Best of Intentions


AUTHOR: CORDELIA’S DESTINY (aka JULIE)
SUMMARY: Mrs. Chase’s serious illness brings about an unexpected relationship adjustment for Cordelia and Angel.
RATING: R/NC17
POSTED: 2003
CATEGORY: Drama / Romance / Challenge Fic (Issued by Tactless Brunette)
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A in AtS between S1 & S2
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES: Thanks to Califi! Her beta’ing is fantastic!
2) I have a sneaky suspicion that my “great idea” for this fic may have already been done by somebody else. If so, I apologize to the writer(s) of the other fic(s) and say: I didn’t steal from you, honest! It’s just that great minds think alike.
3) This is based on a challenge submitted byTactlessBruenette: “I know there are a few fics out there where CCs parents come and visit, but I want another! Basically, CC’s parents come and somehow they think C/A are together. Whatever after that. I know this is a pretty vague challenge but…oh, well!” Hope you like it, TB!


Part 1

Wednesday, 6:32 p.m.

The continuous beeping of the heart monitor was soothing, if only in its regularity. That sound meant that the patient was alive, heart beating steadily, a chance for recovery in the future. Cordelia took solace in that small, repetitive noise as she looked into the sleeping face of her mother.

Cordelia sat near her mother’s bed in a drab, once-blue hospital chair. It was the kind that are apparently mandatory for hospitals: vinyl, cracked, lumpy in all the wrong places, and impossible to sleep in no matter how many pillows and blankets one has. The discomfort went unnoticed by her; her only concern was her mother’s health. Nothing else mattered.

Just two days earlier, Cordelia had been living the life of a woman at peace with herself and confident in her future. She’d taken the small Angel Investigations staff under her protection, housing the boss and mothering her co-worker. They’d all been uprooted when Angel’s building had been bombed, but the comfort of Cordelia’s apartment had become a restful temporary home for the company. Cordelia took pride in the fact that she was tightening and strengthening the weave of their small family, especially since it seemed like her blood-relations had all but abandoned her.

A phone call on Monday morning had jarred her out of her beauty sleep. She enjoyed the fact that she had no commute, and she was very stingy with her extra sleep-in time. Because of that, she answered the phone with a less-than-cordial attitude.

“What?” she greeted grumpily.

“Cordelia, honey, it’s your Dad,” the distantly familiar voice of her father came booming back at her.

“Daddy?” Cordelia asked, confused. Weren’t they supposed to be in the Caribbean someplace?

“Yes. Listen, your mother is in the hospital and I need you to look after her,” he said. Her father was never one for small talk; he said that time was money and he didn’t have any of either to waste.

“The hospital?” Cordelia squeaked as she sat up, completely awake now. “Is she—what’s wrong with her?” She couldn’t help the worry that crept into her voice.

“She’s sick, sweetie.” He sounded tired. “A doctor here diagnosed her with some type of malignant cancer and they sent her back home for treatment. It doesn’t look good.”

“Oh, Daddy—,” Cordelia’s voice broke. She hadn’t been close to her parents in the last few years, but it didn’t change the fact that she loved them despite their poor parenting skills.

He got right back to business. He’d never been one for “emotional females,” as he called them, either. “I’m still here in the Cayman Islands, and you know that I can’t leave. Your mother’s name isn’t on any of the paperwork, so she’s not in danger of being arrested, but I can’t come back.” He paused, and Cordelia could almost see him rubbing the bridge of his nose as he tried to deal with the stress.

“I need you to be with her, Cordy, when I can’t.”

“Of course, Daddy,” she had agreed softly. She knew that there was no other option. Her mother needed her; she wouldn’t ignore that.

Now, looking at her mother’s hollow features, Cordelia knew she’d made the right decision. In a private conference with her mother’s doctors, Cordelia had learned that her mother’s chances for survival were minimal, and the doctors didn’t even consider the extenuating circumstances. Cordy knew that leaving Sunnydale society, a place where her mother was a reigning social queen, had nearly killed her as it was. Now being separated from Cordelia’s father, the love of her life, left her little to live for. Cordelia knew it was only a matter of time before she’d say goodbye to her mother forever.

Teary at her somber thoughts, Cordelia was surprised to see her mother’s eyes open and focus on hers. Her mother smiled softly, reaching a weak hand up to cup her daughter’s face.

“You’re so beautiful, Cordelia,” she said, her tone full of the pure pride only a parent can manage. Her smile faded as she continued, “I worry about you, sweetie. Your future is so uncertain.”

Cordelia rushed to reassure her mom. “I’m okay, Mama, really. I have a good job and friends that care about me. I’ll be fine.” She smiled encouragingly, trying to smooth the worry lines from her face so she could put up a strong front.

“Oh, I know that. It’s just that—,” she paused as if trying to decide whether Cordelia would take offense at her next words. “You’re not married,” she stated plainly.

“No, Mom, I’m not. What’s that have to do with my well-being?” Cordelia asked, her eyebrow raised.

Her mother’s eyes drifted away from Cordelia’s face, misting and getting that faraway look she had when thinking of her younger days with Cordelia’s father.

“Marriage can bring so much happiness, Cordelia.”

“And so much heartache,” Cordelia countered.

“Oh, but it’s worth every minute. Passionate, all-consuming true love is something that I don’t want you to live without, Cordelia. You’re such a vibrant, beautiful young woman, and I don’t want to die knowing you’ll never experience that.”

“You’re not going to die, Mom,” Cordelia said automatically. They’d had this back-and-forth since she’d first come to the hospital.

“Oh, but I am,” her mother said firmly. “And I want you to be happy.”

“But, Mom—,” Cordelia began, interrupted as her mother’s face contorted in pain and she pressed a hand to her abdomen.

