when she let out a low mewl that sounded a little too contented. Reminding her that they were just stopping by to pick up Buffy, “We’ve gotta get going.”
“Bye, Mom,” Buffy said as she tugged Willow toward the door.
Joyce called out to remind her that she would be at the gallery most of the day. “I’ll see you at dinnertime.”
“Hey, Buffster, did you tell your mom to expect that thing?” asked Xander rather cryptically. Then again, Joyce never knew what was going to come from Xander’s mouth.
Buffy looked wide-eyed and hesitant, obviously aware of what he was referring to, but for some reason uncertain that she wanted to reveal it.
“What thing?” Curious, Joyce stepped closer to the door. They were already on the back porch, standing in a close huddle.
Through gritted teeth, Buffy muttered to her friends, “No, I didn’t.” Her mom now knew about the vampire-fighting side of being a Slayer, but she still held back on some of the really scary stuff, like when demon gods threatened to take over the planet.
“What thing, Buffy?” she had to ask again, this time concerned. Crossing her arms she gave them her best stern face and waited for a response.
“Um, there’s supposed to be an earthquake.”
Xander helpfully specified, “Tonight.”
“An earthquake?” Well, this was California. Earthquakes were hardly unusual. The fact that Buffy and her friends seemed sure there would be one certainly was. “Is the fault line acting up again? I didn’t read anything in the paper to indic—”
Now fully awake, Willow was the one with the answers. “Nope, you won’t find it there. I was reading this old scro— schoolbook on…on Nostradamus…yeah, him… and there’s this prediction about today. You can’t beat that for an early warning system.”
“Nostradamus?” Joyce was surprised at the texts in schools these days. “Aren’t his predictions supposed to be vague?”
“Most prophecies are,” Xander told her quite seriously. A second later he gripped his side and let out a painful yelp drawing Joyce’s attention as he scowled down at her daughter’s elbow.
Buffy’s mouth curved into a tight smile, “No use taking chances, right? If you’re going to the gallery, you might want to, um…secure things just in case.”
With a shrug, Joyce agreed. “It never hurts to be prepared.”
“That’s what I used to tell Cordelia,” snorted Xander only to cry out again when Buffy whacked him on the arm.
“Going now,” Willow waved goodbye and darted down the steps heading across the back lawn toward the open gate.
Joyce watched as Buffy trudged after her leaving Xander to follow. He ran to catch up, “What’d I say?”
22: Giles's Place, 523 Oak Park Street, Central Sunnydale
During the short walk around the block from Revello Drive onto Oak Park Street, Buffy informed her friends about her findings in the morning newspaper. “The Press says Karla disappeared last night.”
Willow and Xander scurried along as fast as they could behind her since Buffy had unconsciously picked up the pace. “After she got home?” asked Willow breathily.
“No,” Buffy shook her head. “Karla never got there. The cops claim they never even talked to her, but Giles told us there was an officer at the scene who took Karla away with him.”
“Do you think she’s been kidnapped?” Xander had a couple of classes with Karla. “She’s nice, y’know. A sweet kinda girl. So…normal.”
Slayer and witch stopped walking. Xander ran into them both. Gaping at them, he shrugged widely, “What’d I say now?” As the girls met each other’s eyes, they wore identical frowns.
Resuming their walk to Giles’ house, they slowly turned back up the sidewalk. Willow swung her arms back and forth bringing her hands together in a rhythmic clap on each forward swing. Pointing out, “It wouldn’t be the first time the newspaper has done a cover-up when the police department is involved.”
“Nope,” Buffy agreed.
Coming up on Giles’ place, they noted the fact that there was an unfamiliar car parked next to the watcher’s old clunker. “Looks like Giles has guests,” Willow commented. Like Buffy, she simply walked up the path toward the front door.
Xander wasn’t so quick to leave. Even though the girls had already moved on, he called out to tell them they had not paused long enough, “This baby deserves more respect than that.”
He ran a hand over the sleek black lines of the classic Plymouth convertible. The top was down, allowing him to feel the warmth of the sun-warmed leather seats against his hand. “Niiiiiiiiiice.”
“Coming, Buffy!” He hopped up the drive. Grinning, he told them, “Someday, I’m gonna have a cool car.”
Buffy and Willow shared another look, this time one of amused indulgence. “Sure you will,” both nodded vehemently. “Uh huh.”
Knuckles rapping loudly against the door, Buffy impatiently waited for Giles to open the door. She was about to check to see if it was unlocked, knowing that Giles was expecting the gang this morning, when it swung open to reveal Faith standing there.
“C’mon in,” she waved them inside. “You’re late. We’ve had Giles all to ourselves for almost half an hour.”
Buffy walked past Faith without responding and idly noting that Cordelia must’ve been the other part of the ‘we’ since she happened to be sitting on the couch. Why was it the other slayer had to put a raunchy twist into everything she said, making it sound like the three of them had been having wild animal sex.
She heard Giles puttering about in the kitchen and called out a greeting. “I’ll be there in a moment,” he answered. Imagining him emerging from the kitchen with mussed hair and a crooked tie gave her the wiggins. Not that she would put it past Faith or even Cordelia to make a play for an older guy, but this was Giles.
“Put the bad thoughts away,” Buffy muttered to herself.
“Hi guys!” Cordelia was all smiles this morning; apparently still feeling a high from her little triumph at the demon bar.
Angel hadn’t commented much last night, letting Cordelia tell the story of the brawl and how she’d smashed a beer bottle over one gravlock demon’s head.
She could have sworn that Angel started to smile. Then he’d caught her looking and the smile vanished. God, even looking was painful sometimes. Just seeing him and not touching was a reminder that she couldn’t have what she wanted.
What she wouldn’t give to have him all to herself for half an hour no strings attached. Angel’s strings were more like chains and he had plenty of them.
With a deep sigh, she sank down onto the couch wishing she could be half as perky as Cordelia this morning. Reminding herself that she was supposed to be making Cor feel welcome now, Buffy managed to say, “Hi. I thought you’d be stiff and sore this morning. From the fight,” she added.
“Actually, I have all this energy,” Cordelia practically bounced with it, her bright smile only adding to the natural golden glow of her skin.
Willow sat down in one of the chairs. “You were just lucky you didn’t get hurt.”
This was a good time for Cor to get snarky and blame Willow for the time she did get hurt, but Buffy was surprised to hear her chatter on about the demon brawl without a word of the rebar incident. “Well, I do have a bruise,” she sounded like it was a badge of honor. Rolling onto her hip, Cordelia pointed toward her right butt cheek, “It’s right on my—”
“Good morning, all,” Giles greeted them as he came around the corner carrying a tray with a teapot, teacups & saucers, and a variety of sodas. “We have all had a short rest, but there is no time to waste.”
Xander complained, “But Cordelia was going to show us her bruise.”
Remembering Cordelia’s comment about a certain portion of her anatomy being a bit sore during their debriefing in the early hours after midnight, Giles paused for a moment, shook his head, and tried to go on. “You…there will be time for more Show & Tell later on. For now, we must talk about our strategy for today. There is much to accomplish.”
Sitting down on the floor, Xander crossed his arms on top of his bent knees and exaggerated his pout. Cordelia gave him a pointed look as if to remind him he no longer had the right to look, but it just seemed like friendly teasing or at least semi-friendly teasing. Clearly, Xander had been telling her the truth. He didn’t want to be protected from Cordelia. He was just lucky she wasn’t turning on her patented super-bitch mode, which for some strange reason was nowhere to be found at the moment.
“Giles, did you see the morning paper?” Buffy got right to it deciding that Cordelia thoughts were certainly not going to improve her own mood.
“I’m afraid so,” Giles set his teacup down, pulled off his glasses, tapping the tip of the earpiece against his lower lip. “There is a clear disparity in the actual events and the information reported by the Press. The sign we witnessed last night indicated it would reveal the First Sacrifice.”
Willow piped in, “Tony.”
“I thought that as well at the time,” admitted Giles as he popped his glasses back on. “Having reviewed our research again, I have to conclude that Karla Brewer’s sudden disappearance is no coincidence. Though the news article indicates she is believed to have run away, I suspect there is foul play involved.”
Pushing away from the wall with the heel of her boot, Faith walked up to Willow’s chair where Xander was now sprawled on the carpet. “We saw that cop put Karla into his car. There’s no mention of that in the paper. It’s like she just disappeared from the scene.”
“So what’s the connection?” asked Cordelia realizing that she’d missed something last night when Giles & Faith were talking about their experience outside of the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor.
Giles explained that one of the last signs in the ongoing chain of events written in the scroll was that of ritualistic sacrifices. “I assumed that Tony’s death was in fact a sacrifice, but I now believe it occurred as a culmination of mystical energy, a beacon of sorts. It pointed the way to Karla Brewer.”
“A little excessive, dontcha think?” quipped Xander.
Willow agreed. “There are lots of ways to find people. Not that I’ve tried that kind of spell before. Maybe I could—”
“No,” Giles answered sternly. “There are dark mystical forces at work here. We will have to search for her the old-fashioned way. Trying to use magick when we don’t know what’s involved could be dangerous.”
“Okay,” Willow deflated a bit, her shoulders slumping, wide mouth tipping into a frown.
Buffy volunteered for a little legwork. “Willy might have something.” Her snitch was usually good for a lead or two.
“I’ll take care of it,” Faith said as she rubbed her closed fist into her other palm. “A little work-over and he’s gonna spill.”
“I can handle it.”
Swallowing down a soothing sip of his tea, Giles suggested, “You should both go.” He caught the sharp look that Buffy sent his way; adding further reasoning, “Stop by the police station as well. I’m curious to find out whether Officer Clark actually exists. I’d rather you worked as a team just in case you run into the unexpected.”
“You got it,” Faith shrugged. This was supposed to be her town, after all. A little charity wouldn’t hurt. “I don’t mind if B tags along.”
Cordelia heard Buffy’s teeth gnashing together and tried to suppress her laughter. That worked for all of two seconds. “See Faith, looks like you get a sidekick after all.”
Buffy’s face was blazing, her usually cool green eyes shooting laser beams toward the two brunettes. What was it she’d been thinking early about Cordelia’s inner bitch being on vacation? Deadpanning, “Funny,” Buffy found it anything but.
Putting the two slayers together on assignment was risky, Giles knew, but it was something they needed to work out. Their styles were vastly different and Faith was difficult to control. He hoped a little of Buffy’s experience would wear off on the girl.
“I plan to remain here today,” Giles informed them. “Follow any leads you find and contact me if you discover anything. There is research to be done on the relic.”
A collective groan sounded from the non-slayers in the room. “More research?”, “Again?”, “Isn’t it too early in the day for that?”
“Whining won’t make the work go any faster,” Giles commented. “I tried that myself this morning and had no luck with it.”
“Hee!” Willow chirped. “Giles made a funny.”
Giles explained that he was very close to making a discovery on the origins of the bone relic. Unfortunately, he was at a stage of research where there remained a number of sensible theories. Narrowing it down would require more time and information. “Tonight may provide the key.”
The Scroll of Septarius with its auguries of events indicated that an earthquake would reveal an ancient obelisk. As with many of Sunnydale’s mystical sites, they were located underground. The passage of time had buried them beneath layers of sediment and other more modern structures. In this case, the obelisk would be uncovered between holy and unholy ground.
“That could be anywhere in Sunnydale,” Cordelia commented. “Hello, Hellmouth.”
“You’re right,” Giles agreed, but suggested that they use the school as the focal point and consider some of the holy sites closest to it. “There are four here on the eastside—”
Cordelia let out a whoop, “Yes!” The others turned and stared.
“Thank you, Cordelia for that rousing cheer, but you might allow me to finish before you applaud my plan.”
“Oh, please continue,” she grinned at the happy thought that she wouldn’t have to deal with misty Old Sunnydale, pebbly Restfield, spooky Shady Hill or live with flashbacks of grabby vampires by patrolling Parkdale.
Giles drolled on and handed out the night’s assignments. He told them that there was no need for an evening meeting unless something new cropped up between now and then.
“How will Angel know?” Cordelia asked realizing that there wouldn’t be a chance to meet up with him if they didn’t have a Scooby Meeting.
“You could inform him,” Giles suggested before Buffy had a chance to speak up.
She jumped in with, “I’ll stop by.” It didn’t matter that she was trying to avoid meeting him in one-on-one situations. The thought of another girl— even if it was only Cordelia— going there for any purpose was unsettling.
Faith pointed out, “You’ll be with me, remember, unless you want me to deal with Willy and the cops myself.”
There was a long pause. “No, duty calls, so I suppose Cordelia can handle going to the mansion.”
“To creepy Crawford Street,” Cordelia wasn’t so sure she wanted the job. “Me? As in alone?”
“I’m not going,” Xander answered despite the fact that he was an obvious choice.
Willow didn’t think Cordelia was looking to her as a little mission buddy, but just in case, commented, “I’m with Xander.” Then realizing how that sounded, added, “And Giles, cos I’m sure there’s research we can help with.”
“Sheesh! It can’t be that bad,” Cordelia told them she’d take care of it herself.
Giles certainly wasn’t going to volunteer to do it, either. That was one place he never intended to set foot again. He wouldn’t send Cordelia if he didn’t consider it safe for her to make the trip. “Just get there while the sun is still up.”
“But, y’know, not too early,” Buffy commented. “Because if Giles is right about these signs all happening at midnight, then it’ll be hours before you two need to patrol.”
“Like I was planning to go now?” Cordelia rolled her eyes at Miss Obvious thinking she was going to run over to Angel’s place at the first opportunity. “Angel will be sleeping. What’s to see? I suppose I could sneak into his bedroom and write him a note.”
She snorted at the idea because it made Buffy scowl in that way that caused her eyebrows to fuse momentarily.
“Puh-lease! Like I would disturb a sleeping vampire. Angel may have a soul, but I have no desire to test out any bite-first-ask-questions-later reflexes,” Cordelia told her.
“Good plan,” Giles interrupted before things escalated beyond his ability to ignore. “Now let’s talk about what you’ll be doing the rest of the morning, shall we?”
Ten minutes later, the five of them were outside of Giles’ house gathered near the driveway. The watcher had shut the door and turned the lock with a swift, satisfying click. Faith had to laugh at the speed in which he did it. “Guess Giles wanted some privacy.”
“We’re off,” Buffy just wanted to get on with it. “See you guys later. Or, if not, we’ll meet up at Giles’ post-patrol interrogation.”
The two slayers had already taken a few steps when Cordelia offered, “Hey, you want a ride?”
Faith was the only one not surprised by the fact that Cordelia was holding a set of car keys. “Nah. I’d like to stretch my legs a little. Hate being cramped up.”
“Me too,” Buffy was saying, but wondered why Cordelia would have a car like that one. It wasn’t exactly her style.
Xander was too busy hopping around the car in excitement, realizing that he was going to get to ride in it. “Niiiiiiice. We’ll be taking it to the school, right? Gotta get there somehow.”
“No, Xander, I was planning to leave it here,” Cordelia let out a soft pfft. School was the last place she wanted to go on a Saturday, but all things considered, it was the most interesting thing on her calendar.
She’d been assigned along with Willow and Xander to secure the library against potential earthquake damage. Just because Giles didn’t want to come in Monday morning to find his precious books all over the place meant that she was going to spend a lot of quality time with rope and duct tape. Lots of better ideas came to mind for using those items, but Giles had assured the three of them that it would be a bonding experience for them. There was something sadistic about Giles on days like this.
“Where’d ya get it?” Xander wanted to know.
Cordelia twirled the key chain around her finger, “I borrowed it for the weekend. Offer of a ride is still good,” she eyed Faith. “I know how to get to Willy’s.”
A dimpled grin appeared as Faith shook her head. “Nah. The school is in the opposite direction. Besides, Willy is probably sleeping it off.”
“We can grab him later,” Buffy agreed. “Early afternoon is best.”
“We’ll head to the police station first and check out Officer Clark. He was the last one to see that chick alive,” Faith said, only to be chewed out by Willow for saying something that suggested Karla Brewer might already be dead.
“We should think positive,” Willow added.
Xander hovered next to Cordelia waiting for the moment to ask, “Can I drive it? I wanna drive. Just to the school. Can I, can I?”
Clutching the keys close to her chest, which did not deter Xander from trying to pry them out of her hand, Cordelia snapped, “No, my— the owner wouldn’t like it.”
As he dropped his hand to his side, Xander took a big step back. It suddenly occurred to him where Cordelia got the car. “Guess the boyfriend doesn’t want anyone handling his stuff.”
Cordelia felt everyone’s eyes on her and not in a good way. Even Faith had her reasons for giving Cor a sharp look. Closing the space between them, she poked a finger into Xander’s midsection in the same spot as her scar. “That’s right. It’s hands off for you, Xander Harris, and that goes for my car, too.”
She opened up the driver’s side, climbed in and started the engine. Xander and Willow were just standing there staring. “Hello, mass transportation here. Get in.”
23: The Library, Sunnydale High School, Southeast Sunnydale
Despite the rough start, Cordelia, Xander and Willow actually managed to get the job done without bringing up their former relationships, cheating, or the fine art of boyfriend stealing. They stuck to discussing Cordelia’s adventure at Willy’s place. That’s when things rapidly went downhill.
“Stand there,” Cordelia instructed Xander as she reenacted the events. Grabbing something from the counter, she explained, “Pretend this is a bottle. Now come at me.”
After taking one step forward Xander froze on the spot. “You’re not really gonna hit me with that are you?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes and huffed loudly. “Forget it. Guess you just had to be there.”