Cordelia quickly reached for the button on the IV that released morphine into her mother’s bloodstream. As the medicine flowed through her, her mother let her breath out slowly and turned again to face Cordelia.

“The pain is so much worse when I’m worried,” her mother commented. The statement sounded innocent, but Cordelia knew that her mother was trying to play on her sympathies. She’d always done that, but the knowledge didn’t do anything to lessen Cordelia’s guilt.

There was silence for a moment as each thought about what they’d said.

Her mother tried again, her voice imploring Cordelia to understand a mother’s concerns. “I just want to die knowing that my daughter is happy and totally head-over-heels in love with a wonderful man.”

“But, Mom—I,” Cordelia stopped, a stroke of genius hitting her like a smack in the face.

Might as well. What could it hurt?

“I am happy, Mom, and I’m in love with someone, a great guy with a good heart. It happened so recently and with you being sick, I didn’t know if I should bother you with it.”

“Bother me? What kind of mother would be bothered by such fantastic news?” she scolded, her excitement palpable. “Who is he? Why haven’t you called us and told us about him? You’re such a sneaky little girl.” Her mother’s smile was reminiscent of Cordelia’s childhood, full of the mischief and fun of secrets between mother and daughter.

Oh boy, no going back now. Cordelia took a deep, calming breath.

This was for her mother’s health. Lying in this case was okay, wasn’t it?

“It’s Angel, Mom, my boss. We’re engaged.”

Part 2

Wednesday 9:42 p.m.

Slowly opening the door to her apartment, Cordelia entered and shut it softly behind her. She leaned back against the strong panel, the firm wood supporting her weary body as her bags slipped from her fingers and fell in a soft ‘plop’ to the floor. Raising her hands to cradle her head, she closed her eyes and groaned.

How could she make such a mess of her life in just a few short hours?

The admission in the hospital about her “engagement” to Angel had seemed like a stroke of genius at the time, but it quickly turned into a dilemma of epic proportions. Her mother had immediately demanded to know everything about her future son-in-law, and Cordelia had tried to tell as much truth as possible. She knew from past experience that lying was only effective if it was partially true; otherwise, she couldn’t keep track of it and no one believed her anyway.

So she told her mother that Angel was a 28-year-old private detective who specialized in cases involving the darker side of life. She reminded her mother that Buffy Summers had dated Angel in high school and that’s how Cordelia had met him, but the relationship with Buffy hadn’t worked out. Angel had come to LA and they’d renewed their friendship. Working together closely had deepened their bond and they’d fallen in love with each other.

Even as she told the story, Cordelia almost believed it herself. It was so close to the truth it was eerie. Of course, she’d left out the fact that Angel was a vampire, that she got visions, and that they frequently fought demons and risked their lives. She’d also added a minor fabrication that Angel was very stable financially.

But other than those minor omissions, she’d told the truth.

The ease with which Cordelia had been able to talk about her “love” for Angel had convinced her that this charade might actually work. She could come and visit her mom at the hospital, gush about Angel and how great he was, or cry about some minor thing he’d done that upset her. Trivial, engaged couple stuff.

She’d never have to tell Angel what she’d done, and since her mother wasn’t going to be released from the hospital, she wouldn’t ever find out the truth.

Everyone would be happy.

Then her mother said one thing that took Cordelia’s well-balanced plan and toppled it like a house of cards: “So when can I meet this wonderful love of your life?”

Stammering and stuttering, Cordy had made some inane excuses about Angel having to work, or Angel not liking hospitals, or Angel being nervous about meeting Cordy’s mom. Her mother had shot each excuse down with an annoying clarity of common sense and Cordelia was stuck. Again. Wrapped up in a tangled web of her own good intentions.

Now, leaning against her front door, Cordelia scrambled to figure out a way to make this work. She would have no trouble telling Angel what she’d done. She knew he’d be irritated, maybe even angry, but he’d accept it. He always did when she smiled and batted her eyelashes at him. The surefire way to get him to comply was to have a vision in the middle of her request. He’d see the pain and agree to anything. She couldn’t depend on that, though; visions weren’t exactly predictable.

The thing that scared her was trying to convince him to play along, to pretend that he loved her. He had to act like Cordelia was the light of his life and suppress the fact that he was heartbroken for a love lost in Sunnydale.

And he couldn’t just say it, either; her mother would see through that in an instant. Her mother had this uncanny knack of looking into a person’s eyes and baring them to the soul. The only reason Cordelia had ever gotten anything past her mother was because her mother thought the sun rose and set on Cordelia.

No, Angel would have to play the doting fiancée to the hilt. He’d have to act like he couldn’t keep his hands off her, act like everything she said was golden and that he was the luckiest man alive to have found her. His eyes would have to shine with his love for her. Her mother wouldn’t accept anything less.

So how does a girl go about asking her boss for a public suck-face session?

Pushing away from the door, she paced in front of it, going through a dozen variations in her mind.

She tried self-deprecating: “I know I’m not blonde, but I think you could suffer through it.”

She tried sweet: “Please, Angel? It’s so important to me.”

She tried guilt: “I put up with these vision migraines for you; it’s the least you can do. You owe me!”

She tried suggestive: “Haven’t you ever thought about tasting me, Angel?” (She imagined running a finger down his chest and winking saucily.)

The mental images that last version inspired made her groan and throw up her hands in frustration.

“I cannot ask Angel that!!”

“Ask me what, Cordelia?” Angel’s voice came from behind her.

She froze, then spun around to look at his questioning face.

She said the first thing that popped into her head.

“Will you make out with me, Angel?”

Part 3

Wednesday, 10:02 p.m.

“Will I what?” Angel answered, stunned by her question.

Cordelia’s mind was in a whirl. Oh, god, I didn’t just ask him that. I didn’t. I’m not that stupid.