“So Angel stepped up after you hit the guy,” Willow prompted her to go on even though she had heard the story twice now.
She nodded and went on describing the way the fight had ended. “Then we sat around and talked until it was time to come back here.”
Xander didn’t like the idea of Cordelia spending so much time with Angel and he was quick to admit it. “That vampire can’t be trusted. I don’t care if he has a soul or not. He’s a killer.”
“Angel’s a good guy,” Cordelia dropped her makeshift bottle and thrust her hands on her hips. “You don’t even know him.”
“Neither do you,” Xander countered. “You’ve been on patrol a couple of times. Big deal! I just don’t like you being around someone like him.”
Willow kept to the sidelines, her eyes bouncing back and forth between them like the ball on a tennis court. “Jealous?” asked Cordelia, husky with laughter.
Walking further away, Xander glanced over his shoulder to answer, “No.” Then he stormed back, “I’ll tell you what I told Buffy. It doesn’t matter what he does now. It doesn’t change the fact that Angelus killed Jenny Calendar. Deep down, he’s still the same undead guy he was when he broke her neck and left her at Giles’ house.”
Despite that she had been struggling with her own conflicting feelings on the subject, she found herself defending Angel. “He’s different, Xander,” she yelled back at him, her anger growing exponentially. “There’s a big difference between Angel and Angelus. Maybe I don’t know him very well, but I know enough.”
“That vampire eats little girls like you for breakfast, Cor,” Xander shouted.
She knew it was well intended for her sake. Cordelia did get that, but she didn’t want to hear another bad word about Angel. “He’s done nothing except give his all since he came back. You try fitting back in after being in hell for a week.”
Willow finally found her voice, “He was gone longer than that.”
Clapping her mouth closed, Cordelia realized what she’d said. Angel had been gone for a few months Sunnydale time. She had been the one hospitalized for a week. “Oh.” Taking a deep breath, she barked, “Whatever.”
Then much more calmly, she explained to them that as long as Buffy Summers kept her lips and other parts to herself that there would be no need to worry. “Am I right? I think I’m right.”
“Worry about what?” Willow asked after a long silent pause where Xander was refusing to speak.
Cordelia wondered if there was just too much information floating around in that genius brain of hers to assimilate stuff. “Hello, curse. You should be familiar with that one.”
Willow nodded looking thoughtful. “It doesn’t seem so risky at the moment. Buffy’s kind of having a hard time adjusting to Angel being back. Y’know, after killing him.”
With a pfft of agreement, Cordelia added, “We’ve probably all wanted to stab our boyfriends at one time or another.” She ignored Xander’s hurt look. “Buffy needs to get over it or move on.”
Finally ending his silent pout, Xander put in his two cents, “I vote move on. For reasons I’ve already mentioned,” he harrumphed, “plus it’s just not natural. You know. There’s that slayer / vampire thing that just makes it all so wrong.”
“Um, you guys wanna grab lunch at my house?” Willow offered when everyone had their heads so full of Angel and Buffy that it kinda made them dizzy.
“Yeah,” Xander jumped at the opportunity for food and a change of subject.
Cordelia shrugged, “Okay.”
24: Angel's Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale
It was late afternoon when Cordelia finally decided to head over to Angel’s place. She passed several large estates, each one quite unique, but none with the same creep-factor of the mansion on the top of the hill. Despite the size of the houses most of them were a little run-down. To Cordelia’s knowledge, none of the owners were members of the Sunnydale Country Club.
The circular drive was made of cobblestone and Cordelia had to slow down to a crawl so the eerie noises made by the tires didn’t sound quite so loud in the open car. On either side, overgrown plants and bushes blocked the view of the grounds beyond. There was only the three-story front of the mansion and the fountain in the center of the drive visible ahead. Its stone bed was dry and the tubby cherub on top smiled down at her despite the mold growing along its edges.
Cordelia pulled up at the bottom of the wide stone steps and parked the car. She could see some of the devastation from the fire from this angle. Nothing was left of one part of the house. It was open to the elements and to the tangled growth from the untended gardens. The house was dark, broken windows boarded up from the inside.
Playing Truth or Dare in Sunnydale was always risky. There was always a real scare-factor when it came to doling out Dares. She remembered coming here back in junior high with some guys and girls. They had to get here on foot, at night and throw stones at the third floor windows until one broke.
“Lucky no one was home,” Cordelia shuddered at the thought. Had it been Angel, he would have ignored them or given them a good scare just for the hell of it, but some other vampire wouldn’t have been as quick to indulge in their little haunted house tales.
At the door, she looked for a bell, but there didn’t seem to be one, only a door knocker. Lifting it, she banged it against the front door and waited and waited and waited. “It’s not like he’s expecting company.” Cordelia decided to jiggle the door handle for the heck of it.
“Sheesh! It’s open,” she heard the click and pushed open the door. A long squeak sounded as the hinges creaked in complaint as if they were not often used.
His name echoed in the huge foyer. Figuring he had to have heard that, Cordelia took another step inside and closed the door behind her. The room fell into near darkness. Only a few rays of sunlight filtered through the half-circle of stained glass above the huge doors. They danced randomly across the floor as she moved closer, the heels of her shoes clicking against the floor.
Cordelia turned around. She could see the shadow of the stairs leading upward into the darkness and there were doorframes outlined against the wall. It was cold in here in the dark away from the sun and a chill crept down her spine. She licked at the dryness of her lips, eyes wide as she wondered whether Angel was still sleeping soundly somewhere above or if she was truly as alone as she felt.
“A-Angel?” There was a tiny crack in her voice as she called out to him again.
Just as she was about to bolt for the door a soft rumble sounded almost directly in her ear, “I’m here.”
A piercing scream followed and when Cordelia turned to see Angel standing in the shadows, he had his hands over his ears. “Was that really necessary?” he asked.
“You have the nerve to ask me that? Geez, buy a bell,” she snapped. “And a few candles while you’re at it. Have you noticed that it’s kinda dark in here?”
Angel chuckled and walked closer out of the depths of the shadows. Reminding her, “Vampires like it dark.”
The sound of that little laugh had Cordelia’s skin tingling again, but this time the vibes were way more friendly chasing away the last remnants of her fear. He was here and that warm circle of safety his presence provided had her relaxing almost immediately.
Enough to notice he was just wearing sweat pants and a thin black muscle shirt that clung to his moist skin. My, things were certainly muscley looking today. And sweaty, which was something she didn’t know vampires could do. “Why do you look so hot… and sweaty?” she corrected speedily, her eyes snapping up to meet his.
Angel held a small towel in his hand. He draped it around his neck and held onto both ends. The left corner of his mouth quirked in reaction as he heard that little slip. “Just training down in the basement. What are you doing here, Cordy?”
The sound of the shortened version of her name suddenly had her heart beating a little faster again. It had been so long since anyone called her Cordy, since she let anyone. It felt good to hear it again.
He stepped away, moving back again. Ducking her head just a tiny bit, Cordelia peeked at him through her lashes. Then silently cursed the darkness because it was hard to see what she was looking at. “Dammit, Angel, I can’t see you,” and she followed him deeper into the shadows of the hall.
His hand slipped along her arm, floating down around her wrist to grasp it. Angel led her across the foyer, down the hall toward the back of the mansion. A glow flickered along the floor ahead, under a door at the end of the hall. With the twist of the knob, he pushed it open and led her to a space he obviously used a lot. As soon as they were inside, Angel released her and waited in silence as she looked around the room.
There was a large stone hearth surrounding a fireplace. Even now, there were logs burning with low blue flames. Thick candles of yellow and red were scattered throughout the room, their wicks dark with drippy wax surrounding them on the tabletops. An antique couch with a gold and burgundy pattern had matching throw pillows, but these were on the floor on top of a furry white rug. A small pile of books that looked even older than the couch was stacked nearby.
Angel lit a few of the candles and a soft yellow glow spread across the room. He didn’t look as pale in candlelight, she noticed, her breath catching in her throat as he stepped close again to repeat his question, “Why are you here?”
Standing like this she could smell him, and not in a bad way, all clean salty sweat and pure male that made her want to grab a handful of his cotton t-shirt and drag her tongue across his skin. That thought signaled loud alarm bells in her head. This was Angel, not a random hottie. No matter her defense of him to Xander, her ex still had a point. This guy was not just a man, but a vampire, one with a curse.
“I’ve got news,” she told him, “about our assignment tonight.”
For a split second, Cordelia thought he looked disappointed. Angel simply gave her a brief nod and encouraged her to tell him. That took all of a minute and a half. He seemed to be thinking about their game plan for tonight, lost in thought. Cordelia suddenly felt a little out of place again and when she glanced over her shoulder toward the door, the action irritated her.
How could someone make her feel so safe and so nervous at the same time? It didn’t seem possible.
“Do you want to leave?” asked Angel as he sensed her subtle jitters.
Cordelia defiantly answered, “No,” even if it was herself she was trying to convince.
“Then stay a while.” The offer sounded hesitant as if he was surprised he was actually suggesting it. He ran his fingers through his damp hair rubbed the back of his neck. “I should take a shower, though. You could wait here or explore a little.”
He pointed toward the candles and Cordelia held up her hands at the thought of it. “Explore a haunted mansion…I don’t think so.”
Angel wryly explained that the mansion was hooked up to the Sunnydale power grid. The central part of the house and its habitable wing still had electricity. “I keep the lights off most of the time to maintain a low profile.”
Guessing that every authority in town would be up here in a heartbeat if all of the lights suddenly came on, Cordelia could understand his penchant for candlelight. Angel already said he didn’t really need the light, but the books piled up on the floor told her that he spent a lot of time reading.
“Is this what you do when you’re not fighting demons?” she wore a curious smile. Picking up one of the leather-bound volumes stacked on an antique table, she rubbed her hand over the smooth leather cover. Then glancing at the gilded letters on its binding recognized it as an old classic.
He looked like she’d caught him doing something illicit and his answer came on a hesitant breath, “Yes.”
Cordelia realized that she had no idea what vampires did with their time off. Then again, minus the immortality it was not like being undead came with lots of fringe benefits.
What with the severe allergy to sunlight, it was not like they could lounge around the pool and work on their tans. Did Angel miss being human and soaking up the sunshine? Then too, there was the vampire aversion to garlic. She’d have to make a point of asking Angel if eating Italians ever gave him heartburn.
There were many questions forming a queue in her head and Cordelia was now certain that she wanted to stay. Not just to prove she was not afraid to be here, but because she had already learned more in the past couple of minutes about who Angel really was than during the past two years, just from this room alone.
“Don’t keep me waiting,” Cordelia told him dismissively sending Angel off to take his shower. She turned to stroll around the room, the fingers of her free hand fluttering over the textured fabric on the couch.
Feeling his eyes on her, she peeked over her shoulder to find him staring back, a slightly mystified look on his handsome face. Then he was gone, fading into the shadows of the hall, his footsteps as silent as the grave.
25: Angel's Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale
If speed-showering existed as a sport, Angel would’ve been declared its MVP. Clean and dressed again, he was back downstairs in record time. He was surprised to find her there despite her saying she would stay. Finding her curled up on the couch, legs tucked beside her and her shoes on the floor suggested that Cordelia was not planning to escape at the first opportunity.
“That was fast,” Cordelia looked up from the book of poetry she found all on its lonesome in one corner of the room. Noticing Angel’s gaze on the small volume, she joked, “It was this or Dante’s Inferno.”
Thirty minutes went by before they even got around to discussing the mission again. That was Cordelia’s cue to bring up her beer bottle-smashing routine and Angel’s to voice his opinion on the matter. Unlike last night, when they were still surrounded by demons all too eager to eavesdrop or Scoobies who would enjoy hearing it a little too much, he now had a chance to talk to her one on one.
The relaxed atmosphere between them tensed up again, a dark cloud settling over his mood. “You had no business jumping in like that.”
“Hah! It was my leg he was pawing,” Cordelia cried out with a gasp of false rage. “You try getting felt up and see how you like it. Pfft….you’re a vampire,” she rolled her eyes at the sudden thought. “You probably would like it.”
“Cordy,” his gravelly tones issued a warning against delving into insults.
The mischievous lights dancing in her eyes gave her away. A wide grin appeared just before she threw her head back to laugh at him, her silky hair flowing freely around her shoulders.
Angel watched her for a few seconds from his place by the hearth until he finally said, “I don’t want you hurt. That was risky. You’re not trained for situations like that.”
Bristling up again, Cordelia tucked her hair behind her ears and then crossed her arms as she glared back at him. “Guess I missed the Barfight 101 class at school this semester.”
“Cordy—,” he began again.
“Don’t Cordy me,” Cordelia demanded as she leapt off the couch. Bending down, she grabbed one shoe and pointing it reminded him, “So I’m not a slayer.” She curled her leg, sliding her foot into the shoe. Then toeing the other upright put it on. “Maybe I didn’t wake up one day and discover I was psycho super chick, but don’t you dare tell me I’m not cut out for this. Just because you want to be with Buffy doesn’t mean I’ll quit to make it happen.”
He had not moved a muscle during her tirade, not a twitch. Cordelia flashed another angry glare in his direction, flipped her hair and headed toward the door. Angel had closed it to stop the light from spreading and to keep the warmth of the low fire circulating. Now he reached it first, hand spread wide against it to block her exit.
Whirling, she found herself face to face with him as he leaned in close. “Let me out.”
Angel did not budge. With his broad shoulders and long frame forming an impenetrable barrier, he might as well have been a brick wall. Though intense, his brown eyes pleaded understanding as a twinge of pain sounded on his lips, “This has nothing to do with Buffy and you know it.”
“That’s so wrong it’s not funny,” some of the fire went out of her eyes as she responded. “It’s always about Buffy. You’re not over her. That’s why you still patrol with us.”
They stood close enough that Cordelia’s breath whispered across his skin as she spoke. Angel felt the hot press of her palm against his belly, her warmth seeping through the thin black sweater. He did not move at all for the few seconds that she touched him, too focused on the contact, its slight pressure and the subtle slide of her fingertips against the softness of his sweater and the contours beneath.
“I get that, Angel. More than you realize,” Cordelia added softly and Angel’s eyes widened a fraction as he considered her situation in comparison to his own. Both of them experienced a similarly painful end to their relationships.
Angel could still feel the steel sliding through his chest when Buffy thrust that sword into him and sentenced him to a lifetime in hell. Though his return came with the hope that it could be forgotten, so far that had proved impossible. He supposed the accident that led to Cordelia’s breakup with Xander left more than just physical scars behind. As with him, some aches did not fade as easily as flesh healed.
When she had finally made her point, Cordelia stepped away moving back toward the hearth where its flames danced across the logs. Almost a minute passed before Angel’s uneasy apology sounded from across the room. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be,” Cordelia told him, turning around again to see him with his back to the door, leaning his big body against it. “Comparing me to Buffy is not of the good.”
Considering he hadn’t been the one making comparisons, Angel reminded her, “I don’t expect you to be Buffy— or Faith,” he added for good measure, “but I want you to be careful out there. Talk to Giles about including you in the girls’ training sessions.”
“Pfft! Like they’d want me there. Giles already has his hands full,” Cordelia knew that idea was going down the drain. “Besides, Willow and Xander don’t do that.”
He pushed away from the door with a booted foot, walking forward to lean on the back of a chair. Staring right into her eyes, he said, “I don’t give a damn about Willow and Xander.” That was not entirely true, but he had a point. “Neither of them is my patrol partner. You are and I’d prefer to keep you in one piece.”
Cordelia kinda liked that idea, too. “So whatcha gonna do about it?” She strolled up to the chair and lifted her knee onto the cushion leaning toward him.
Face to face again, he could see the sparkle had returned to her eyes. Angel was suddenly aware of the feeling she had led him into this idea, but found himself suggesting it anyway. “I have a room in the basement for training,” he said only to remember that he had told her that when she arrived. “You could…I could—”
“Train me up? Teach me to kick ass with style?” a grin accompanied her words. “Great idea, Angel, I accept. We should start tomorrow.”
Angel stood up and scrubbed a hand over his face wondering how he got into these things. All he had intended to do was caution Cordelia against getting too involved in the actual fighting. Still, it was a good idea to provide some defensive training just in case he could not get to her fast enough.
“Since I’m starving and you probably have nothing but blood in the refrigerator,” Cordelia told him, “I guess I’m going to go find something to eat for dinner before we have to head out on patrol.”
He stood still senses attuning to something beyond human perception. “The sun has already set.”
“Crap! I forgot to put the top up on the car,” Cordelia had not planned to stay this long. She had no intention of driving around after dark providing creepy crawlies easy access.
Angel paused at the news, hand on the doorknob, asking curiously, “A convertible?”
“Just something I borrowed for the weekend.”
Guiding her down the dark hall again, Angel opened up the front door to see the classic convertible with its sleek lines and shiny finish parked at the bottom of his front steps. Cordelia watched in bemusement as Angel reacted with typical male aplomb by giddily jaunting down the steps to check out the car.
It was an old Plymouth Belvedere GTX. Black. Still in good shape. Shiny. Cordelia would prefer to be driving around in her Corvette, but at least it had four wheels that worked.
Angel seemed to be slightly more impressed.
“Niiiiiiiiice,” Angel commented as he ran his hands over the leather interior.
A husky laugh escaped as Cordelia told him, “That’s what Xander said.”
Angel shot her an annoyed look. He did not much like having anything in common with the boy. He swiftly backed away from the car and shoved his hands into his pockets. The scowl on his face was adorable rather than intimidating. Cordelia simply lifted up her keys and gave them a sharp jangle.
“Want to drive?”
As she dropped the keys into his hand, Angel asked, “Did he get to drive?”
They walked around the front of the car side by side. “Pfft! While you were in hell did it ever freeze over?” Cordelia sat down and swung her legs inside.
“No,” he answered quizzically while closing the passenger door behind her.
“Exactly,” quipped Cordelia. A little light bulb flashed in Angel’s head and he gave her a smile that chased away all thoughts of Xander Harris.
26: The Main Street Deli, Main Street, Westside Sunnydale
Sitting at a small corner table at the Main Street Deli, Angel watched in fascination as Cordelia slowly consumed her sandwich. Her hands wrapped around the soft bread as she angled it to get just the right bite. Closing down she bit off each delicate mouthful distracting him from everything else. It was not really the food that mesmerized him, but the way she enjoyed it. Maybe the way her teeth ripped into the bread, and her tongue left a wet shine on her pink lips as she licked at a drop of mayonnaise clinging to one corner.
Close to closing time, the workers behind the counter had not been pleased to see them strolling in just after they had cleaned up half of the shop. That did not bother Cordelia. She had ordered the Number Three special: a sandwich that came with a soda and fries. After substituting a bottle of water for the soda, she insisted on freshly cooked fries rather than the limp ones that appeared to have been sitting out for a while. That caused the guy with the pointy white hat to remind her it was almost time to close shop.
“Almost,” she emphasized with pointed stare. “Not quite.”
Grumbling, the young man looked like he was ready to argue, but he took one look at Angel’s scowl and scurried around until he had completed the order to Cordelia’s satisfaction. If he considered it strange that Angel didn’t order anything for himself he did not say anything about it. Not that Angel thought about the man for more than two seconds after he collected his change and followed Cordelia to the table.
Cordelia picked up the ketchup bottle. Upturning it, she dribbled a continuous line of ketchup over the fries until they were covered in a red spiral. “I’m only allowed to eat a few of these,” she told him making Angel wonder why it was forbidden. “You can help me with the rest.”
“Wha— no, Cordy, you know I don’t eat food…like this,” he tagged on in case anyone was listening.
“I feel like a pig sitting here eating while you do nothing, but watch.”
Angel hastily assured her, “I like watching.” Then at the arching of her brows, added for good measure, “Watching you eat.”
“Don’t be a baby about it,” Cordelia picked up a crinkled fry and held it in front of his mouth. “Open up. C’mon, it’s not like it can kill you.”
Angel kept his mouth closed, stubbornly shaking his head. She waved it around in a circle trying to entice him into opening up. “C’mon,” she pleaded with enough of a pout to make him feel guilty, “you used to be Irish. A little potato shouldn’t scare ya. It’s even covered in red stuff.”
Giving in, Angel let her shove the small French fry into his mouth, her ketchup-dabbed finger grazing his lips. Unfamiliar flavors burst across his tongue and the sensation of biting down on solid food brought back memories long since passed. Not as long as Cordelia probably imagined, but long enough that the taste and sensations stirred up desires he thought he had left behind.
“More?” Cordelia asked in surprise as he swallowed the French fry and sent her a silent query as he gazed at her uneaten fries. A soft giggle sounded in her throat. “Okay, Oliver, you can have more.”
Catching the reference, Angel’s scowl was a playful rather than menacing, but he did not make a move toward the plate. After a moment, Cordelia picked up another fry and lifted it to his mouth. He bit off the long end leaving her holding a short stub, her finger and thumb red with ketchup. Then his mouth closed over both digits, his tongue sweeping the fry from between them and lips sliding across her salty, tangy skin.
He watched Cordelia’s eyes go wide and her skin flush with heat. Her hand flew to her lap where she hastily wiped it off on her napkin. “God, Angel,” she scolded him. “What are you trying to do give me vampire cooties?”
Angel ate a couple more fries, but he admitted to himself that they had tasted better when she fed him. Just the subtle hint of her skin had him dragging the tip of his tongue across his lips.
Declaring that she was full, Cordelia pushed the plate away and sat back to watch him brood over the French fries. The Deli guy called out to tell them they had five minutes before closing. “That leaves a couple of hours before we’re supposed to be at Trinity Church. Are you game for something else or was this,” she waved a hand at the food, “enough of an adventure?”
Catching her gaze focused beyond his shoulder, Angel turned around to see the movie marquee across the street. She had to be kidding. Vampires and crowds did not mix.
When he told her so, she let out a little huff of air, “A crowd in that movie? Trust me, it won’t be a problem.”
“Why go, then?”
“Because it’ll be good for you, and besides, you like the dark,” Cordelia reasoned. “You can brood about it without anyone noticing. C’mon, we’ve got five minutes before the previews start.”
Cordelia pushed away from her chair and headed for the door, pausing to gesture impatiently when he failed to follow. Maybe it was the sparkle in her eyes or the stubborn little stomp of her foot against the floor or just the fact that she had somehow managed to creep into his subconscious somehow, but Angel knew that he was going to let her have her way.
She knew how to annoy him better than anyone else; crawling under his skin like an irritant he had to scratch. Still, there was something about her that soothed away the rough edges. He was still muddled about volunteering to train her, but it was needed. And somehow, she had managed to lure him out of the mansion by tempting him with her car.
Smoothly unfolding his length from the small wooden chair, Angel crossed the room to stand beside her. Teasingly, he told her, “Just so you know I’m not buying popcorn.”
“Good thing we're just friends,” Cordelia nudged his arm. "Otherwise, you might end up with a reputation as a cheap date. A movie's just not the same without popcorn."
Somehow, she made it seem so easy between them. Normal. Spending time with Cordy was not any kind of hardship, he had discovered, not by a long shot.
27: The Wildwoods, Somewhere in Sunnydale
The night slipped around her like a cloak of darkness. Drusilla walked amongst the trees, a light breeze pulling at the diaphanous top layer of her chiffon dress and the long, loose strands of her hair. She moved with the wind, her thin arms positioned as if she would take flight at any moment, her eyes half closed as she followed along wherever it led.
Spike stomped along behind her, defiantly noisy. His boots crunched the ground cover of the woods they were passing through and he talked loudly enough to wake the dead. Silence could easily have been maintained had he wished it, but it was his way of reminding Dru that they could have taken the Desoto instead of walking all the way across town from their temporary digs.
“I’m telling you, luv,” Spike took a drag from his cigarette, let the smoke fill his lungs and tucked his thumb back into his belt loop as he walked. “All you gotta do to find Angelus is wait for him to show up at the mansion.” A grey trail of smoke formed a soft cloud as he exhaled billowing away as he tromped right through it. “After a bit o’ persuasion a couple of blokes I ran into told me he’s staying there again.”
It was like talking to himself, but that had never bothered him. Sooner or later, Dru would say something meaningful in response. He just had to be ready to listen.
“The night winds call to me,” Drusilla never paused in her wayward trail through the trees. Oh, the sounds that filled her ears. Distantly, a newborn’s cry pierced the veil of woodland noises joining the mechanical rumble of an occasional engine from the closest street a block away.
Life buzzed around her in its many forms. The hooting owl up in the tree, crickets musically chirping from the ground and the worms crawling in the earth filled her head in accompaniment to the subtle song of the stars. Their pulsing steady light filtered down through the treetops.
Pausing suddenly, Drusilla cocked her head, listening intently to things that Spike never bothered to notice. He did notice her, however. Constantly aware of Dru’s moods, he sensed her focus shift from whimsical to fearful. She bent low to the ground, her hands skimming above the layer of composting dried leaves and pine needles.
“Soon, soon,” she muttered as Spike leaned down to look over her shoulder. He saw nothing of interest. “Do you feel it?”
Spike admitted, “Don’t feel a bloody thing. What the sod are you on about?”
Rising again, Drusilla turned to him, her long fingers smoothing along one leather sleeve until she clasped his shoulder and pulled herself close. “It gathers itself, a power of the earth, ineluctable destiny.”
Dropping his cigarette butt, Spike put his arms around her. Whatever the hell she was talking about had her scared. That was rare with Drusilla. He had learned long ago that anything that rattled her usually deserved some respect. Caressing the pale moonlight of her cheek, Spike assured her, “Nothing will ever harm you, my beauty.”
The red pout of her lips matched the sadness in her eyes. “You will, my Spike.”
Drusilla pulled out of his arms and ran ahead through the trees leaving Spike to follow her trail. “What’s a vamp to do? He follows his girl all the bleedin’ way to South America, gets dumped in favor of a Chaos demon, and then volunteers to take her back to the Slayer’s hometown because she wants her daddy.”
“Boo bloody hoo,” Spike grumbled even as he followed along. “Let’s get this little family reunion done with. Better yet, let’s just sod the whole idea.” He wondered if there was anyone around town to front him a few kittens. A few hands of poker sounded good right about now.
28: Trinity Baptist Church, Eastside, Sunnydale
Angel parked the Plymouth at the church lot far enough away from the building itself to avoid any damage. There was no telling how high on the Richter scale this earthquake was going to be or if they were going to be at its epicenter.
“We should stay clear of the church,” Angel suggested as he held out a hand to help Cordelia out of the car. Watching the way her smile brightened her face, he let his grasp linger a moment or two longer than necessary before releasing it.
“I remember there being a stone bench somewhere over there,” Cordelia pointed toward a small copse of flowering trees.
They stepped off the paved surface of the parking lot and onto the close-cropped grass leading toward the graveyard designed in an arc behind and around the sides of the church. Angel walked beside her, his hand reaching out toward her lower back and then hastily dropping to his side. “You’ve been here on patrol with the others?”
A look of surprised followed, her eyes widening and lush mouth shaping into a soft open circle. “No, it wasn’t on patrol. Um, my grandfather is buried here.”
“Oh.” Angel did not really know what to say. The probability of dying of a vampire bite in Sunnydale was no doubt a lot higher than most natural causes. He did not want to know that a vampire was responsible for her grandfather’s death feeling almost as if it would make him culpable.
Having learned that Cordelia preferred to get things out in the open, he decided not to keep his question to himself. “It— it wasn’t a vampire, was it?”
Cordelia shook her head, “No. It was just an accident.”
“Sorry,” Angel muttered knowing that the word inadequately expressed what he wanted to say.
“It’s okay, really,” Cordelia assured him, giving his hand a quick squeeze. “I didn’t even know him. My mom hadn’t seen him for years before he died. I was a lot younger, but I do remember coming here for the funeral.”
Cordelia pointed out the headstone marking her grandfather’s grave. “That’s the one.”
“Do you want to…?” Angel’s voice faded away as he gestured toward the grave.
“No,” she answered hastily, shaking her head and walking back toward the stone bench. “Let’s just sit over here. It’s weird enough that I’m driving around town in his car.”
Angel stopped in his tracks to glance over his shoulder at the Plymouth, which was still visible from this angle. “I thought you borrowed it from your boyfriend."
Snorting, Cordelia patted the bench beside her and waited until Angel sank down onto it before responding. “Rumors of me having a hot new boyfriend might have been a little exaggerated.”
Buffy and the others had certainly been convinced of the fact. Although the subject was really none of his business, he did not like the idea that some young college punk might take advantage of Cordelia’s recently broken heart. Not that he dwelled on the idea, but he just hated the thought of some Xander Harris stand-in fumbling around in the dark with her. The idea pissed him off a lot more than it should.
“So you’re saying the boyfriend everyone has been talking about is really…”
“My dead grandpa,” Cordelia sighed into a wry pout trying to appear unaffected by the reality of the situation. Sadness clouded her eyes even as she quipped, “Bummer, isn’t it?”
Maybe it was this whole Team Chase idea that Cordelia had drilled into his head, but he felt protective of her and this strange new friendship. A sense of relief swelled up in his chest preceding a rising wave of pure possessiveness, forcing Angel to acknowledge that he felt more than the simple bonds of friendship. He wanted her, too. The confirmation that she was not spending time with a new lover tugged hard at something primal where his soul’s conscience and dark, demonic depths faded to instinct.
Despite going to the deli and the movie theater together, this was not a date, he forced himself to remember. They were just patrol partners. He was still a vampire, and she was not Buffy Summers, the girl he still professed to love despite her continued refusal to renew their relationship. Angel knew he should feel guilty. Not only because he had enjoyed picturing the sudden death of Cordelia’s new boyfriend at his hands, but because until now he had not even considered his thoughts to be a betrayal.
Cordelia’s physical beauty never failed to draw a reaction, or to make his demon senses fill with lustful thoughts, even during those early times when he was more frightened of how he would respond to the overt flirtation. Years of practice allowed him to suppress unwanted feelings, controlling needs and urges that were better left unexplored.
There was a side to Cordelia that she hid away from the world. Things that did not fit so smoothly with the heartless bitch image she often projected. Having just discovered the tiniest chink in Cordelia’s armor, Angel felt his own defenses peeling away.
This was the first time he felt a tug at his heart, his soul’s reaction to her loss. Cordelia’s soft pout made him want to touch his lips to hers, kissing away any lingering regrets of missed moments or failed relationships. Make her forget anyone else at least for this one moment of indulgence. The need to taste her, opening her up to slow, sensual exploration, discovering her mouth’s warmth and the sweetness inside made a powerful appeal, and he nearly went there, his tongue sliding across the crease of his mouth in anticipation.
But, there it was, the deep pang of guilt preventing him from turning thought to action. Just in time to stop him from doing something foolish, something they both might later regret. The expectant look on her face reminded him that she had said something, and suggested that she had no idea just how much he wanted to kiss her just then.
Angel’s grunt of acknowledgement earned him a scowl and an eye roll. She nudged him with an elbow. “Sheesh! I know my love life is depressing, but you don’t have to rub it in.”
“It’s not,” he assured hastily, “and I wasn’t rubbing anything.”
With a grin spreading across her face, Cordelia teased naughtily, “We’re talking about my love life, not yours, doofus.”
Wondering how he constantly walked right into these things, Angel tried to change the subject. “Your grandfather may be the explanation for the car, but he doesn’t account for the reason you’re always late to the Scooby meetings.”
Cordelia’s radiant smile dimmed fast and her eyes darted evasively from his. The steady beat of her heart quickened, her body tensing under his unwavering gaze. He waited for her to speak, expecting her usual frankness, but the silence spread awkwardly between them.
When she lifted her head and he saw the unshed tears glistening in her eyes, he knew that he had hit on something deeply personal. Cursing inwardly that he had nearly acted on his lust, his need for some kind of connection, when she was actually troubled about something, Angel reached out cupping her face in his hand, his thumb trailing along the path of a single escaping tear. She nuzzled against his palm for only an instant before jerking away from his touch.
When she looked at him again, the tears were gone. A veil of icy determination covered the pain he had glimpsed. “A little mystery is good for the soul,” Cordelia told him as she walked away from the bench, standing with her back to him.
Angel followed. Stopping directly behind her, the shortened version of her name rolled off his lips as a plea, concern filling his voice. “Cordy, I won’t push you, but I want to help if you’ll let me.”
He stood there for a moment until the few inches separating them seemed too great a distance. Gently pulling her against him, Angel wrapped his arms around her waist. Cordy’s hands curled over his forearms crisscrossing with his as she leaned back against his chest.
Enveloped by him, Cordelia relaxed on a sigh as his cheek settled along the crown of her head. When she closed her eyes, she imagined his lips fleetingly pressing against her temple. A kiss of friendship and comfort, one intended to take her troubles away.
As if it was that easy.
29: The Wildwoods, Eastside Sunnydale
“Closer, closer, closer,” muttered Drusilla peering down the tree line along the edges of the cemetery with its neat little headstones all in rows. “My Angel is near. I can feel it.”
Spike did not doubt it even though she pointed toward the church at the other end of the cemetery. That seemed an unlikely place for a vampire to hang out, but Drusilla was never wrong about these things. Together, they slipped from the shadows of the trees and walked across the moonlit grounds.
Excitedly, Drusilla clapped her hands. Announcing, “She is with him,” even before they came into view.
“The Slayer will die,” Spike assured her even though there were quite a few things he had to say and do to the chit before he killed her.
Stopping in her tracks, Drusilla reminded sharply, “We are not here for her, you naughty boy. There will be time to toy with the Slayer later.”
Despite traveling together all of those miles from Brazil to California, Spike still had no idea what Drusilla was talking about. He had quickly grown tired of her happy tales of the good old days with Daddy dearest. Damned poof! Angelus was the last person he ever wanted to see again, souled or not.
Deep down, he understood the bond between them. Angelus made her, just as Drusilla made him. The love of one’s creator was an inescapable lure. Angelus loved nothing, but had claimed what was his when he wanted it allowing Drusilla the pleasures of her own creation when it suited him. Spike took any scraps of affection Drusilla had to give for he was devoted to her and took pleasure in the bloody trail of death they left in their wake.
Even now, Angelus remained the center of Drusilla’s world. It was his presence she still craved. His happiness she sought. Spike’s gut clenched with hate. That bastard deserved a painfully slow death, but that would not make Dru happy, would not win her loyalty, and would not bring her love back to him.
He would play along for now, Spike decided. Let Drusilla have her way with Angelus. They could hump like bunnies for all he cared as long as he got Dru back before the sunrise. “Bloody hell!” Part of him cared a helluva lot. Grabbing hold of her arm, Spike swung Drusilla around to face him. “You’re mine. You just remember that.”