“Uh,” she stuttered, trying to think up something to say instead. Her mind was a complete blank.

Okay, so she *was* that stupid. She conceded defeat.

In a small voice, she confessed, “I asked if you would make out with me?”

“Make out with you.”

“Yeah.”

“As in kissing.”

“Yup, that’s it.”

“Well,” Angel could think of nothing else to say. His seer had caught him off guard before, but this was a new level. He suddenly recalled the time when she had kissed him in an attempt to transfer the visions. Not that the kiss wasn’t nice, because it was. It was just, well, unexpected.

He weighed the memory against this conversation and was still uncertain as to which was more astonishing. Cordelia was unconventional if she was anything. She was constantly dragging him into trouble, but he couldn’t seem to get angry about it anymore. She was just being Cordelia. That didn’t stop him from being irritated with her, though.

At least she hadn’t put anyone’s life in danger this time.

Cordelia sighed. She was totally going about this the wrong way, obviously. She should have gone with the practical approach. Now she’d done it all backwards.

At least he wasn’t mad. Was he? With Angel it was so hard to tell sometimes.

“Why do you want to ‘make out’ with me, exactly?” Angel said, still perplexed by this request.

Her explanation came out in a rush. “Well, my mom said that she wanted me to be happy and in love and I was afraid that she’d get worse if she worried about me so I made up a story and told her that you and I are in love and that we’re getting married.”

She held her breath nervously as she waited for Angel to catch up.

“So, let me get this straight,” Angel said, his tone revealing a hint of his irritation at her backwards explanation. “Your mother is worried about your future because you aren’t married, so you told her that we’re engaged to make her feel better?”

Cordelia nodded. “That’s it.”

“And where does the making out come in?” Angel prodded.

“Well, my mother wants to meet you.”

“And we have to kiss in front of her?”

“Angel, you don’t understand my mother,” Cordelia’s eyes begged him to comprehend. “She’d take one look at you and your broodiness and realize that something was wrong.”

He frowned, not sure if he should be insulted.

Cordelia sighed again. Might as well start all over.

“Look, Angel. All I need for you to do is play along. My mother wants to meet my fiancée. I told her it was you. I also lied through my teeth about who you are, so all you’re doing is playing a role. You’re Angel, but you’re not ‘broody, I’m a tortured, immortal vampire with a soul’ Angel. You’re ‘I think Cordelia Chase is the most amazing, beautiful woman on the face of the earth and I would die without her’ Angel.”

Amazingly, he had followed her twisted logic. “So I pretend to be in love with you and lie to your mother.”

“Geez, don’t make it sound so bad. It’s just a little fib, that’s all. I’m doing it for her; she doesn’t need any more stress.”

Angel stopped for a moment to contemplate, and suddenly the answer was very clear to him.

“Okay.”

“Okay, what? You’ll do it?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, then.”

Silence ensued as they stared at each other, both imagining the havoc that playing these roles could cause. Cordelia was wary of his easy acceptance. This wasn’t the Angel she knew. Something was wrong, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

Irritation aside, Angel had agreed mainly because he was intrigued. As Angelus, he’d had plenty of opportunities to play a role in the luring of his prey. As Angel, though, he was trying to atone for his sins and didn’t have time to playact. That role playing had always made life more exciting, and sometimes he still yearned for it.

This summer had been really slow, and he’d been brooding a lot more than he usually did. This fiasco Cordelia had gotten herself into would let him play the hero and he could forget about the guilt for a little while.

Not to mention that she would owe him. Big time.

If he were truthful with himself, Angel would also admit that he’d agreed partly because of Cordelia herself. She was a loving, beautiful woman and he could think of worse things than kissing her repeatedly. Besides, flustering his seer was always good entertainment, and here was a golden opportunity.

A small smile stole over Angel’s face. All of those years of experience torturing people shouldn’t go to waste just because he had a soul. She’d gotten him into this mess, and now she was going to pay. Exacting that payment was going to be a helluva lot of fun.

Might as well get started.

He schooled his features into an unreadable mask and said, “So don’t you think we should practice?”

Part 4

Wednesday, 10:21 p.m.

“Practice?” Cordelia squeaked. What is wrong with him? Why isn’t he upset? she thought worriedly.

Angel smiled inwardly at her discomfort. He’d forgotten how fun torture could be. “Yes, practice. Don’t you think your mother would notice if we were awkward around each other?”

Angel moved a step closer and Cordelia backed up instinctively. She didn’t like the look on his face.

She eyed him suspiciously. “Why aren’t you angry with me about this?”

He shrugged, moving again, closing the distance between them. “I’ve learned to expect this kind of thing from you, Cordelia. Don’t change the subject.”

She tried to be logical. “We’re comfortable with each other already. We don’t need to practice, we just need to expand on what we already have.”

Her back hit the door.

“Uh-huh,” Angel said noncommittally, now inches from her face. Leisurely, he raised a hand and placed it on the door beside her head. The other touched the door near her hip, effectively trapping her.

“So you want me to kiss you?” He said, his mouth inches from hers, his lips twisted into a slightly evil smile, eyes dark and unreadable.

“Uh—,” Cordelia’s mind went blank. Again. In an effort to escape the magnetic pull of his gaze, her eyes drifted down to his lips.

It didn’t help.

Noticing the direction of her stare, he darted his tongue out, drawing it along his bottom lip. Cordelia’s jaw dropped, the seemingly innocent motion making her mouth go dry and her body throb.

Slowly, he closed the remaining distance between them. The silence in the room was powerful, rushing in Cordelia’s ears. Her heartbeat pounded frantically.

The second before his lips touched hers, Cordelia bolted. She ducked quickly under his arm and escaped.

“We can—um, we can talk about this tomorrow,” She said in a rush. Nervously, her eyes darted back to him. “’Night.”

Angel smiled at her retreating figure. “Goodnight, sweetheart,” Angel said, emphasizing the endearment.

As the door to her bedroom shut forcefully, Angel let his smile change from sadistic to as close to gleeful as he ever got.

Now this was going to be fun.

Part 5

Thursday, 8:16 p.m.

Cordelia’s stomach was tied in knots as she paced in the hospital’s main waiting room and waited for Angel to park the car. He’d dropped her off at the front door because it was raining heavily, and she was thankful for his thoughtfulness. She just wasn’t sure this whole “pretending to be in love” thing was a good idea after all.

Aside from not having slept well the night before because of Angel’s peculiar behavior, Cordelia kept having strong pangs of guilt for lying to her mother about something so major. It was one thing to tell her parents that she had a fantastic job and was making lots of money, but it was quite another to completely fabricate a fiancée.

If her mother ever found out about this lie, Cordelia feared the shock and disappointment might kill her. For that reason alone, Cordelia knew she had to be as convincing as possible if she was going to do this at all. That meant being close to Angel.

Really close.

Until last night when he’d almost kissed her, Angel had been a non-entity to Cordelia where dating was concerned. Sure, he was a handsome guy, but he was so totally unattainable that he didn’t even show up on Cordelia’s radar. She’d thought of him as “Buffy’s Angel” or “the no-sex, broody grr-guy,” but never date worthy. And most definitely not a prospective lover, especially with Angelus to consider.

Then he’d gone and gotten all sexy on her, licking his lips seductively and smiling that wickedly sensual smile she’d never seen on him before. Her lower body had liquefied at such a blatantly sexual gesture, and it shook her.

Cordelia wasn’t sure she wanted to know that side of Angel. Part of her was screaming eeeewwwww!! and the other part, the part that Cordelia was refusing to recognize right now, was saying, yeah, baby, bring me some of that!

Too frazzled to continue the stressful line of thought, Cordelia began reciting her self-esteem boosting mantra in her head. I’m a wonderful actress. I was born for moments like these. Her eyes drifted to the window just in time to watch Angel run through the downpour to the building and stop near the door.

As she continued her silent chanting, Angel shook out his coat and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to remove the excess water. I can be anything, do anyone.

She paused, frowning. Wait, that wasn’t right. She sighed, trying to start over again. Angel moved towards the door, pausing to let an elderly couple exit before he entered.

I am a wonderful actress. I can be anyone, do. . . “Angel!” Cordelia interrupted herself, calling him over. It was no use; she’d just have to do without the self-esteem boost before she had to face her mother.

“You ready?” he asked.

Cordelia pasted on a bright smile. “Yup. Let’s go.”

A few minutes later, they were standing outside of her mother’s room, waiting for the nurse to leave so they could enter. Angel hadn’t said a thing since the lobby, and that only increased Cordelia’s nervousness. She’d never been able to tell what he was thinking before, and now it was impossible. She couldn’t figure out why he was flustering her so much; he never used to.

Angel, underneath his stoic countenance, was having a grand time. He was enjoying Cordelia’s discomfort and he knew he should feel bad about that, but he just couldn’t bring himself to feel guilty. Cordelia had more than given him his share of embarrassment due to her big mouth and her hasty actions over the past year, and payback was getting sweeter by the minute. He fully intended to play his part to the max. Cordelia was going to get exactly what she asked for: a fiancée who thought she was the light of his life.

Some of the joy of the game went out of Angel when he realized that she actually was the light in his life now. She was the heart of their small, new agency, and she didn’t really mean to act rashly; she was just being herself. He squashed his pesky conscience, though, and prepared to thoroughly charm her mother.

The rotund nurse exited Mrs. Chase’s room, smiling at Cordelia and Angel.

“This must be your young man,” she gushed, grabbing on to Angel’s elbow like they were old friends. “Mrs. Chase hasn’t been able to talk about anything else.”

She stepped back, holding Angel out at arm’s length. “Well, let me take a look at you, young man,” she said, moving her eyes slowly up and down his length with the appreciation of a woman whose been around the block a few times. “My, my. Aren’t you a mouthwatering hunk of man?” She winked at him, and he smiled back wickedly. The nurse laughed at his return of her wink.

The nurse turned her attention fully to Cordelia. “Shame on you, girl, for not telling your mama sooner. Her health has improved so much since she found out the happy news. Get in there, now!” She motioned them into the room. “Shoo! Your mama’s waitin’ anxiously.” She was practically shoving them in the door, beaming as if she were personally responsible for their upcoming wedded bliss.

“Showtime,” Cordelia muttered under her breath. She was startled when Angel grabbed her hand right before they came into her mother’s view, then berated herself for being caught off guard. Of course he would do that.

“Hi, Mom,” Cordelia said, walking over to her mother and planting a quick kiss on her cheek. She turned to look at Angel, plastering a huge, adoring smile on her face.

“This is my Angel, Mom. Angel, this is my mother.”

Angel broke away from Cordelia, taking her mother’s hand and kissing it gracefully. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Chase. I can see where Cordelia gets her breathtaking beauty.” He winked at Cordelia’s mother and smiled winningly.

Cordelia valiantly struggled against an overwhelming desire to roll her eyes and Pfft.

Mrs. Chase blushed, looking down at the hand he’d released. “Why thank you, Angel.” She grinned at him, her bright smile a replica of her daughter’s.

Ever the hostess, Mrs. Chase gestured to a couple of chairs nearest her bed. “Please, sit down.”

“Thank you,” Angel said. He sat in the blue chair, and before Cordelia could react, he pulled her down onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her waist. One hand rested firmly on Cordelia’s hip, the other on the small of her back, brushing the bare skin between her shirt and her pants. His cool hand made Cordelia sit up straighter. She allowed herself a brief, surreptitious glare at him, then wrapped her arm around his neck and leaned against him.