Drusilla’s soft laughter tinkled like crystal. She nuzzled her cheek against his and then sucked his earlobe into her mouth leaving a red mark behind as her teeth clamped down for an instant. A playful growl sounded in his ear, but her words snapped, “It’s you who need to remember.”
Backing away, her dark eyes were intent, but mischievous. She put a finger to her lips and then gestured for him to follow. Spike let out a sigh that was half a growl and followed along.
30: Holy Cross Catholic Church, Eastside, Sunnydale
“Slayer, I don’t want no trouble,” the vampire begged for leniency.
Buffy twirled her stake in her hand. “Oh, it’s no trouble,” she quipped while taking deadly aim.
The sharp stake was a blur in motion as it left her hand imbedding deeply in the vampire’s chest in the space of a second. Buffy retrieved her stake and walked out of the dusty cloud of the vampire’s remains as they crumbled to the ground.
“Good thing you took care of that vamp now,” Xander commented as Buffy joined him and Willow on the back steps of Holy Cross Catholic Church. “I prefer not to have to worry about my neck in the middle of an earthquake.”
Glancing at her watch, Willow suggested that they move away to a safe distance from the church. “Almost time.”
Remembering the last time they were here, Buffy agreed. “This place has a habit of falling apart when we’re around. I’d rather not get buried in the rubble.”
31: Eden Memorial Park, Northeast Sunnydale
“So where do we start, G-man?”
Swallowing down his irritation, Giles slowly turned toward Faith who was leaning up against the trunk of his car. “I believe I asked you not to refer to me in that manner. Call me Giles or Rupert if you must. Until the Watcher’s Council deigns to send a permanent Watcher for you, I am responsible for you and therefore deserve some small iota of respect.”
“You got it, Rup.” Faith winked, flashing a dimpled grin that was pure tease. “So where do we start?”
Giles slung the duffel bag containing his crossbow and research materials over his shoulder. “This way,” he said walking in the direction of Eden Memorial Park. “It’s a new cemetery built over a mystical hot spot, perchance an excellent possibility for success. However, should we not find the obelisk there we shall head over the street to the Mount Sinai Memorial Gardens.”
The two small cemeteries were within walking distance of each other. “Sure you don’t want me to check one out while you’re at the other?”
It was tempting, Giles admitted. He knew that Faith’s teasing came as naturally as breathing to her. There were times when he convinced himself that Faith’s presence was a test of his patience. One Slayer was enough of a challenge, much less adding on another one with an independent streak and a rather large chip on her shoulder.
Declining her offer, he suggested they stick together for the duration of their patrol. When they passed the bus stop near the small church, Faith pointed to the bench where an advertisement showed the smiling face of Mayor Richard Wilkins urging the public to keep the streets of Sunnydale clean and tidy. “You ever met the mayor?”
“Once,” Giles commented distractedly, already thinking ahead to his plans for the obelisk once it was unearthed, “briefly.”
“He seems like a cool guy,” Faith’s sudden interest in public figures seemed out of place. “You think he’s up on the situation here in Sunnydale?”
Giles realized that Faith had met the man, but could not imagine the setting such a meeting took place. Mayor Wilkins was hardly the type to frequent the Bronze. “It is hardly likely that the mayor remains in the dark about the true nature of some of his citizens.”
“I get that. This town has some pretty scary crap to cover up,” Faith said with a short laugh. “Gotta keep the wool pulled over everyone’s eyes. Reality is just too scary for ’em.”
Sheer curiosity prompted Giles to ask, “Have you met the mayor?”
With her hands in her jeans jacket pockets, Faith shrugged, “Yeah, sorta. I was out looking for a new place and he was making speeches and kissing babies.”
“A new place?” It occurred to Giles that he had no idea where Faith lived. She came and went on her own.
Another shrug followed. “I got a line on something.”
“Uh, good,” Giles did not know what else to say. Noticing the teasing expression Faith usually wore was nowhere to be seen, he added, “I hope you would tell me if you needed some assistance.”
“I got it covered.”
32: Trinity Baptist Church, Eastside, Sunnydale
Their tender embrace made for a surprisingly touching sight for Spike and Drusilla as they rounded the corner of the church.
“Well, well, well,” Spike chuckled. “Angelus, that’s a nice little bed warmer you’ve got there. Wouldn’t waste her on a midnight snack.”
Angel whirled Cordelia out of his arms and into a safer position behind him. His attention had been fully focused on her, so he had only himself to blame for not detecting their approach. The urge to let loose and make Spike pay for the interruption tugged inside him, but he knew he needed make Cordelia’s safety his priority.
Suppressing the urge to bare his fangs, he remained outwardly calm. “What are you two doing back in Sunnydale?”
Drusilla gingerly stepped forward, coming half the distance between the two vampires. She swayed from side to side to catch a better glimpse of Cordelia. “She’s a pretty one, my Angel. Let me see her properly.”
A familiar little pout appeared suggesting that the request was innocent enough—for the moment. Knowing that indulging Drusilla’s whims kept her docile, Angel hoped Cordelia would, “Follow my lead,” as he motioned her forward.
“As long as that gets us the hell out of here,” Cordelia whispered back. Moving up, she stood as close to him as possible, her right shoulder, breast and hip brushing up against him.
Smiling, Drusilla glided forward, stopping just out of arms reach when Angel warned her off, “That’s close enough, Dru.”
Angel could feel and hear Cordelia’s heart racing as Drusilla tilted her head this way and that. Her eyes flitted over every curve and returned to stare deeply into her eyes as if she could read every nuanced emotion hidden there. “She’s a very pretty little pet, my Angel. Is she as soft and snuggly as a kitten?”
“This kitten has claws,” Cordelia snapped at her when the vampire ventured too close for comfort, “so back off.”
Angel nudged her with his elbow.
Drusilla simply hissed playfully, a grin on her face. “What say you, Spike? Do you like Angel’s new kitten?” She circled behind them forcing Angel to shift position to keep an eye on them both.
Without hesitation, Spike answered truthfully, “She’s frikkin hot. Wouldn’t mind a turn at seeing just how sharp those little claws can be. I like ‘em a bit frisky.”
“Eew!” Cordelia was seriously grossed out at the thought of Spike touching her. “What is it with you people? Hello, do I have a sign that says ‘Vampire Pet’ hanging around my neck?”
“No, but you got a neck,” Spike leered as he edged closer. “For Angelus, that’s usually enough. Bonus points for the great rack and killer legs.”
“Take one more step,” warned Angel with deadly calm, “and I’ll make sure you won’t ever take another.”
Spike threw up his hands, “Oooooohhhh! I’m so scared,” he quaked in mock fear.
There was no way out of the confrontation that was coming. Spike was obviously looking for a fight, but Angel had Cordelia to consider. He maneuvered her toward the entrance of the church, keeping both Spike and Dru in his sights. They made it to the back door. Angel shouldered it open, breaking the lock and hinges.
“Get inside,” he ordered while removing the car keys from his pocket and slipping them into her hand.
Cordelia grasped his arm a little tighter. She was not about to leave him no matter how scared she was of those two lunatics. Automatically arguing, “But—”
Growling her name, Angel told her to go. He was forced to turn away to keep track of Drusilla and Spike who were now approaching his position. “What the hell do you two want?”
“Maybe I just missed you, my Angel,” Drusilla sighed as she waltzed up the stairs, her hands sliding up over his chest. She curled her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder.
Firmly, but gently, Angel pulled her loose and held her at arms length. “You know those days are over.”
“The nasty soul is here to stay,” she nodded, “but it doesn’t make you happy. Not at all. You wallow in guilt and your heart still stinks of one who does not deserve it.”
A phantom stab of pain accompanied her touch. “Leave Buffy out of this.”
Drusilla promised him, “Your precious Slayer is not the reason I have come.”
She grabbed his arms so quickly that Angel failed to see it coming. Using a strength that he often forgot she possessed, Dru tossed him down the steps where Spike was waiting, a dark scowl spread across his face.
Before disappearing into the church, she told them, “Play nice.”
33: Trinity Baptist Church, Eastside, Sunnydale
Cordelia tugged hard on the doorknob, but like all of the others leading out of the sanctuary, it was locked. She heard Angel calling out her name and warning Dru not to harm her. That meant— “Oh crap!”
Whirling around, she saw Drusilla coming closer down the center aisle. She had a way of walking in that ivory gown that seemed to make time move slowly. Dru’s vampiric features melted into the soft, smooth angular curves of her human face. Those dark, piercing eyes made contact across the distance separating them.
“Do not fear me, kitten,” Drusilla’s soft voice carried across the chamber. “Come closer.”
“I’m a little busy right now,” Cordelia answered as she kicked at the door. When it did not budge, she looked around for anything she could use as a weapon.
Hello, this was a church. Running for the altar, she made a grab for the golden cross sitting at its center and managed to hold it in front of her just as Drusilla reached her. She screamed for Angel and her own name echoed back. For a moment, he appeared in the doorway, ready to come after her, but Spike showed up right behind him.
“Not so fast,” Spike said as he wrapped his arm around Angel’s neck and pulled him back down the steps.
“Boys will be boys,” giggled Dru as she turned her attention back to Cordelia. “I think it’s time we left them to their games.”
Cordelia knew the only way out of the church was the back door and Drusilla was blocking the aisle. Stepping away from the altar, she held out the cross as if it was a shield guarding her from harm. Dru backed away a little, but only enough to allow her a sliver of space.
Hissing at the cross, Dru vamped out and swiped it from Cordelia’s shaking grasp. Tossed away the cross clanked against the marble flooring behind the altar and slid into a far corner. Faint smoke rising from Dru’s singed hand cleared almost instantly leaving the vampiress pouting and Cordelia looking for another avenue of escape.
There was none. Drusilla’s still warm hand curled around her arm, yanking her close with a hard tug that was sure to leave bruises. “Good girls shouldn’t be so cruel to their friends.”
Most of what Cordelia knew about Drusilla had come from overhearing the others talk. This was really the first time they had been face to face. Cordelia had been outside the church sanctuary when the others were rescuing Angel that one time. She was in charge of setting the trap for the creepy bug guy. Then there was the time Xander’s spell had backfired and she later heard that even Drusilla had come onto him.
“We don’t really have much in common,” Cordelia told her. “Maybe you ought to rethink this friend thing and just let me go before Angel turns you into a big ball of dust.”
Combing her fingers through Cordelia’s hair, Drusilla lifted the loose strands to her cheek. “My Angel would never do that. I’ll take my punishment like a good little girl.”
When Cordelia stomped on her foot and made a break for it, Drusilla caught up almost instantly, letting out a snarl and shaking her shoulders until her teeth chattered. “Naughty little pet. You won’t get to meet Miss Edith if you have to be punished.”
Dizzy, it took all of Cordelia’s concentration to stand up. Then she heard Drusilla speaking to her, the dulcet tones urging her to look into the eternal depths of her eyes. “That’s it, kitten, be in me. Look deep and tell me what you see.”
Swaying together, entranced, Cordelia could only respond to the flood of images in her head. One stood out from amongst the others, a tall figure emerging from the shadows. Recognizing him instantly, Cordelia reached out for him, calling his name, “Angel.” Then there was more and what she saw left her breathless.
Drusilla walked around her, clasping Cordelia’s throat from behind and pulling her close. “That is but a glimpse of tomorrow and days that will follow. Angel is your future.”
No longer caught up in the trance, Cordelia was not even certain what she saw. Only that Angel played a part in it. “Look, Drusilla— that’s your name, right?”
“Yes, Cordy,” Dru purred while moving away a strand of hair covering Cordelia’s throat.
“Cordelia,” she snapped back and tried to loosen the handhold around her neck.
“Don’t struggle, pet,” Drusilla warned softly. “The stars sing your name, beautiful one. In time, they will sing their sweet song so that you may hear it. That makes you special. My Angel calls you Cordy. So shall I.”
Staring toward the door, Cordelia wondered what the heck was taking Angel so long. For the moment, the lunatic vampiress seemed content to chat and Cordy had to admit that she was for anything that kept her neck a bite-free zone. “Tell me more about this singing thing, cos I can tell you I was a huge hit in last year’s talent show.”
Stroking the fingers of her free hand along Cordelia’s smooth throat, Drusilla let her fingers flutter over the pulse she found there. “Mmmm,” she leaned a little closer. “Time will whisper its secrets, show you pretty pictures of gore and destruction.”
Cordelia shuddered at the thought of it. She had no idea whether to believe Dru or not, but if this was just a scare tactic, it was working. “Couldn’t I just get the Cliff Notes version?”
“Heartache, pain and death will be your prize, sweet kitten,” warned Drusilla, “or you can listen to me. Angel is your future and I will see him happy or you will be dead.”
“Look,” Cordelia tried again, “you’ve got the wrong idea. Huge mistake. You’re obviously looking for the Slayer. Buffy’s not here right now, but I can give her a message.”
“It is not the Slayer who holds they key to my Angel’s happiness,” Dru whispered into her ear. “We shall spend time together while I am here on the Hellmouth.”
Wide-eyed, Cordelia was suddenly on information overload. “My social calendar is already full. Sorry, maybe next year?”
A little growl sounded in her ear, reminding her that Drusilla might be mad, but she was deadly serious. “The soul may soften him, but my Angel is a demon in bed and out. You remember that. He likes his pleasure and pain, he does. If you promise to be a good girl, I will tell you what stirs his blood, what makes him hard, what makes him moan.”
“What? No— eew!” Cordelia really did not want to hear any more. This was already seriously freaking her out. “Let me go.”
The plea emerged as a demand; one Drusilla had no intention of acting upon until Angel appeared in the doorway again. Bruised and bloody, he dumped Spike’s semi-conscious body on the back pew. “Do as she says, Dru. Let her go.”
“Do you hear it, my Angel?” Drusilla nuzzled her cheek against Cordelia’s throat. “The sweet rush of fear.”
Angel moved slowly down the aisle, determined not to make a move that would cause Drusilla to act. All she needed was a fraction of a second and Cordy would be dead. A bite, a slashed throat, a broken neck; there were too many possibilities to defend from this position. Rationality often escaped Dru, but talking her down from this was probably his only option.
There were no tears in Cordelia’s eyes, but he saw that she was afraid. He could hear it, just as Dru suggested: the rapid beat of her heart, the intoxicating flutter of her pulse adding to the scent of fear. The desperation gleaming in her eyes forced him to move faster.
“Don’t,” Angel shouted as he saw his childe’s mouth descend toward the flawless turn of her throat. Then he was running full tilt down the aisle.
It was over in a flash. Cordelia screamed loudly, grabbing her neck. Dru tossed her forward into Angel’s arms as she ran past him. The building started to shake and it was all Angel could do to sweep Cordelia up into his arms before it began to crumble around them. Dodging falling ceiling beams and rubble, they made it out.
Drusilla stood at the center of the cemetery with Spike in her arms, staring back at them. Angel barely spared them a glance. His only concern was to get Cordy to safety.
“Put me down,” she squirmed out of his hold hopping down to the still-shaking ground. “I’m not an invalid.”
She pushed away despite his warning, “Look out!” The ground opened up beneath them, a crevasse appearing, rending and splitting the earth. It swallowed the remains of the church, cut a gash in the middle of the graveyard stopping near the tree line.
When the shaking stopped, Cordelia lay at the bottom of the crevasse staring up at Angel who looked even paler than usual. He dropped to his knees next to her urging her to say something to assure him that she was okay. She did not move and just lay there holding onto her neck.
“Let me see.” Trying to pry her fingers away, Angel demanded gruffly, “Move your hand, Cordy.”
With a huff, she dropped her hand to her side and turned her head. “Is it bad?”
Angel gently brushed away the hair from her throat, his body tense despite the fact that the blood he scented came from fresh scrapes from her fall and not from a gaping wound.
“She didn’t bite you.” He sat back on his heels, relieved at finding only a rosy lipstick smudge on Cordelia’s throat. Drusilla had all the time she needed to kill her. This was a message for him, but considering Dru’s involvement, it could mean just about anything.
Cordelia sat up, feeling her throat again. “She didn’t? No thanks to you, buddy! Where the heck were you, getting your ass kicked by Spike?”
“He did not kick my ass,” Angel assured her. Actually, that was probably the one spot that didn’t get kicked.
Rising to his feet, he helped her to hers. “Just tell me he looks worse,” Cordelia traced the edge of a dark bruise on Angel’s cheek.
“Spike always looks worse,” Angel joked and then winced as his attempt to smile tugged at his split lip. Then seriously, told her, “They got out before the worst of the quake, but I know those two. Being here wasn’t a coincidence. They wanted something.”
Cordelia answered, “Me.”
“What did Dru say to you?” he questioned cautiously as if he suspected anything and everything.
“Oh, pfft, nothing,” Cordelia started walking down the narrow crevasse moving away from Angel and the interrogation that was sure to follow, “just crazy stuff.”
Angel went after her. “That’s not good enough. I need to hear it all.”
“Hello, I had a vampire at my throat,” she reminded him. “I wasn’t taking notes.”
Moving in front of her, Angel blocked her path. “Cordy, it could be important. I need to know what those two are up to.”
Cordelia pushed at his chest, stopping when he grunted in pain from an injury. Gasping, she yanked his shirttail out of his pants and peeked at the size of the bruise along his ribs. “Spike really hurt you.”
“It’s nothing.” Angel captured her wrist stopping the exploration of her fingers. “I’m more concerned about you. What did Dru want?”
“I already told you…me. Apparently, I’m her new best friend and she’d love to give me some advice about my love life,” Cordelia told him. “If I don’t take it, I’m dead.”
Angel figured he could interpret that one even if Cordy was deliberately trying to be cryptic. “She threatened you.”