“So, Angel,” Mrs. Chase said, beginning her interrogation. “Cordelia tells me that you’re a private detective. What kinds of cases do you investigate?”

Angel smiled, confident and at ease. He had prepared for this. “My agency is geared towards helping the less fortunate in our community—those who are unable to help themselves.”

“That doesn’t sound like it pays very well,” Mrs. Chase said, her tone disapproving but her eyes erasing any negativity.

“It doesn’t, usually,” Angel agreed. “But we’ve had a select few high paying clients who needed a firm that specialized in thwarting LA’s seedier citizens. Their payments have allowed us stay in business and help those who cannot afford to pay.”

Cordelia was shocked. Angel sounded like Wesley, only without the British accent. He was speaking in complete sentences, whole paragraphs even, and he had a smile on his face.

A smile, damn it!

Her eyes narrowed as Angel continued. “If you’re concerned about Cordelia’s financial future, you shouldn’t be. I’ve also inherited a rather substantial sum of money from my family. It is accruing interest and is available if the agency falls on hard times.”

Are you going to break out the pie charts and financial statements now, show off? Cordelia snarked silently, irritated that he seemed so at ease while her nerves were twisted like a pretzel.

“Well, Angel, you seem to be very knowledgeable about your business,” Mrs. Chase congratulated him. “Mr. Chase will be anxious to speak with you about your assets.”

He looked at Cordelia, love shining in his eyes. He squeezed her waist. “Mr. Chase already knows all about my best asset.”

Cordelia was forced to play along. She unclenched her teeth long enough to say silkily, “Oh, Angel. You’re too good to me.”

Angel continued looking into Cordelia’s eyes, acting as if everything had disappeared but the two of them. Mrs. Chase, caught up in the melodrama, didn’t realize what was really going on. She gazed adoringly at her daughter and wonderful, charming future son-in-law, superimposing her own romantic thoughts on their silent visual conversation. In reality, that silent conversation looked more like this:

Angel: How am I doing, Cordelia? *smirk*

Cordelia: I am so going to kill you when we get home.

Angel could feel her irritation and decided that she was going to ruin her own plan if he didn’t do something about it. With her mother still looking on, he reached up, gently grasped the back of her head and drew her mouth to his.

Cordelia’s first thought was What the hell is he doing? My MOTHER is watching this!!, forgetting that this is exactly what she’d tactlessly requested from him. After that, she didn’t have two coherent thoughts to rub together.

His mouth was firm, moving tenderly on hers, his tongue gently tracing her lips, tasting her briefly and then retreating. He was gentle and loving for the sake of their audience, but it was for that very reason that the contact moved Cordelia so much. There was none of the squishiness of Wesley’s kiss, none of the inexperienced Hoover-action of Xander’s. Angel’s kiss was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. The last time she’d kissed him, he was only concerned with getting her to stop. Now that he was willingly initiating it, he was in complete control, doing things to her mouth that she felt all the way to her toes.

As Angel ended the contact, he rested his forehead against hers and stared into her eyes.

Gone was the smirk in Angel’s eyes and the irritation in Cordelia’s. They had been replaced by surprise and desire: an awakening in both of them.

Angel’s mind was racing, his body aching from the brief contact. It would be an understatement to say that this was not quite what he’d had in mind. He hadn’t expected to actually feel anything when he kissed Cordelia. He’d expected fun kissing, a pleasant diversion, nothing more. He hadn’t expected her to taste so good or to set his body on fire like she had.

Cordelia’s thoughts were right along the same path. The kiss had lasted mere seconds, but it had felt like a lifetime of sensation. This can’t be happening, Cordelia thought. Not with Angel. I am not feeling this. You’re acting, Cordelia Chase. Focus. Erase the melty goodness and concentrate!

Damn, I’m in trouble, Angel thought wryly. But it’s too late to back out now. . .
Part 6

Thursday, 8:37 p.m.

Mrs. Chase spoke, jarring Angel and Cordelia out of their post make-out haze.

“Well, Angel, it’s obvious you know how to pleasure a woman.” She smiled knowingly, wiggling her eyebrows for effect.

Cordelia was horrified. “Mother!” she whispered. She’d never been so humiliated.

“That’s important, Cordelia. I had to teach your father way too much,” she said, her words laced with innuendo. “It’s so much better when he knows beforehand how to properly use his—”

“MOTHER, please!” Cordelia shouted, her eyes sliding shut in mortification. “That was information I would have been happy to live without. It’s unhealthy for children to imagine their parents having . . . ewww! I can’t even say it,” she scrunched her face up and shuddered.

Mrs. Chase just laughed, amused by her daughter’s flustered demeanor. “I just have one question for you, Cordelia, then I’ll change the subject. Is he as good as he looks?”

Cordelia turned a shade of red that just matched her cherry-colored blouse. “Mother, I am not going to answer that!!” she hissed.

“That good, huh?” Mrs. Chase answered, looking at Angel with new eyes, perusing his features and coming to rest on the fingers that gripped Cordelia’s waist. “Then I guess it is true what they say about men with big hands,” she said, a hint of wistfulness in her voice.

“Mrs. Chase, you’ll make me blush,” Angel said, smiling devilishly.

Cordelia nearly choked on her spit. “Mother, can we PLEASE change the subject?” she begged.

Mrs. Chase shook herself out of fantasyland and took pity on her daughter. She schooled her features and returned to a respectable topic.

“I am satisfied that you’ll be able to provide financially for my daughter,” she said to Angel, totally back to business. “But what are your plans for the future? Do you intend to stay in L.A.? Do you want children?”

Her last question was accompanied by a scrutinizing stare that dared him to say “no”.

“I would live anywhere, as long as Cordelia was with me. As for children, well. . .” Angel paused, suddenly wanting to be honest for some reason. “Truthfully, Mrs. Chase, I may not be able to father children. It’s a medical condition, one that occurred some time ago.”

That’s the understatement of the year, Cordelia thought.

His grin was gone and Mrs. Chase was watching him intensely. He continued, “But I have no doubt that Cordelia would make an excellent mother and I would love to adopt children.”

Unbidden, images of Angel holding a child swarmed Cordelia’s mind. A little girl with dark hair and curls, cuddled up on her daddy’s strong chest. . .Oh, god. Shake it off, Chase. Get it together!

“I’m sorry to hear about your condition, Angel, but adoption sounds like a wonderful idea. There are so many children who need loving, stable homes,” Mrs. Chase agreed.

Just then, the nosy nurse swept in with Mrs. Chase’s dinner: beef stroganoff, wilted string beans, and the ever present hospital staple, green Jell-o.

“Now, eat up, Mrs. Chase,” the nurse encouraged. “You wouldn’t want to miss the wedding, now, would you?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” she answered softly, looking tenderly at Cordelia.

“We should be going,” Angel said, nudging Cordelia off his lap and standing up. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Chase.” He took her hand and kissed it again.

“The pleasure was all mine, young man,” Mrs. Cordelia said. “Be sure to take good care of my little girl.”

Angel smiled and nodded his assent, then stepped out into the hallway to give Cordy some time with her mother.

Cordelia stepped to her mother’s bedside. “Bye, Mom. I’ll be back to see you later.”

As she moved away, Mrs. Chase grasped her arm and pulled her back. “Honey, I’m so happy for you. This is exactly what I was trying to tell you yesterday. You have a keeper in that one, Cordelia. Don’t ever do anything to mess that up.”

Cordelia squeezed her mother’s hand in reassurance. “Don’t worry about me, Mom. I’ll be fine. Just concentrate on getting better.”

They exchanged goodbyes and Cordelia left the room. As soon as she and Angel were out of earshot, she lit into him.

“Just what the hell do you think you were doing in there, huh?” She fumed. “Weren’t you laying it on a little thick?”

“I was just doing as you asked, Cordelia,” Angel answered, his face as innocent as his namesake.

“’Mrs. Chase, you’ll make me blush!’” she mimicked in a sing-songy voice, scrunching her nose up at him. “Arghhhh! That is not what I had in mind. You were such a . . . such a . . . perv!” Cordelia sputtered, storming ahead of him down the hallway. Not only had she practically been seduced by her boss, then completely humiliated by her mother, she also couldn’t think of a better insult than “perv” to vent her frustration.

Some of Angel’s fun that had disappeared after the kiss returned as he watched Cordelia stomp down the hallway, heels clicking furiously on the tile floor.

He had to hand it to her: she’d held her own in there. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation, his wicked smile returning.

Now it was time to turn up the heat.

Part 7

Friday, 4:32 a.m.

Angel’s cool knuckles kneaded the space between Cordelia’s shoulder blades, soothing her sore muscles. She sighed; it felt heavenly. She lay on her stomach, topless, her head pillowed on her crossed elbows, her nose brushing the mattress beneath her. Her pajama pants remained on, slung low on her hips, her tattoo fully exposed. Angel straddled her, his thighs on either side of hers. He moved gently, rhythmically against her as he worked his hands over her body, melting away the tension.

Suddenly, his hands were gone and Cordelia whined her protest. Before the sound even left her mouth, another sensation replaced the previous: his cool lips whispering against her soft skin. She sighed, contented once again, and relaxed, enjoying the new touch. Soon, his tongue sought the taste of her as well. He moved from her shoulders, traveling down the slope of her lower back and resting briefly in the valley, tickling her with butterfly kisses. After a brief respite there, he began to move again, heading further south, to worship the sun that adorned her backside. As his tongue traced its outline, the cool wetness scorched her, making her whimper. As his tongue bathed her, his hands grasped her hips, then trailed up her torso to stroke the sides of her breasts that were pressed against the mattress.

It wasn’t enough.

Cordy rolled over slowly and rested on her back, offering herself to him. Angel smiled at her briefly. The soft expression disappeared when Cordelia reached up to clasp the sides of his face, drawing him down to her chest. His mouth opened, seeking her—

RING RING RING

“Noooo,” Cordelia groaned sleepily, burying her face in the pillow.

RING RING RING

“Go ‘way!!” she whined impatiently.

As if on command, the irritating noise stopped mid-ring. Satisfied, Cordelia snuggled further into her pillow, still in the murky place between sleeping and waking where she could grasp the remnants of her dream and continue it. It had been fantastic, the best dream she’d had in months, maybe even ever, and she didn’t want to lose it.

She didn’t actually think that, though, only felt it. Thinking would have ruined everything.

Thinking was evil.

KNOCK KNOCK

The sound was light, but it still penetrated deep enough to annoy her. That’s it! Cordelia mumbled grumpily. Whoever is responsible for this is going to pay. Dearly.

“Cordelia?” Angel’s muffled voice came from the other side of the door.

“Go away, Angel, I’m sleeping!” Cordelia yelled, her voice nasty. Then she froze as everything came flooding back: her mother’s sickness, her “engagement” to Angel, her unexplained attraction to him.

Oh, god! Angel! Images of her dream swarmed her head and her face heated.

“Cordelia,” Angel said more insistently. “Can you open the door, please? The hospital called.”

At his words, panic set in and she vaulted from the bed, jerking the door open.

“What happened?” she demanded, her worry apparent.

Angel’s face was sad, concerned for her well-being. “The nurse said your mother has taken a turn for the worse and we should come immediately.”