Nodding, she admitted it. Tucking her hair behind her ears, she pushed passed him and kept walking, looking for a way out of both the crevasse and the conversation. “Oh, you know. Typical death threat. Do as I say or I’ll bite you.”
The ground started to shake again, dark dirt crumbling from the crevasse walls. Pulling her close, Angel kept Cordelia steady until the aftershock passed. “Dru got the wrong idea about us,” he realized that they had been standing in each other’s arms when Drusilla and Spike rounded the corner of the church.
“You could say that,” Cordy nodded vehemently. Way, way wrong. Still, she had to point out the hole in his theory. “That doesn’t explain how she knew we’d be here.”
Drusilla’s unique abilities combined with her natural vampiric instincts to create a kind of homing beacon, Angel explained. It was part of the bond between sire and childe, which usually faded over periods of separation.
“What exactly are Dru’s abilities besides walking around with a few loose screws?”
Running a hand through his hair, Angel ignored the fact that his scalp was still sore from Spike trying to yank it out at the roots during the part of the fight where they were scuffling on the ground. He did not want to think about Spike, Dru, or anything from his godforsaken past while he was with Cordelia. Letting anything from those dark, sordid times touch her was akin to sacrilege.
“She has the sight,” Angel said reminding Cordelia of something she might have heard or read about the vampiress.
“So this business about stars singing is…”
Angel’s scowl appeared, marring his already bruised face with guilt. “Dru had the sight before she became a vampire. She catches glimpses of the future, but most of it comes out as nonsensical.”
With a shaky laugh, Cordelia fully agreed, “Lotsa nonsense.” It had to be.
“Don’t be fooled by her,” Angel urged her to listen. “If Drusilla threatened your life, she means it. I don’t say that to frighten you, but to make sure you aren’t swayed into thinking her a complete idiot. Sometimes Dru retreats back into a childlike state, but she’s no less deadly because of it.”
The fearful butterflies that were still fluttering now knotted tightly in her stomach. “Dru’s planning to come after me,” Cordelia finally told him leaving out all other details.
“I won’t let that happen.” Angel considered Drusilla his responsibility and told Cordelia that he would put whatever game she was playing to a stop.
“Thanks for the assurances,” she patted him on the arm, “but I hope you won’t mind if I add a Slayer or two to the guard duty rotation. You can’t be with me all of the time.”
Angel kept his opinion on that matter to himself. He backed off, giving her just a little breathing room. During the daytime, he had some obvious limitations. After dark was another matter and if Cordelia thought he was going to let her out of his sight, she was mistaken.
Taking one more step back, Angel’s heel connected with a rock-solid object. He toppled back, but was starting to catch his balance when Cordelia jumped in to help. The distraction caused him to automatically clasp one of her hands. Her forward momentum sent them both tumbling to the ground with Cordy landing on top of him.
“That hurt,” Angel clenched his eyes shut at the shooting pain along his back.
Cordelia squirmed against him, freeing up one of her hands to slap his shoulder. “Are you saying I’m fat?”
Despite the discomfort, Angel had to chuckle at that one. He brought his hands to her hips to stop her from moving and then slipped them up to a less volatile spot along her waist. “No, but unless it’s the edge of a coffin, I think I just found our missing obelisk.”
Without bothering to move, Cordelia let out a gleeful squeal. “Hah! Team Chase wins again.”
Angel disdainfully quirked an eyebrow at that one, but he admitted to himself that he liked Team Chase no matter what she chose to call it. Shifting them up into a sitting position, Angel was instantly caught up in her smile and the sparkle in her eyes.
“You’re beautiful when you gloat,” he traced his thumb just under the tempting curve of her bottom lip.
Her laughter turned to soft gasps of air. Angel caught the subtle dilatation of her eyes as she stared back at him, hazel depths darkening with sudden awareness. He felt her fingers curling around the lapels of his jacket, either holding on or as some form of resistance.
Taking a chance, Angel let temptation win out. He moved in closer leaving only a small measure of moonlight between them, silently willing her to move the rest of the way. He could already taste her sweet breath against his lips and felt his body tightening in anticipation.
“It’s time to regroup with the others,” Cordelia told him as she sat back abruptly, her rigid posture making it clear that she was uncomfortable with what had nearly happened between them.
Disappointed and feeling the loss of her warmth as she scrambled to her feet, Angel reminded himself that he wasn’t supposed to be thinking about kissing Cordy. His kisses were meant for someone else, even if Buffy had shown no interest in them. Cordy had probably just saved them some embarrassment.
Pushing those inappropriate thoughts aside, Angel focused on the task at hand. It was indeed the obelisk he had landed on, now in a position parallel to the ground having toppled over at some time in the past before being covered over. The obsidian stone was etched with strange symbols, some of which matched the bone relic.
“We’ll need to get Giles over here,” Angel told her.
Cordelia reminded, “To do that, we’ll have to get out of this ditch.”
“That’s easy enough.” He gauged the distance, bent at the knees and leapt.
“Nice jump, hot shot,” Cordelia stared up at him, her arms crossed and foot tapping impatiently. “What about me?”
Too far out of reach, there was no way to simply lift her up. Angel was not about to jump down again and toss her over the edge. She already had a few scrapes and bruises. He did not want to chance hurting her further. Momentarily disappearing, Angel returned with a drape he had pulled from the rubble of the church.
Tossing one end over the edge of the crevasse, he instructed Cordy to, “Hold on.”
Once she was back at ground level, Angel started to move away, to give her the space she obviously preferred. Cordelia grabbed the sleeve of his jacket, stopping him. He sent a silent query as his eyes connected with hers. This time he found her looking upset and a little fearful.
“Is it still there?” Cordelia stood motionless, her back toward the main part of the cemetery.
Angel realized what she was asking him. His gaze slid across the trench created by the earthquake, examining the extent of the devastation. Just over the widest part of the crevasse was the little stone bench near the flowering trees. Following along, he counted three headstones to the left and found the one he was looking for.
“Yes, Cordy, your grandfather’s grave is still intact.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Cordelia saw for herself that he was right. “That’s good for Grandpa, but he doesn’t need to worry about dents in the Plymouth. I did tell you that I only borrowed it.”
Much to their relief, they found the car to be undamaged by the quake. Making a start for the driver’s side, Angel realized he no longer had the keys. Asking Cordy for them, he heard her gasp as she looked in the direction of the rubble. Angel let out a groan, already picturing himself sifting through it to find the keys to her borrowed car.
Then he heard a jingle as Cordy pulled the keys out of her pocket dangling them in the air. Twirling the key ring around her finger, she teased, “You are so easy.”
When Angel held his hand out for the keys, Cordelia shook her head. “My turn to drive.”
Angel stood by as Cordelia started to dust off her clothes before getting into the car. It was a futile effort since most of it was graveyard dirt. She seemed more concerned about the ruined state of her shoes than the superficial scrapes on her legs and elbow. He was probably far more banged up after his fight with Spike, but Angel knew that his injuries would be gone by morning.
Taking a close look at her injured elbow, Angel saw that it was no longer actively bleeding, but advised her, “You should probably put something on that. We’ll stop by and tell Giles where to find the obelisk, and then I’ll take you home.”
“I’ve been more scraped up in cheerleading practice,” Cordelia took a good look at her elbow. “There’s nothing wrong with my elbow that a little Neosporin won’t fix.”
“Maybe you should let me drive.”
She tried not to smile at his obvious tactic, but the pathetic expression on his bruised face was wearing her down. “A little boo-boo won’t affect my driving skills. Besides, I’m pretty sure I can find my own way home.”
All teasing aside, Angel remembered that Drusilla and Spike were still out there. “Not without me,” his tone shifted leaving shivers running down her spine. This time he took the keys from her loose grip. “Get in the car, Cordy.”
34: Mount Sinai Memorial Gardens, Northeast Sunnydale
“We found it back at Trinity Baptist Church,” Angel informed Giles. He’d barely allowed the Watcher time to greet them after they pulled up at the curbside just in front of the gated entrance to the Mount Sinai Memorial Gardens.
Giles looked almost giddy… for him, decided Cordelia and turned her attention to Faith who was walking around to her side of the car.
“You two look like hell,” Faith commented. “That was a pretty big shaker, but I’d say you got the worst of it.”
“Pfft! The earthquake was the boring part of the evening,” Cordelia assured her. “I’m pretty sure watching Angel eat French fries would have won out if it hadn’t been for the unscheduled family reunion at the cemetery.”
Faith leaned against the door. “French fries?”
“Vampires?” Giles was asking simultaneously, his concern overshadowing Faith’s interest in Angel’s diet. Considering their appearance, it seemed clear that there had been a fight.
Angel had not planned to get into this now, but he supposed it would have to be done eventually. As Cordelia herself had indicated, he was not going to be able to protect her around the clock. That meant informing the Watcher that, “Spike and Drusilla are back in town.”
Behind his glasses, Giles’ eyes widened a bit, his expression calm, yet serious. “I see. Their timing is as impeccable as ever with our two Slayers busy unraveling the forthcoming events of the prophecy.”
“I don’t think it has anything to do with that,” Angel admitted glancing over at Cordelia. She sat in the passenger seat quietly tugging at her lower lip as if forcing herself not to speak.
Faith was all business when she asked Giles, “What’s so special about these two vamps that has you so uptight? More than usual, anyway.”
Adjusting the duffel bag onto his other shoulder, Giles explained to her that these were not ordinary vampires. “They are of the Order of Aurelius and thus possess the deadliest of pedigrees.”
Angel’s fingers curled into a tighter grip on the steering wheel. “Giles means that they are my responsibility. A long time ago, I made Drusilla. She is my progeny just as Spike is hers.”
“Hope you don’t mind if I stake the kiddies,” Faith cocked her head and gave him a look that promised him she was serious despite her comical turn of phrase. “I’ll do it, you know.”
“Stay away from them, Faith,” warned Angel. “I’ll deal with it. For the moment, I don’t think they’re involved in anything to do with the prophecy.”
Giles preferred not to underestimate those two. Give them an inch and they’d be looking for control of the Hellmouth. “Have you any idea as to their plans? Last time they pieced together the Judge in order to wipe out humanity.”
Angel did not exactly need to remind Giles that he was there at the time. “Drusilla has taken an interest in Cordelia. She saw us together at the cemetery and got the wrong idea. It may be just a jealous fit, but Dru threatened Cordy’s life and made it known that she plans to try again.”
“Dear God,” Giles reacted in horror at the thought of Cordelia becoming a target for the insane vampiress.
Faith fingered the stake that was tucked in her belt loop. “Like I said Angel… if I see ‘em, I stake ‘em. No questions asked.”
“We may need to rethink the team assignments for the duration,” Giles suggested much to Angel’s irritation. “I’d feel better if Buffy or Faith were out with the two of you.”
“Cor, maybe you should just stay at home,” Faith suggested and it was the first thing out of her mouth tonight that Angel actually agreed with. He seconded it drawing an immediate response from Cordelia.
“No way!” Cordelia sent them both nasty looks. Sounding vexed, she told Faith, “You’re supposed to be on my side.” Then turning back to Angel, “And you… you made me a promise today and you’re keeping it.”
Puzzled for a moment, Angel realized she meant the training sessions. That was good for learning long-term defensive skills, but it was not going to save her life if Drusilla attacked again tomorrow. “I haven’t forgotten,” he told her leaving Faith and Giles to send each other questioning looks and answering shrugs as they stood by the car.
“I’d feel safer if I was with you,” Cordy told him bluntly. “Maybe they can’t get into the house, but I don’t want them hanging around, either.”
Angel let go of the steering wheel to squeeze her hand, “You know I’ll take care of you, Cordy. Home is the safest place for you while you sleep. Otherwise, you can stick with me or with Faith if I can’t be there. Buffy will be around during the school day and I’m sure Giles will keep an eye out.”
“Certainly,” Giles stated although somewhat distractedly as he stared down at the tender way Angel was holding Cordelia’s hand. They seemed lost in each other’s eyes. If that was any indication of their interaction at Trinity Cemetery, it was no wonder Drusilla got the wrong idea. Assuming that it was wrong in the first place, he shuddered at the notion.
Giles had been relieved at the news that Buffy and Angel had broken off their romantic ties, though Angel’s continued presence had suggested he was not quite willing to close that chapter of their relationship. No matter how many times the calm, rational part of his mind told him that Angel was a different person as a souled being in comparison to the purely evil intellect responsible for Jenny’s death, in his heart Giles had never truly believed it.
There were dangers to be found in any relationship Angel forged, but this unlikely partnership with Cordelia Chase suddenly held possibilities that Giles had never even considered.
Removing his glasses, Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, holding tight for a few seconds to release the tension building there. He had enough problems to deal with tonight. Cursed vampires and crazed ones were not his top priority. “Angel, I suggest you escort Cordelia home. We’ll deal with future assignments and your concerns for her safety tomorrow. In the meantime, Faith and I will collect Buffy and the others to begin a study of the obelisk.”
Cordelia slipped her hand out of Angel’s grasp and tucked it into a cross-armed position. She saw Faith backing away from the edge of the car while holding a hand to her ear with the universal signal for ‘phone me’.
“The quake opened up a crevasse in the middle of the cemetery,” Angel was busy informing Giles about the details of their find when Cordelia started to pay them attention. “You’ll need some digging equipment and some ropes if you want to elevate it. It’s lodged at an angle in the ground, so only two of its sides are visible.”
35: Jefferson Avenue, Northeast Sunnydale
“You’re upset that I suggested the others keep tabs on you,” Angel commented as he turned the car down a side street heading back to the west side of town.
Cordelia shook her head and continued to tap her nails against the doorframe. “Not really. I’m not stupid. I told you I’d be asking for a little Slayer protection. This just complicates things.”
He left the question unspoken because he wasn’t sure if such a thing existed. Terms like ‘us’ usually implied more than friendship, and Cordy had made it clear enough that was all she wanted when she avoided kissing him. He called himself a fool for thinking she would consider it in the first place, although for an instant he’d seen desire flash in those beautiful eyes, unless he’d imagined that, too.
To be on the safe side, Angel asked, “Complicates what?”
A heavy sigh sounded followed immediately by a self-derisive snort as Cordelia confessed, “There are things you don’t know about me. Nobody does except Faith and she kinda blackmailed me into telling her,” a smile revealed that the memory of it was amusing rather than painful.
Angel slowed the car down to a halt at the next stop sign. He knew this had to do with whatever made her so sad back at the cemetery and he did not want to say or do anything to stop her from telling him what it was.
“Turn here,” Cordelia pointed in the opposite direction of the flashing turn signal he had automatically flipped on.
Following her instructions, Angel maneuvered the car onto Quincy Street, now heading in the opposite direction of the Chase family estate. Slightly isolated from the rest of town, there were several similar properties, all secured with electronic devices, high stone walls and steel gates. He had never been to Cordy’s place, but even he knew it was not in this direction.
The only places on this part of Quincy Street were a fleabag motel, a trailer park and a few old houses that had seen their prime back in the 1920s. It didn’t help that Cordelia told him to pull over directly in front of the Downtowner Motel and Apartments.
“Cordy, why are we here?” There was a hint of panic in his voice. Angel felt sure he did not want to hear what was coming. He was seconds away from skipping the explanation and demanding to know which room was hers. It was not a big leap to imagine stuffing all of her belongings into the trunk of the Plymouth and taking her back to the mansion.
“Sheesh! Take a chill pill, Angel,” she told him, shifting in her seat to face him. “I have some stuff to say and I’d rather do it before we get there.”
Angel held a tight grip on the steering wheel. “Okay. I’m… chilled.”
Snorting, Cordelia rolled her eyes skyward. “Yeah, I can see that. Angel, I don’t want everybody to know about this.”
“You mean Buffy.”
“Like I said,” she shrugged, “everybody.”
He understood that Buffy, Willow and Xander kept few, if any, secrets from each other. They had always had a close bond. It was not that big a stretch to imagine that Buffy would say something to them. Promising Cordy, with a wry twist of his lips, he told her, “I don’t gossip.”
A little smile appeared and then disappeared. “Too bad, otherwise I’d be the one asking the questions.”
“Just tell me,” he prompted softly recognizing her delay tactics. “I’m in no position to judge you.”
Cordelia took in a deep breath, and after letting it out, she started talking. He let her go on uninterrupted, partly because he wanted her to tell him everything, but also because he did not know what to say.
“Daddy made some bad tax decisions,” was the first revelation. Tagging on, “Like not paying them for a few years.”
She went into detail about the argument her parents had the night before they left town. Angel knew that Cordelia’s age technically allowed her to live alone, but her parents left her here in Sunnydale while they headed out of the country.
“It’s not like they were going anywhere cool,” Cordy shrugged. “Besides, Daddy got arrested before they could leave town.”
The authorities stepped in, arrested Daniel Chase, and seized his property on several counts of tax evasion. After a couple of days, Cordy’s mother declared that she couldn’t bear the thought of living in poverty and used one of the airline tickets she had purchased before her husband’s arrest.
Emelia Chase apparently wasn’t as cold-hearted as Angel initially imagined. She left her daughter with one hundred dollars, which was the only cash she had to spare and made contact with her mother, Beverly Quinn. They had not spoken since her father’s funeral years before, and before that their contact was limited to sending newspaper clippings of Emelia’s engagement to the Chase heir, their formal wedding announcement, and Cordelia’s birth.