Cordelia’s rocky trail of emotions came to a screeching halt at the mountain of shame and guilt. Her mother was dying, and she was thinking about sex. Sex with Angel. She looked at him warily, as if she expected him to jump her bones and distract her again.

She shoved the disturbing thoughts out of her mind and took action. Her mother needed her. Nothing else mattered; her own problems were pointless.

“Let’s go,” she said grimly, heading for the front door.

Angel grasped her arm and smiled wryly. “You might want to change first.”

Frowning, Cordelia glanced down at her favorite tattered flannel sleeping pants and the mismatched, frayed tank top.

“Oh, okay,” she said simply and reversed her course.

Angel’s eyes followed her as she retreated back into her bedroom. She looked delectable, even in those old clothes. They fit her body perfectly; the thin, soft cotton hugging her in all the right places, barely concealing her secrets from him. But they weren’t exactly fit for public viewing. Nobody should have the right to see her looking that sexy, except him.

Angel started at his own thoughts, stunned at their intensity. How did this make any kind of sense? 24 hours ago, he couldn’t wait to start a well-developed plan of friendly revenge, no lustful ideas whatsoever. Now, he couldn’t look at her without needing to adjust his fly, not to mention having to squash the powerful urge to lock the two of them in a bedroom for a week.

He wasn’t so sure that Cordelia’s thoughts mirrored his own. In fact, if he hadn’t felt the eager response when he kissed her at the hospital last night, he would’ve thought that she never wanted to speak to him again. Of course, he thought smugly, he had been trying to torture her. And it had worked, too. He’d had her so flustered that she retaliated with her only remaining weapon: anger. The only hitch in his plan was that her fury was even sexier than her irritation. That was the problem with bringing torture into this: Angelus liked it way too much, and it was harder for Angel to control the demon within. He’d started to think about all the ways he could put that heat to good use.

Cordelia’s bedroom door opened once again and Angel shook off his less than pure thoughts. He could sort this out later; Cordelia needed to be with her mother.

“Let’s go,” Cordelia said again, not looking at him as she headed for the door. Opening it, she stopped as she saw the beginnings of pink light at the eastern horizon.

“Angel, it’s almost dawn,” she said, worriedly.

“We’ll take your car,” Angel said. “The hospital’s not that far and there’s sewer access back to here if we don’t stay until dark.”

“Okay,” Cordelia said distractedly. Angel’s “take charge” attitude had allowed her to return to worrying solely about her mother. As they reached her car, she grabbed his arm and turned him to face her.

“How bad is it, Angel? What exactly did they say?”

“They wouldn’t tell me very much, Cordelia,” Angel said apologetically. “But I’ll be honest; they sounded very concerned.”

“I don’t want to lose her, Angel. I just got her back,” Cordelia said, her eyes watering. She looked down at the keys in her hand, then shoved them at Angel. “I think you’d better drive.”

Part 8

Friday, 2:32 p.m.

Angel was glad that hospitals had so many darkened hallways. Cordelia’s mother had a south facing room, one that had no direct sunlight at any time of day, and for that he was also grateful. He just may have risked combustion just so he didn’t have to leave his distraught seer.

Mrs. Chase had been unconscious since they arrived early that morning. The doctors were grim in their prognosis: the disease had attacked more viciously during the night, causing most of Mrs. Chase’s body to shut down. Her lack of consciousness meant that she didn’t have enough energy to stay awake; her body was trying to fight the invader. The longer she remained unconscious, the less likely it was that she would wake up. It meant that her body was losing the battle.

Cordelia had remained at her mother’s side since they’d entered the room, speaking softly to her and stroking her hand. Angel had tried to get her to leave for a few minutes, if only to get something to eat, but Cordelia refused to move. He’d given up, but he was determined to see that she wasn’t alone.

The guilt Cordelia had felt that morning had only intensified as she’d sat by her mother, watching her die. She knew deep down that the feeling was irrational, but she couldn’t help it. Her mother had needed her, and Cordelia was at home, sleeping, her dreams making her body quiver. She’d let her anger and frustration cloud her judgment. She could’ve slept here at the hospital, but no, she’d had to go home and give Angel her best silent treatment. Fat lot of good that did if her dreams were going to betray her and ruin her perfectly justifiable anger.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Cordy said softly, rubbing her thumb over the back of her mother’s hand.

“Sorry for what, Cordy?”

Cordelia’s eyes shot up into the heavy-lidded eyes of her mother.

“Mom?” She asked, leaning closer, tears threatening to fall. “How do you feel? I’ve been so worried.”

“Oh, I’ve felt better,” her mother understated, a tired smile on her face. Her eyes left her daughter, traveling the room slowly and coming to rest on Angel, who was leaning against the wall across from the foot of her bed, arms crossed, watching Cordelia worriedly.

“Angel,” Mrs. Chase greeted. “Thank you for being here with Cordelia.”

“She needed me,” Angel said simply, his eyes meeting hers.

Mrs. Chase nodded in agreement. “She certainly does need you.” She paused. “Angel, would you give me a moment alone with my daughter?”

Angel pushed away from the wall. “Of course,” he said. Turning to Cordelia, he said, “I’ll be out in the hall if you need me.”

Cordelia nodded briefly, then turned her attention to her mother. “You’re going to get better, Mom. You just have to rest and relax. Let your body heal.”

“I don’t think so, Cordelia,” her mother contradicted. “I think I’m dying.”

“You’re not.” Cordelia stated adamantly. “I won’t let you. I’ve just gotten you back; I won’t let you leave me again.”

Mrs. Chase looked puzzled. “What do you mean, you’ve ‘just gotten me back?’ Your father and I had to move away from Sunnydale, that’s true. But you moved as well. That doesn’t mean I stopped being your mother.”