Cordelia did not go into the details of Emelia’s estrangement from her parents. She did hint that her mother wanted something more than life here on Quincy Street and had managed to marry into one of Sunnydale’s wealthiest families. It was years before Daniel Chase discovered the truth about his wife’s poor origins and he preferred it to remain a family secret.
So, it had been a stranger’s funeral Cordelia attended with her mother the day that her grandfather was laid to rest in the Trinity Baptist Church cemetery. She sat on the bench, watching the ceremony as her mother stood in the background wearing a veil.
That was the first time Cordelia had ever seen Beverly Quinn. Black was not her color. Her face had been red and blotchy, but there were no new tears in her eyes. She had looked over at Cordy, their eyes connecting for one of those endless moments until the pastor said something that turned her attention away. After the funeral, Emelia told Cordelia that the woman was her grandmother, but said that she was not supposed to ask any more questions.
“So I didn’t,” Cordy admitted somewhat shamefully. “Mom bought me a pony and I sort of forgot about anything else. That was before I got Keanu, of course.”
During one of their earlier patrols, Cordelia had mentioned owning a Palomino. He had gotten the impression that she loved to ride. At the time, he was simply glad to find a topic that he actually knew something about. Now it occurred to him that she had spoken about it almost longingly, as if it was a pleasure she could no longer experience.
Without him asking, Cordy revealed, “The IRS hauled him away right after they took my car. It was in Daddy’s name even though I got in on my birthday.”
Finally, Cordelia told him to turn the engine on again. “We might as well get this over with.”
Angel glanced over at the motel again. “A-are you staying here?”
“Eew! No,” Cordelia slapped his arm. “I’m living with my grandmother. Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said?”
“You didn’t exactly say,” defended Angel as he turned the key in the ignition. “I’m just glad you’re not living in that place.”
Cordelia felt wary about revealing one thing to Angel, but she figured it could only help. “Actually, that’s where Faith is staying.” She had tried a couple of times to convince the Slayer that she could afford to stay somewhere else.
To his credit, Angel was outraged at the idea. “She’s living there?”
“It’s not exactly the Ritz,” Cordy had to agree, “but I’ll let you try to convince her to move out. I’ve done everything, but offer to let her move into Bev’s garage. Not that Faith would actually do it.”
Cordelia directed him to a small, one-story house. Even in the moonlight, Angel could see the peeling paint and broken shutters. A single porch light hung outside the front door. Parking the car in the empty driveway, he turned off the engine.
“It’s really not so bad,” Cordy tried to make it sound that way. She did not wait for Angel to come open her door. He was still sitting there looking sandbagged. “I’ve got a job at April Fools.”
Angel took the keys out of the ignition and got out of the car, meeting her at the front. Knowing that he had no clue where or what that was, she told him, “It’s a formals dress shop downtown.”
Understanding dawned. “That’s why you’re always late.” Angel connected another piece to the strangely alluring puzzle that was Cordelia Chase.
“Mrs. Finkle doesn’t believe in closing early, so I sometimes miss the eastbound bus.”
Angel could understand why Cordelia might be hesitant to tell the others about her father being in jail, but it seemed strange to hide the fact that she had a job. “Chases don’t work unless they have to,” she told him. “They’d know something was up. Besides, it’s only temporary. Graduation isn’t that far away and then I’m outta here.”
He found that thought more unsettling than anything she had said so far. As they stood on the front step, Angel had to fight his own instinct to pull her into his arms and give whatever comfort he could offer. Something told him that she would not want that. Cordelia had an independent streak and he had heard enough to tell him that he would have to be careful about doing anything beyond ensuring her safety.
“Do you want to come in?” Cordelia asked him. “Bev is probably asleep on the couch in front of the TV again, but if you can survive the resonant snoring, it won’t be so bad.”
“No, I need to ask around town about Spike and Dru,” Angel told her. “Probably start with Willy’s place.”
Cordelia wasn’t so happy with that idea. “You’re hurt. I’m pretty sure you’ve got a broken rib. I should— do something,” even though she didn’t have a clue what that might be. “I don’t want you going in there looking like a used punching bag.”
After everything that had happened to her tonight and despite the revelation of such an emotionally draining story about her personal woes, Cordelia was actually worried about him. That only reminded him that he’d been right in thinking she was far more than the spoiled rich brat she’d been when they first met. He had been one back in the day and had been far more selfish than Cordy could ever claim to be.
Angel knew that her whole world had crumbled around her. It was no wonder that she was clinging to her role with the Scoobies. It wasn’t just her family’s sudden fall from wealth to poverty. All she had was her reputation and the hope that no one would find out the truth. She had lost her parents, her relationship with Xander and been forced to live with a virtual stranger.
He thought of Buffy’s scheme to get Cordelia to quit the Scooby Gang. Now he’d make damned sure she knew that Cordy was staying. As for Xander, that boy was just a fool. He obviously did not appreciate what he had. Still, Xander and Buffy were the least of his concerns.
Because of him, Cordy’s life was in danger. He needed to find Drusilla and set her straight before something terrible happened. Not that he would let it.
36: April Fools Dress Shop, Main Street, Westside Sunnydale
Closing time had finally arrived. From his vantage point across the street, Angel watched the lights go out in the April Fools dress shop at precisely the top of the hour. He’d gotten here just after nightfall and started to check out the security of the building. There was an alley behind it shared by a row of neighboring businesses, but the steel door leading from the shop was locked.
Satisfied that no one would be able to get in that way without making a hell of a lot of noise, Angel had moved around to the main street and found a shadowy spot from which to keep an eye on Cordelia. He could see her through the glass, although the mannequins from the window display kept blocking his view as she flitted around in the store clearing up merchandise.
When she finally emerged, Cordelia paused at the door, “Goodnight, Mrs. Finkle,” before taking off in the direction of the school.
Angel followed from a short distance, his pace leisurely in comparison to hers, but close enough to get there almost instantly if trouble arose. He did not really expect it tonight. Considering the thrashing he’d given Spike, he knew it would take at least another day for him to recover. As long as Spike remained bedridden, Dru was not likely to leave his side.
Despite that, Angel had maintained a vigil outside Cordelia’s grandmother’s house last night. He should have been tracking down his wayward childe instead, but he could not leave. After everything that Cordy told him, he found himself plagued by stirring feelings that had no business coming between them.
She was beautiful, vulnerable and the demon in him yearned to take advantage. That pathetic story melted his heart and roused his deepest male instincts. Angel wanted her safe and needed her close, but that frightened the hell out of him. He told himself that any real friend would want the same. To be certain that no one harmed her, especially if that someone might turn out to be him.
He knew Cordelia would probably call him a dumbass for hanging back this way instead of walking with her, but he needed the space. Somehow, she had crept into his life. Correction: barged in. One day all he could think about was Buffy and his own miserable existence. The next he was eating French fries and sitting beside Cordy at the movie theater.
It was Buffy’s fault, he decided. If she had not insisted that Cordy team up with him he would have remained perfectly happy in his own misery. Now he could not stop thinking about her infectious smile or the way his body had ached longingly at the feel of hers sprawled across him. The pain from his injuries had been nothing next to his need to plum the warmth of her mouth, to kiss her breathless.
Buffy had not even been a secondary thought in that moment. Not for him anyway. He wondered if that was what held Cordy back.
Unless the thought of kissing him was repulsive to her, Angel mused rather dejectedly, shadowing her along the sidewalk. He was a vampire, not some pimply-faced beatnik from the football team. The things he could do to her with a simple kiss would have her trembling in those high-heeled designer shoes.
Smirking at that thought, Angel stared down at her polished pink toenails as they peeked up at him from her strappy little sandals. Then it occurred to him that not only had Cordy stopped walking, she was now facing him. He heard the clearing of her throat. One foot started tapping against the pavement. Slowly, Angel let his gaze follow the length of her bare legs, up past the little figure-hugging dress to meet hers.
“You’re late,” Cordelia told him flailing her arms wide before propping her hands on her hips. “I thought you were going to meet me at the store.”
Angel closed the distance between them coming to a halt just inches away. Hands in his pockets, he resisted the urge to reach out and run his fingers through her wind-blown hair. Even now, it fluttered around her face teasing him with glimpses of her throat.
“Kinda hard to be my bodyguard if you’re not actually around to guard it,” Cordy huffed, but nudged his shoulder playfully with her fingertips.
Wondering idly what he had done to call her attention to him, he told her, “I’ve been here all along, watching you.”
“Yeah, I think that’s what set off my Spidey-senses.” Angel’s confusion earned him loud snort of amusement and eventually an explanation, “Major paranoia alert. It happens whenever I’m being stalked by big, broody vampires,” her brows arched high and then lowered as she added thoughtfully, “or certain members of the A-V Club.”
Maybe it was actually sarcasm rather than an explanation.
“What, no excuses?” she asked when he said nothing. “I suppose you prefer the creepy stalker mode to actually keeping me company.”
Angel shrugged. “It has its benefits.” The view, for one, he thought.
Now shaking her head as if she thought that was not a legitimate answer, she sounded out a soft, “Pfft! “You really need to focus on your social skills.”
“I’m a vampire,” he commented dryly. “I don’t need social skills. When it comes to people I get into two modes: bite and avoid.”
She tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, a natural little move that seemed both casual, yet strangely intimate at the same time. “Not an option here, buddy, just in case you get ideas,” Cordy teased softly.
Angel hastily tried to reassure her, “I wouldn’t do that.”
“Avoid me? Pfft! Pull the other one.”
Either she had not noticed him ogling her or it was not worth pointing out. Cordelia had to be used to men staring. As long as his hands did not automatically wander over the soft curves his eyes had been exploring, Angel figured he might manage to avoid a vicious tongue-lashing.
“I’m excited about tonight.” Cordy’s enthusiasm for patrol surprised him. Then it occurred to him that this was not supposed to be a typical patrol. Not if he recalled the research appropriately, which he knew he did. The thought of stargazing in the line of duty actually had a lot of appeal considering the company.
That was one reason Angel regretted what he was about to say. It was also why he had to catch up with Cordy anyway. Now that they had reached the cut-off for the school, it was time to tell her about his plan for the night. Angel knew she was not going to like hearing it.
“You’re not going on patrol,” he said firmly as he came to a halt at the corner.
Cordelia yanked her hand away from his arm and stepped back, staring with a mix of shock and anger. Temper flaring hotly, “Since when are you the boss of me?”
“Spike and Dru are still out there,” he responded evenly. Figuring tonight was safe enough did not mean he should allow them time to recover and to plan for another attack. “I didn’t have a chance to check out their whereabouts last night.”
“I know why you’re doing this, Angel, but that doesn’t give you the right to try to push me around.” The look of disappointment on her face eclipsed her sudden anger. She sighed dramatically, “So much for your surprise.”
A long beat followed with Cordelia staring up into his eyes breaking down every shred of resolve. Dammit, how did she do that? The spark of curiosity burning in the pit of his stomach rose up to his throat as the question, “Surprise?” popped out of his mouth.
“Pfft! Like I’m even going to tell you now.” Cordy crossed her arms and glanced away, the stubborn set of her jaw indicating she was not likely to budge.
Angel knew when he was being manipulated. The question was in whether he was going to let her get away with it. “Vampires don’t like surprises.”
Cordy peeped at him from the shadowy frame of her lashes. “Huh.”
“Maybe it’s just me,” Angel conceded. “I don’t like surprises.”
“Then you shouldn’t come with me to Bev’s house,” Cordy warned and he noticed that she did not call it home. “It might be too unpleasant an experience. Faith can take me.”
“We’re halfway there. I’ll walk you home,” Angel started to head in that direction only to stop after taking two steps.
Calling out over her shoulder, Cordy told him, “Nope. Faith or forget it. I can walk myself home if necessary.”
“Okay,” Angel’s voice rumbled into a soft growl. “Faith is probably with the others at the library. We’ll stop there first.”
Seeing the triumphal sparkle in her eyes and the smile on her lips, Angel walked back to her side. Despite his irritation that Cordy was not instantly submitting to his better judgment, part of him liked that she did not. Bending her to his will was a deliciously tempting thought, a frisson of surprise shooting through him as he imagined doing so.
His hand wrapped around her slim upper arm to tug her closer. With his mouth brushing against her ear, he added, “Don’t think I won’t check to see if you’re where you’re supposed to be.”
“You’re Dru’s ‘daddy’, not mine. Go check on her if you want to,” Cordelia tried to pull out of his grasp. It was not bruising, but he did not let her pull away. Not until she had stopped struggling and then he gently released her, his open hand stroking down her arm before dropping to his side.
That defiant spark in her eyes only alerted Angel to the fact that he really did not want submissiveness from Cordy. The instant images in his head roused him until his body throbbed with it. What he did want left him aching and suffused with guilt. Angel figured he had no business wanting anything from Cordy. He should just take their friendship and forget about this misplaced lust.
Angel did his best to present a blank stare instead of the sudden hunger he felt, focusing on her eyes instead of her lips. Inwardly trying to temper his body’s reaction, he was grateful that the length of his coat hid the damning evidence from her view.
When Angel did not say anything in response to her little rant, Cordy suggested, “We could stay for the rest of Giles’ meeting. Don’t you want to know if he found out anything new about our Big Bad?”
She had a point. Angel was interested in discovering whether Giles had been able to use the obelisk to further his research. It would not hurt to stay for a short while in order to get an update on the situation.
“The meeting won’t last long,” Angel nodded, indicating that it would not cause too much of a delay in his plans. “But I’m taking you home afterward.”
After a short pause, Cordy relented, “Okay.”
Upon reflection that seemed far too easy, but Angel was content to let it go for now. He reached down for her hand to tuck it back in the crook of his elbow. Her fingers shifted along his leather sleeve before settling in one spot.
Together, they walked the rest of the way to the school managing to refrain from further arguments about whether or not Cordelia would get to go on patrol. Angel listened to her chatter about her day and her life of ‘servitude’ under Mrs. Finkle’s watchful eye. He said little, but hung on every word.
“Thank God we’re here. These shoes are so not made for walking across town,” Cordy groaned in relief when they arrived at the school grounds. “I really miss my car.”
Angel asked about the Plymouth. “You couldn’t borrow it again?”
“My grandmother uses it during the week,” she explained. “Besides, I don’t have time to walk to Bev’s house after school and still get to work on time.”
She had told him that her grandmother lived on her Social Security check and little else. Beverly Quinn had never taken a cent from her daughter even during the days when the Chase family was rolling in money. Bev did have one weakness, though. “Wednesday is her bingo night, but I can pretty much use it any other night.”
He sounded almost eager asking, “Really? That car has such great lines.”
Angel automatically pushed open the library door, but his attention was still on her as they walked in. Still holding onto his arm, Cordy smacked her free hand against his shoulder. “Dork, you won’t get your hands on my chassis that easily.”
“But I like your—,” Angel stopped at the sudden sound of Giles clearing his throat.
Glancing over, he saw the Watcher standing at the head of the research table, his glasses halfway down his nose as he peered over them with a peevish expression. Angel realized they had interrupted his speech. Next to him, Cordelia snorted softly.
“Hi Giles! Sorry we’re late. Unavoidable,” she explained as her hand slipped down Angel’s sleeve to capture his hand. With a tug, Cordy dragged Angel toward their usual spot on the stairs.
Angel followed, but his gaze had moved on to Buffy who looked like she just swallowed a lemon. Her green eyes bugged out, irises surrounded by a sea of white, mouth drawn into a tightly puckered circle. Was it the fact that Cordelia had touched him, that they walked in together, or something he’d said that set off that pinched look? Whatever it was, Buffy clearly did not like it.
Slowly, her tight expression evened out. Licking her lips, she commented, “Angel, it’s so good of you to bring Cor along. We’ve been talking about the fact that it’s not safe for her with Dru and Spike in town.”
Clearly, Giles and Faith had brought the others up to speed on Drusilla’s threats. “I’ll deal with that. We came for an update. Any luck with the obelisk?” he asked Giles.
“No,” Buffy answered for him, clearly not ready to give up Angel’s attention. “The stone is still buried. When we got to the church last night there was a crowd at the ruins.”
Giles told him, “The pastor and several parishioners had gathered to assess the damage making any attempt at an excavation impossible.”
“Did they find it?” Cordelia asked.
It was Faith that answered, “Nope. They were too busy sifting through the church rubble to bother with the cemetery.”
“That won’t be the case for long,” Angel felt certain.
“That’s why Faith and I will be going back tonight,” Giles straightened up, pushing his glasses back into place. “I need to make a thorough study of that obelisk in order to narrow down the possibilities concerning the demon’s identity. The rest of you will be assigned to follow-up on tonight’s event.”
Angel rose from his spot on the stairs. “Actually, I won’t be doing that tonight. I need to get a lead on Spike and Dru.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to look for them after patrol,” Giles suggested. “I need two teams on the job. Sunnydale’s topography is such that the sky must be viewed from two separate locations to see the whole of it. Considering the current situation, I would rather not reorganize the groups tonight. Faith and I will be working at Trinity Cemetery.”
The prophecy was vague about tonight’s event. It claimed the sky would signal the identity of another sacrifice, but no specifics on how this would be done. It might be a flash of lightning, mystical event, or random stellar phenomenon.
“Tonight’s the sky thing?” Xander actually sounding relieved, “You mean this isn’t the one where we have to go to the zoo? I don’t like that place anymore.”
Buffy dragged her gaze away from Angel long enough to comment, “I thought you didn’t remember anything about those hyenas.”
“Uh—,” Xander glanced over at Giles looking a little desperate.
“I’m certain he doesn’t,” Giles spoke up. Redirecting the subject back to tonight’s assignments, he wanted to make certain that Angel was going to follow through with his appointed task. “One group will stake out Saunder’s Field,” he informed them. The field was a large gathering spot for townspeople who used it to view the annual Independence Day fireworks. “And the other will be at Shady Hill.”
Though Angel wasn’t happy about the delay, Giles obviously thought it necessary. “I’ll take the hill. It’s in our territory,” he nodded toward Cordelia.
“Angel doesn’t want me tagging along,” Cordy pointed out as she rose to her feet. Walking past him, she headed over to the table, sitting on the edge next to Faith. Noting the Slayer’s amused expression, Cordelia told her, “I’m not exactly stay at home gal. Thumb twiddling is not in the Cordelia Chase handbook.”
Faith offered, “Then come with Giles and me.”
“And crawl through the dirt to dig up some old stone thingy?” Cordelia scrunched up her nose. “I don’t think so.”
Angel’s thunderous expression diminished slightly until Willow suggested, “Cordy, you can come with us if you want to. It’ll be fun. The four of us sitting out there in that big old field waiting for something to happen.”
That sounded about as exciting as watching clothes drying. Buffy did not look thrilled with the idea, but wasn’t opposed to anything that gave Angel a night off from Cordelia. Those two had looked a little too friendly when they arrived. “You should stick with us.”
A strangely smug feeling hit Angel as he told himself he knew exactly how Cordy would respond to the offer. There was no way in hell she’d set herself up to spend hours alone with Buffy, Xander and Willow. Since that would be her last option, she would have no choice but to do as he wanted.
“Okay,” Cordelia accepted the offer contrary to his belief. “I’d feel safer with a Slayer around, anyway, just in case Angel’s wacko relatives decide to show up.”
Stunned, Angel could not believe she was saying that. He glared at her from across the room until she turned her gaze to his. Those hazel eyes drew him forward like a magnet glittering with defiance, curiosity and a hint of excitement. Her glossy lips were pursed into a smug little smile that he wanted to wipe away with his mouth.
Without really thinking about it, Angel moved swiftly. He was in front of her, hands on either side of her thighs, delighting in the sharp gasp she breathed in at his sudden closeness. Offended by the idea that Cordy thought she needed to have a Slayer around, Angel needed to know whether that was really how she felt. “You think I can’t protect you?"
“You obviously don’t think so,” Cordy answered slowly. “Otherwise you wouldn’t want me to stay away from you.”
Blurting, “That’s not…,” Angel’s voice trailed off. “Fine.”
“You can come to Shady Hill,” he told her and inwardly cringed at her squeal of delight. Cordy flung her arms around his shoulders, squeezed tight and then gave him a strong push as she jumped down from the table. “It should be safe enough, but you’re not coming with me after that. I don’t want Dru or Spike anywhere near you.”
“Yeah, well that’s one thing we do agree on, big guy,” she patted his shoulder.
Faith held up a hand for a high five. “I guess my time wasn’t wasted, after all, Cor.” She added a wink.
“What are you talking about?” snapped Buffy.
“Nothing,” Cordelia and Faith answered back instantly.
Angel was a little confused about it too, but Buffy’s reaction got his attention. He had sensed it when he first came in with Cordelia. She was jealous of Cordy. And that meant her feelings for him weren’t completely dead. Those big eyes were full of hurt and anger when he looked at her, but they both stood their ground.
Guilt stabbed deeply as he felt Cordelia’s hand on his arm, but was it because he enjoyed Buffy’s jealous reaction or that he wanted Cordy’s touch? Hell, he wanted more than that. Just the thought of it made him want to roar. His hand found the curve of her waist, fingers splaying wide.
Cordy seemed a little surprised when he touched her, but did not pull away. “If I’m going on patrol, I really do need to stop by the house. This dress wasn’t designed to survive grass stains.”
37: The Library, Sunnydale High School, Southeast Sunnydale
With her feet still propped up on the table, Faith watched as the library doors swung closed. Buffy had practically stormed out leaving Willow and Xander to scramble after her. The hasty excuse she made fooled nobody. She could not have been more obvious about it if she had had steam coming out of her ears.
As soon as Blondie was out of sight, Cordelia pushed herself out of Angel’s hold. Turning to face him, she had poked a finger in his chest. Angrily, “Don’t ever use me that way. How dare you paw me in front of Buffy just so you can make her jealous?”
Angel’s jaw dropped, “Me? I wasn’t.” He turned to look at Giles and Faith for a little support. The Watcher’s face was dourly serious while the Slayer's dimpled cheeks suggested a completely opposite view on the situation. He assured them both, “I wasn’t pawing.”
Letting out a laugh, Faith pointed toward the swinging doors where Cordelia had just exited. “I don’t think it’s us you’ve gotta convince, Soul Boy.”
The look of panic on his face was priceless. Angel muttered a curse and went after her, leaving Faith and Giles alone in the library. Giles let out a long sigh, pulled off his glasses and rubbed a hand over his face. “I’ll be glad when things get back to normal around here.”
“Define normal,” Faith sent him a wry look. “This is the Hellmouth.”
Cordelia had told Faith about some of her experiences with Angel. Their phone call last night lasted over an hour. Although Faith had tried to pry information out of her about Drusilla’s threat, she had been strangely closed-mouthed about the details. Whatever it was nearly caused Cor to cancel her plans for tonight.
She had this strange idea about exposing Angel to normal activities. Faith pointed out that as a vampire Angel had a completely different definition of normal, but Cordelia wasn’t listening. It was weird that Cor actually wanted to be friends with him when Faith’s first instinct was to stake him.
Her second instinct had a lot to do with letting him do the ‘staking’, but she had decided not to go there considering that it was too much fun to sit back and watch this whole thing play out. Just seeing B’s reaction tonight was worth it.
Besides, Cordelia was the closest thing Faith had to being a friend. At first glance she might’ve seemed like someone’s pampered princess, spoilt rotten, the kind of girl Faith would love to see take a fall. But the reality was that she had taken one and Faith had to give her props for landing on her feet.
What’s more, she did not whine about it. There had been no playing the sympathy card with the Scoobs. That deserved some respect in her book.
“Gotta admit, those two could really be hot together,” Faith grinned at the notion of Cor and Angel going at it.
Giles was less that happy about that line of dangerous thinking. “Might I remind you that Angel should not get ‘hot’ with anybody. There is a curse to consider.”
“Damn,” Faith muttered, her smile falling into a fast frown. Now looking concerned, she admitted, “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Yes, I only hope to God that they have.” The last thing Giles needed right now was Angelus on the loose. He turned away to finish gathering supplies.
Zipping the duffel bag, he turned to find Faith staring at him. She let her gaze drop slowly down the length of his frame before climbing back up again. Giles blinked several times as if expecting her curious expression to change. “Sh-shall we get started? I have the rest of the equipment in the boot of the car.”
“I think it’s time to lose the tweed, G-man,” Faith fingered the textured lapel of his jacket leaving Giles gaping at the direction of his own thoughts. “After all, if we’re gonna get down & dirty together, you might wanna dress for the occasion.”
38: Saunders Field, Eastside, Sunnydale
Having reached Saunder’s Field on a power-walk, Buffy was standing at its center staring up at the sky. It was several minutes before her friends caught up with her, both of them out of breath. Sensing their approach, she seethed, “Did you see that? Cordelia was all over him like some oily demoness.”
Willow and Xander glanced at each other and simply fell down on the ground, too tired to bother standing. Panting, Willow admitted, “Not really.”
“Are you kidding?” Xander sank back onto his elbows. “Dead Boy was the touchy-feely one.”
A little whine sounded from Buffy as she dropped down beside them. “This is all Cordelia’s fault. If she hadn’t broken up with you or come back, I wouldn’t have teamed her up with Angel.”
“They’re just patrolling together.” Willow reminded her that Angel had not even wanted to do that.
Xander nodded. He had tried to stay out of the argument back at the library. Cor would have nailed him to the wall for interfering. “Yeah, it’s just patrol. It’s not like they’ve been making out,” Buffy and Willow gasped loudly, “or anything.”
“Don’t even say that, Xander Harris,” Buffy was horrified at the thought. “There is no way Angel could ever want to kiss her.”
Automatically coming to his ex-girlfriend’s defense, Xander commented, “Cor’s a great kisser.”
“Do you honestly think I want to hear that?”
Shrinking back a little, Xander shrugged, “Probably never crossed his mind.”
After a long period of silence, Buffy brought up the incident at Trinity Church last night. “What do Drusilla and Spike want with Cordelia? It’s ridiculous.”
“Drusilla was jealous,” Willow reminded them what Giles said about Dru jumping to the wrong conclusions.
Buffy pulled her knees into her chest and wrapped her arms around them. She had tried to talk to Cordelia about it at school today, but had no luck in getting a straight answer out of her.
“Dru’s nuts,” was the only explanation. It had satisfied Buffy at the time, but now she had to wonder if Drusilla’s conclusions were not right on target. The vampiress was not the only jealous one, Buffy acknowledged the swarming feelings.
Just because she had sacrificed her heart by giving Angel up did not mean that he was free to be with just anyone, especially if that someone happened to be Cordelia. It was wrong. He belonged to her. There was a curse to consider.
Angel was not that irresponsible. He wouldn’t…would he? No, Buffy assured herself. It was her imagination. Angel was just being protective. He felt responsible for the fact that his childe had the wrong idea about them. He had not even wanted Cordelia along tonight.
Glancing down at Willow and Xander, who were now stretched out on the ground gazing skyward, Buffy unfolded her small frame and followed suit. “Guys, you don’t think Angel will know I was jealous, do you?”
The crickets chirped loudly in the grassy field as Buffy awaited an answer.
39: The Quinn Residence, 21 Quincy Street, Eastside, Sunnydale
“You should wear something loose,” Angel suggested to Cordelia as they walked toward her grandmother’s house. “We could make a start on your training tonight.”
Angel obviously had not seen any of her workout gear if he thought the word ‘loose’ actually applied. “Geez, don’t you think school, Mrs. Finkle, and patrol are enough of a workout for one day?”
“Demons don’t really care if you’ve had a tough day, Cordy. They’ll attack you whether you’re tired or not.”
Figuring that Angel was just looking for something to fill the time while they waited for midnight, Cordelia agreed with his plan. Everything so far had come almost at the stroke of twelve. She doubted tonight would be any different. That meant they had over three hours to kill before time to kick off patrol duties, which was plenty of time for what she had in mind.
This was going to be fun, and Cordelia was going to make sure that she was not the only one having it. Grinning at the thought of her little secret, Cordelia glanced up at Angel to find him staring back. They paused long enough for him to turn to question her. “What’s so funny? You need to be ready.”
Angel was on a very different wavelength, still thinking about defensive skills. Fine. She could try to focus on that, too. “You’re probably right. I should change. This dress is not made for too much stretching or bending.”
Testing her theory, she lifted her hands over her head. Out popped the lacy edge of her lavender bra and a generous amount of cleavage. “See what I mean? Sometimes I wish I had a little less up top. Designers seem to think you have to be flat-chested or have humongous hips.”
Cordelia was inwardly cursing some of her favorite designers while covering up again. It took a little bouncing around to get things back into their proper place, which caused her to laugh at her little dilemma. At least it was just Angel who had certainly seen enough boobs back in the day that hers were probably passé. Nor was she expecting him to comment on her issues with the fashion industry, especially now that she could neither afford tailor-made designer clothing and was forced to save up for dresses directly off-the-rack.
Smoothing her hands across her dress, she looked back at Angel half-expecting him to look bored, impatient, or as stoic as usual. Instead, she caught him staring. He coughed out a nervous laugh and turned his head away so swiftly that she wondered if it made him dizzy. Sheesh! “Looking isn’t a crime, doofus.”
For a guy that was almost two hundred fifty years old, you would think he would actually have a little more confidence when it came to women. He had spent all of those months playing lapdog to Buffy, but Cordy knew he was not always like that. She had seen it, sensed he could be different. Maybe it was just that he was different with her.
Whatever! Who wouldn’t be different? Buffy was just a magnet for weirdness, so it was no wonder that her boyfriend was a social pariah, but he did not necessarily have to stay that way. Angel just needed some exposure to things that did not involve demons or scary prophecies.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Angel asked her again clearly still determined to keep her under lock and key for her own safety.
“Angel, I’m not going to let anything Dru said stop me from doing what I want to do.” She was starting to get impatient with the over-protective vibes. It was one thing to make her feel safe, but another to smother her. “Please drop it. Just for tonight.”
They had stopped in the middle of Quincy Street having passed the half-burned out neon sign flashing in front of the motel. Angel looked torn between pleasing her and sticking to his original decision to leave her at home. Whatever Angel had on his mind, he was not about to share it. He simply continued on in the direction of her grandmother’s house.
Cordelia was not sure what that meant. Finally, they arrived. Strangely nervous about Angel seeing the place and meeting her grandmother, she fumbled with her keys for a moment finding it hard to put it in the lock. His hand closed over hers, deftly inserting the key.
“What is it?” he asked curiously. Leaning up against the doorframe, Angel graced her with a smile as if he had figured her out. “I’ve shown you mine. Time to let me see yours, don’t you think?”
Stricken by a sudden brain-freeze, Cordelia finally realized he was talking about the house. Idiot! Of course, he was talking about the house. That didn’t mean she was not going to make him pay for making her think about other stuff that was totally not a good idea to think about.
“Bev has a very strict rule about not letting vampires into the house,” Cordelia turned the knob and stepped over the threshold.
Disappointment was not the half of it. Angel looked like a kicked puppy dog with those big brown eyes delving into hers. “That doesn’t apply to friends, you big dork.” Cordelia reached out grabbing the lapel of his jacket to pull him inside. “C’mon in.”
Angel and Cordelia had not made it past the small front hall before the television in the living room went from loud to mute. Gasping, “Oh crap!” Cordy warned him, “Bev heard us come in. There’s no getting out of meeting her.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Angel said quite honestly. Meeting her grandmother was just another way to know more about Cordy herself.
Using hushed tones, Cordelia pointed out, “Bev doesn’t know vampires or demons are real.”
“Most people don’t.”
A nervous hitch sounded in her voice as she reminded, “Don’t talk about patrol.” Cordy reached up to straighten the lapel she had scrunched. “If she asks you about what we’ve been up to, let me do the talking. No mentioning training or me going to the mansion.” Tucking a stray strand of hair into place, her fingers grazing down his neck to rest on his shoulder, she added, “Bev may be clueless about the Hellmouth, but she’s not stupid.”
Bemused, Angel asked, “Anything else?”
“Just be yourself,” she suggested all too seriously. Catching his expression, Cordy realized she was probably overreacting. Wryly adding, “That doesn’t mean biting is allowed.”
Impulsively, Angel curled his hand around the nape of her neck to playfully tug her close. “But Cordy, your neck is so tempting.” Angel leaned in not quite sure what he was going to do once he got there. Between Cordelia’s sudden squeal and the sound of her rapid pulse beating close to his ear Angel heard the distinct clack of heels on the hardwood floor.
Cordelia felt Angel’s thumb brushing along her pulse point, his lips skimming up the cord of her throat, teasing her. It was a joke, a game, not anything he meant as seduction, but it left her tingling all the way down to her toes. She still had a grip on Angel’s shoulders, her body pressed close to his, head thrown back as she laughed at his sudden act of foolishness.
That was when Bev walked in. Cordy felt Angel tense up. She did too, trembling just a little as his hand slid down her back to meet the other at her waist. Carefully setting her aside, Angel automatically moved into a position slightly in front of her, an instinctively protective stance as he took a moment to assess the woman watching them from the doorway.
Standing nearly as tall as her granddaughter, Beverly Quinn was not exactly what Angel expected. Though the soft lines of her face and silver hair showed her maturity, she was still quite beautiful. It was not hard to see that this was where Cordy inherited her looks.
“You must be Mrs. Quinn,” Angel made the first move much to Cordelia’s surprise. She figured he would still be tongue-tied over the fact that Bev was not exactly the wrinkly old lady type. Considering that she was in her late sixties, she was still something of a hottie.
Bev seemed to be sizing him up. Her gaze slid up and down Angel’s long, broad frame before sliding back over to Cordelia. “So this is Angel. You didn’t tell me that he was so edible.”
“Omigod!” Cordelia gaped hardly believing that her grandmother would say such a thing in front of him.
“You obviously think so, darling. Why bother to deny it?” Bev shrugged her slender shoulders. “No wonder you’re never at home.”
This time Cordy only managed a choked gasp. She looked toward Angel expecting a horrified expression, but he seemed to be enjoying this. His face was calm, but she could tell he was finding this hilarious.
Angel idly wondered if lack of tact was genetic.
Bev approached Angel stopping a few inches away. Retaining her pleasant smile, she spoke seriously, “Cordelia is my only granddaughter. She has more sense in her pinky finger than her mother ever did. So I suppose that means you must be okay.”
“Grandmother,” Cordy uttered from between clenched teeth. She grabbed Angel by the elbow and tried to tug him down the hallway, but found he was not budging from the spot. She sent him a harsh stare, which was answered with the subtle quirk of his mouth. “Angel really doesn’t need a lecture.”
“All young men need a lecture, dear,” she rolled her eyes and continued on. “That brings me to my point. You tend to keep Cordelia out rather late. Now, I have not set a curfew because that would just be silly. She’s already eighteen, you know.”
Actually, Angel did not have a clue having assumed her to be, well, old enough. He was not sure why everyone kept getting the wrong idea about him and Cordelia, but Beverly Quinn had clearly placed him in the role of boyfriend to her granddaughter. Catching him with his mouth on Cordy’s neck might have given her a false impression, so he could excuse her being so quick to judge. He was just curious to see how far she was going to take this and just how far Cordelia was going to let it go.
Not far, apparently. “We’re just friends,” Cordy blurted looking to him to back her up on it. “Friends,” she emphasized.
Not bothering to respond to that, Bev simply addressed Angel, “You’ll learn that I prefer to be up front about these things. After all, it’s a dangerous world these days.”
“It is,” Angel agreed. He wondered if Bev might be more aware of Sunnydale’s situation than Cordy realized.
Bev looked him in the eye. “Cordelia has a bright future ahead of her. I would not want anything untimely to happen. Protection is the key. Just promise me that you’re keeping her safe.”
Mortified over the whole conversation, Cordelia blushed a fiery shade of red as Angel cluelessly assured her grandmother, “Protecting Cordy is my top priority.”
“Good,” Bev seemed pleased with herself for covering the subject. “In that case, you two have fun tonight. I won’t wait up.”
Cordelia collapsed against the front door to watch her grandmother heading back into the living room. As soon as the sound of the television came back on, she turned on Angel with a fury. “Are you completely insane?”
“She seemed pretty open-minded,” Angel defended his response, completely in the dark as to why Cordelia was angry. Grabbing her arms to stop her when she pushed at his shoulders, he asked, “What’s so bad about me telling her I’d protect you?”
“Aarrrgh!” Cordelia tried to wriggle out of his grasp, but just managed to rub up against him. He pushed her back against the door, holding her there until she calmed down enough to explain, “You just told my grandmother that we’ve been having sex.”
Breathing hard, Cordy listened to her own heaving gasps and the noisy sound of a laugh track coming from the television while trapped against Angel’s hard frame. “Sex?” That word on his lips sounded so sinful.
Lashes fluttered closed, her lips parting in automatic response as a little wanton mewl escaped her throat catching them both off guard. That fiery blush suffused her wholly, a jolt of raw awareness passing between them. “Cordelia.” Her name muttered so close to her mouth forced her eyes open.
This time it was a whimper of panic sparking her reaction. “Geez, Angel, let go!”
Angel waited a moment trying to temper his body’s reaction to having her close, the heavy sensation in his loins close to a deep throb. Dammit, he did not want to let go. He wanted to savage that sweet mouth, and fill his hands with the curves he had already memorized. The dark glint in his eyes turned dull as he remembered the line drawn between them. He had a curse and their friendship to consider.
Slowly, he released her wrists leaving a blanched impression of his fingers on her golden skin. He watched the marks fade as the blood rushed back in within the space of a couple of seconds. Wordlessly, Angel straightened up, his eyes focused on hers.
Pushing past him, Cordy immediately headed toward her bedroom at the end of the hall. She flung the door open and stormed inside, but turned still glaring as if expecting him to follow. Angel’s long stride brought him to the threshold in mere moments, but he stayed out in the hall.
Dropping the subject would probably be the wise thing to do, but Angel could not just let it go. “I didn’t say anything about sex,” he denied throatily.
“Protecting Cordy is my top priority,” she mimicked. Grabbing a pillow off her bed to fling at him proved to be a useless choice of weapon. He caught it, of course, but it felt good to let off a little steam.
Angel dropped it back on the bed beside her. “What does that have to do with sex?”
Cordelia stared open-mouthed. He was honestly clueless. “Seriously? We’re not gonna have that conversation. Just get in here and let’s forget Bev brought it up. Sit there while I figure out what I’m going to wear tonight,” she pointed to her bed.
Still confused, Angel chose to sit down. It gave him a chance to think about the fact that Bev Quinn was certainly a surprise. He was pleased that she seemed to have Cordelia’s best interests at heart, even if he had somehow misread their entire conversation.
He listened to Cordy muttering to herself as she opened up her closet and started to sift through the clothes, which were packed thickly in the small space. Half of what she said sounded like nonsense, but he definitely heard the words ‘boinking’ and ‘safe sex’.
The proverbial light bulb suddenly flashed over his head. Bev had been talking about safe sex? No wonder he did not understand her. Angel excused himself for not picking up on it. It was not exactly an issue for a vampire.
Cordelia was clearly embarrassed and angry, but the fact that her grandmother had practically given him a nod of approval left Angel feeling pretty damn good. For about five seconds. He knew that he should not be thinking about Cordy that way, imagining her with him. It was a hopeless fantasy.
She obviously did not want him that way. Both yesterday and again today, Cordy could not seem to get away from him fast enough.
There were other things to consider, perhaps too many to believe that he could ever possess her. Wanting her was such a simple thing, as reflexive as breathing when he did not have to, but it created complications. He was suddenly afraid that if he pushed too fast or too hard that their fragile relationship would crumble.
Desperation stabbed deep at that thought. Angel surrendered to the idea that his feelings involved more than base desire, but he could not identify them. They had crept up on him out of nowhere. This was different than before, filling up a void he never knew existed and to his surprise one having nothing to do with Buffy Summers.
Could he really give up what he wanted in order to keep what he needed in his life? Angel wondered if he even had a choice in the matter.
“So what do you think?” Cordy swung around holding the contents of two hangers out for his inspection. “Red or blue?”
Somewhere in the jungle of her closest, she had left her anger behind. Her ability to shift gears so quickly surprised him far less than her ability to make him do so. Angel figured he probably had a stupid grin on his face, but he did not really care.
Answering, “Take a guess.”
Cordy glanced down at the crimson outfit. Rolling her eyes, she said, “You’re just so predictable. Blue it is.”
40: The Quinn Residence, 21 Quincy Street, Eastside, Sunnydale
Blue? Angel scowled irritably. Trust Cordy to go with the exact opposite of what he said he liked. This was probably his punishment.
Fortunately, she did not even notice his reaction as she put the red exercise outfit back into the closet giving him time to replace the scowl with a blank expression. His inner conflict had very little to do with her color choice for her exercise gear, however. If only it was that simple.
“So, are you ready for your surprise?” A hint of amusement sounded in her voice. She had called him predictable, but Cordy would never be labeled that way.
There was just something constant and true that drew him into the whirlwind she was creating of his existence. Normally he would have avoided both Cordelia and whatever surprise she concocted like the plague. Then again, Angelus once found plagues rather entertaining, their macabre nature appealing to his own.
Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the unexpected, Angel was intrigued. Sitting on the edge of her bed, he watched her with a growing awareness that his feelings went beyond simple desire. Deep, instinctual hungers had always been there, but his soul ached for closeness. His body stirred at the thought of possessing her.
His fingers unconsciously splayed across the bedspread imagining her lying upon it, her hair spread out over the pillows. Although Cordy’s surprise was a mystery to him, he had no doubt of its innocence compared to the unsuitably lurid direction of his thoughts.
Securing Cordelia’s safety or confronting Drusilla & Spike should be his primary focus, but he found it impossible to shift gears. What started out as unexpected attraction had gone way beyond the point where he could deny it. Not that he could do a damn thing about it. No matter what Cordy had planned for tonight, it could not possibly be more surprising than him imagining her willing and wanton beneath him.
Long waves of silky mahogany hair flowed down her back, the ends curling and teasing each other. Her slim waist flared into softly curving hips. He imagined a stinging remark if he told her that the design of her dress only accentuated the shape of her bottom.
Dangerous territory. Not a damn thing, remember?
Angel knew that he was leering at her ass, but neither the man nor demon within seemed compelled to turn away. The tempting thought of walking up behind her and reaching out to pull flush with those luscious curves was not easily put aside; letting his hands curve around her tiny waist and rove up to fill his palms with her breasts.
Their friendship weighted his thoughts, guilt and lust waging an inner battle. Yet, the forbidden fantasy that his surprise might entail something pleasurable for them both played out in his head. His body responded throbbing heavily against the confines of his clothing brought him to the edge of pain, but Angel welcomed it, feeling alive with it.
Ignoring the urge to adjust himself to a more comfortable position, he watched her fingers slipping down the toned length of her leg to remove one of her high-heeled sandals. It hit the floor tumbling at an odd angle soon followed by its mate. Barefoot toes flexed happily on the carpet.
From head to toe, from any angle, Cordy was a bright, beautiful flame and he the moth that so wanted to be singed by her fire. To be engulfed by it.
When she turned, he held her captive in his gaze, full of hungry intent he could not hide. A little gasp caught in her throat. She tensed, startled, staring back as if sensing a predator had marked her. Angel probably should have looked away, pretended to be interested in the trophies displayed on the vanity next to the jumbled array of beauty products.
He did not, holding steadily and half expecting her to blink or glance away.
“I’m ready.” Angel answered her question, hardly recognizing his distorted voice.
Surprise showed in the little crook of her eyebrow. The soft chuckle that followed restored his senses. Did she find it funny? Rising, Angel managed to stop himself from responding the way he wanted to by pulling her into his arms to kiss away that feminine smirk. Determined to control his desire, he towered above her, jaw tightening. Then faster than she could follow, Angel moved to the door.
“Time to go.” He glanced back over his shoulder and then stepped out into the hall.
Blinking at the swift move, Cordelia laughed at him, “Eager, much?”
Angel froze on the spot, eyes widening a fraction. A resounding yes echoed in his head. That much must have been obvious. Shame rolled over him so fast that it had an immediate effect. Being grateful for the length of his coat was no longer an issue. Not that it seemed to matter to her.
“You really stuck your foot in it with Bev,” the mention of her grandmother at this point confused him, “but there’s no reason to rush out of here.”
It sounded like she had not seen really noticed his response or had already put it out of her mind as something not to be taken seriously. Maybe it was a vampire thing. Or the curse. Or a Buffy thing. Maybe she was just letting him off the hook.
Maybe he just needed to find something to kill because this was getting pathetic. He would welcome the distraction. Considering that he was going to be spending the next few hours on a moonlit hillside showing Cordy a few moves— Tai Chi moves, he figured he’d need it.
Cordelia walked closer, leaning against the doorframe, pointing out, “I still have to get changed.”
Maybe she dismissed the fact that he was staring like any other male would. “I’ll wait outside.”
“You might run into Bev again,” she teased. Stopping his progress with her hand pressed to his chest, Cordy added, “With your record, you’ll have her convinced we’re eloping to Las Vegas. I think it’s safer if you stay in here.”
“I’ll keep my back turned,” Angel offered while anticipating her silk dress shifting against her skin as it fell to the floor. He stepped closer so they were both in the doorway facing each other.
Cordy snorted, “You can if you want to, but I’ll be changing in the bathroom down the hall.”
What the hell was he doing? Lusting after Cordy was a bad idea for more reasons than he could count. It was not fair. Not to him, to her or to his memories of Buffy. That was a mess of a situation. Back at the library, Cordy had accused him of using her to make Buffy jealous when that was the last thing on his mind.
Watching Cordy disappear into the bathroom, Angel rubbed at the tense muscles of his neck idly hoping it would ease his tense state overall. It wasn’t working. He only hoped this was not a sign that being near Cordelia was going to keep him in a constant state of semi-arousal.
Angel paced across the room a few times feeling like a caged tiger. Her scent was all around him here in her bedroom flooding his senses, feeding his imagination. If he was only human— but he was not. All of his male instincts were tangled up with the desires of his demon, impossible to separate.
With a growl of self-directed anger, Angel stared into the mirror hanging above the small vanity table. It reflected the objects within the room, but not him. As always, it was as if he was not there, was not real. The pain and suffering he had caused over the years was real enough.
Loving Buffy certainly had not done either of them any favors. Maybe her decision to end it had been the smart thing, after all. Angel figured he should do the same with this before he let himself get obsessed with wanting someone he could not have. Do it before it was too late. The only solution would be to walk away from it. To walk away from Cordelia’s friendship and Buffy’s mission.
Maybe that was the best thing, the safest thing. At least Cordy’s feelings were not mixed up in this. Separating himself from her now might even get Dru to leave Cordelia alone.
Any satisfaction at actually having a plan was pushed aside almost instantly. He did not want to walk out of Cordy’s life. It was a selfish thought, but he would not deny himself the one person who had taught him how to smile again. Whatever it took to keep her safe, he would do. If he had to suppress every lustful urge when he was around her, he would manage it, somehow.
A growl of denial built up inside him. He had lived on his instincts during his time in Acathla’s hell dimension, grown to trust them. Returning to Sunnydale reasserted his conscience, his control, but the instincts were always there. Knowing better of it did not stifle his desires. They were too deep for that.
It was easy to imagine Cordelia’s swift-kneed response if he backed her against the nearest wall and suggested they get naughty. Hell! That was insane. Worse, she would probably just laugh in his face reminding him that Bev was just down the hall.
Angel knew he had to control his lust, somehow. He could not let it control him.
“Are you just polishing that trophy or do you need to be alone with it?” Cordelia appeared in the doorway watching as he held one of her cheerleading awards. He had felt like smashing it against the mirror, but she had caught him with his thumb absently roving along the curves of the gilded figurine.
Angel realized what he was doing and put the trophy down so fast that it nearly toppled over. He scrambled to right it, growling a low curse when the others went tumbling too. Fixing them, he turned sheepishly, “Sorry,” his eyes focused on the floor.
“Perv,” she teased him with a soft laugh.
Not denying it, Angel was grateful that she did not suspect the half of it. His hot gaze licked up the toned length of her body noting the way the stretchy material clung to every curve.
Blue was his new favorite color.
Realizing that he was staring again, Angel turned his attention to the room. As he glanced around, looking for anything he could comment on that didn’t involve the words ‘I want you now’ he saw how sparse it was compared to Buffy’s bedroom.
“Is this it?” Angel knew the government had taken away her car and horse, but he had not imagined her leaving almost everything behind. There were the clothes in the closet, her makeup and the trophies, but he could see nothing else that would have come from home.
Cordelia flashed him a hurt look quickly masked by one of irritation. “It’s what it is. I don’t want your pity. It’s all a temporary thing and I’m dealing with it. Bev is doing her best and so am I.”
Nodding, Angel turned to go. He did not bother to quell the anger that built up at the thought of it. Yes, she was dealing with it, but she had been through so much. Now he had managed to put her in danger.
“Hey, not so fast,” Cordy caught up with him at the end of the hall, capturing his hand to stop him. Though she released him almost immediately, he could still feel the warmth of her hand.
Gesturing toward the kitchen, Cordelia explained, “We have to stop here first. I asked Faith to drop off some stuff. Bev helped too. With your surprise, I mean.”
Like the rest of the house, the kitchen was small. Angel leaned against a counter as Cordy headed for the refrigerator.
His surprise was in the refrigerator? That was about as far from what Angel had been imagining as possible. Smiling wryly, he watched as she pulled out a metal thermos, several small triangle-shaped sandwiches in individual plastic wrap and a number of small containers.
“I knew I wouldn’t get to eat before the meeting, so I thought I’d ask Bev to fix something,” Cordelia explained.
“She made a lot.” Angel noted that there was no way Cordy was going to able to eat all of that. Then he remembered that Bev assumed he was human and that she had fixed this for both of them.
“Yeah, it’ll do. Cordy told him, “Faith wanted to borrow my red leather pants, so I asked her to go to Willy’s in exchange,” she indicated the thermos.
Red leather pants? Angel’s mouth watered at the thought of Cordy in leather. He only hoped that Faith would return them soon. Though the Slayer was attractive, it was his own willful brunette he wanted to see wearing them.
“I told Bev that you needed a special supplement to your diet,” she explained.
Stunned, Angel pushed aside the images of Cordy in red leather finally realizing the nature of the deal she made with Faith. Glancing down at the silver thermos, he asked her, “Blood?”
“Duh! What else would it be?” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Bev thinks it’s a stinky protein drink, so I doubt she checked it out. Besides, I wanted you to have one thing I knew you would like. The rest of this is just for fun.”
The thought of the food was not that appealing. It was the sparkling enthusiasm in her eyes that captured Angel’s attention. Whatever she intended was designed to be a friendly gesture. She had obviously gone to a lot of trouble. So Angel figured that if he let himself enjoy whatever it was she had in mind, that would not be so selfish.
Angel leaned in for a closer look only to pull back when Cordelia started opening cupboard after cupboard looking for something. She brushed past him to reach the cabinet door beside his head, her breast sliding against his arm as she stood on tiptoes to look inside. Cordy’s gaze met his, but only to share her impatience.
The cupboard door clapped closed. Then declaring defeat, Cordy called out to her grandmother who clearly knew what she was after. Yelling over the noise of the television, “Bev, where is it?”
“Somewhere in the hall closet,” an answer came straight away and just as loudly.
Cordelia disappeared after a brief, “Be right back.”
He was about to take a look at the items on the counter again when Cordy called out, “Angel, grab a couple of plastic forks and spoons out of that drawer. There are some napkins on the counter.”
It was not often that he was asked to do anything so mundane. She just casually expected him to follow along with her request as if he was a regular guy instead of a vampire, although it was clear that she was not ignoring the fact considering she had a thermos full of blood sitting on her countertop.
Wondering which drawer she was talking about, Angel searched until he found the one he was looking for. A bag of plastic tableware was in the same drawer as an organizer holding the stainless steel variety. He pulled out the requested items to add them to the pile on the counter.
A noisy clatter caught his attention. His head whipped in that direction. He was on the verge of running into the hall when Cordy’s triumphant shout sounded, “Got it!” followed by the closet door shutting.
Reappearing, she placed a small picnic basket on the countertop. “We’re taking it to go.”