“That’s not what I meant, Mom. But we don’t need to talk about it right now. You’re not going to die. You’re going to get better and I’m going to help you.”

Too tired to continue the cryptic conversation, Mrs. Chase acquiesced. “Fine, Cordelia. But we will talk about this later.”

It suddenly struck her that there might not be a “later”. This could very well be the last conversation she ever had with her daughter.

Cordelia began talking cheerily, trying to lift her mother’s spirits. “It will be so great to have you here, Mom. When you get out of the hospital, you can come stay with me and we can spend so much time together. They have some of the most fabulous stores in L.A., Mom. . .”

Mrs. Chase was immune to her daughter’s incessant chatter. Her morbid thoughts continued amidst the babbling, each one increasing the intensity. She would miss so much. She’d never see her husband again; he wasn’t able to return to the country without legal ramifications. Her heart ached with missing him. She’d never see her friends again, not that they were ever much to talk about. She looked up at Cordelia as her daughter adjusted the sheets and blankets, gesturing rapidly as she talked. She would miss the most important times in her daughter’s life. She had already missed so much, now she would never see her grandchildren, never see her daughter’s wedding.

Her daughter’s wedding.

A thought struck her, powerful in its brilliance. She smiled at the first bright thought in her pain-filled day.

“Cordelia,” she interrupted her daughter’s non-stop, one-sided conversation. “Sit down, please. You’re making me nervous.”

Instantly guilty, Cordelia complied. “I’m sorry, Mom. I was just trying to make you feel better.”

Mrs. Chase smiled reassuringly. “I know, sweetie. And thank you. But I want to talk about something.” She patted the side of the mattress. “Come sit with me.”

Cordelia climbed up on the bed with her mother, perched on the edge of the mattress.

“I know you mean well, honey, but the truth is, I’m not doing very well.” Cordelia rushed to protest, but her mother stopped her with a look. “I can feel myself getting weaker, and I know this is it. It is the end for me, but it is just the beginning for you.”

She paused for a moment, framing her words carefully. “Cordelia, you have a wonderful life ahead of you. You have a good job, caring friends, and a fiancée who loves you dearly. You’re content where you are in life, but you have so much more in front of you. The day you get married will be the beginning of the time in your life that you’ll always cherish. When you’re my age, you’ll look back on that day as the embodiment of happiness, the one time when you were absolutely sure what life was about and what you wanted from it.”

Cordelia soaked in her mother’s words, her mind tugging her in two different directions. On one hand, she felt even guiltier about masquerading as Angel’s fiancée. The happiness that her mother believed real was so far from Cordelia’s grasp as to be nearly impossible. The other hand, though, recalled the feel of Angel’s lips on hers yesterday and recognized the potential there.

Mrs. Chase continued and Cordelia forced herself to concentrate. “I don’t want to miss that day, Cordelia,” she said emphatically.

“What?” Cordelia said, having lost the thread of the conversation. She was so confused.

“I want to see you get married,” Mrs. Chase explained, her eyes imploring Cordelia to acquiesce.

“See me get married?” Cordelia said, still confused. Then, understanding dawned. “Mom, you’re going to get well. You will see me get married, I promise.” Well, you’ll see the effects of a major fake break-up, but only when you’re stronger. Cordelia added silently.

“Honey, we’ve been over this. I want to see you get married before I die. It’s going to have to be soon. Here, in fact.” At Cordelia’s shocked expression, she continued. “Please, Cordelia?”

“Mom, I don’t know. There’s no time to plan, and I—”

“You would deny your mother her dying wish?” Mrs. Chase knew that was a low thing to say, but she was desperate. She was determined to have this. Cordelia actually wanted it, too; she just didn’t know it yet.

Cordelia felt trapped. She glanced toward the door, knowing Angel could hear their conversation from the hallway. If she relented, she’d have to go through a ceremony declaring her eternal love for him. If she refused, she’d disappoint her terminally ill mother, maybe send her to her death.

What a choice.

Sighing, Cordelia knew that her fate had been sealed the moment she’d announced her “engagement.” She’d started this roller coaster; now she’d have to ride it out. “I would like nothing better than to be married in your presence, Mom, even here at the hospital. If you’re sure that’s what you want.”

Mrs. Chase beamed, suddenly feeling better than she had in months. “Oh, Cordelia, you’re such a wonderful daughter. I love you!” she reached to hug her, and Cordelia squeezed her back.

Outside, Angel stood frozen, trying to digest what he’d just heard. How in the world were they going to fake this one?

And how the hell was he going to say wedding vows to Cordelia and not mean them?
Part 9

Friday, 7:12 p.m.

“You want me to do what?” Wesley asked, flabbergasted by the request coming from his two closest friends.

“Marry us,” Cordelia said. “Be a priest or a minister or whatever, and perform a wedding ceremony.”

Wesley’s eyebrows remained raised, as if permanently affixed in that position. “And why, exactly, do you want me to do this?” He looked pointedly at Angel. Cordelia, he could understand. Well actually he couldn’t, but that was the point. Cordelia was impossible to understand. It was a daily occurrence for her logic to defy all laws known to man and nature. But Angel, well, Wesley had come to expect a certain level of responsibility from the vampire that was sorely lacking in the current conversation.

Angel caught Wesley’s look and quickly averted his eyes. He’d already been through this with Cordelia, and he’d been total putty in her hands. He felt sorry for Wesley, but he wouldn’t be any help to him at all. He just couldn’t say no to Cordelia. Not about this.

He’d been standing outside Mrs. Chase’s hospital room, reeling from the overheard conversation and stunned at Cordelia’s quick agreement to a marriage ceremony, when his now “bride-to-be” had barreled out of the room and smacked into him at a speed that would’ve knocked over a brawny WWF wrestler.

Or a Master vampire.

A grunt had escaped Angel’s lips as the momentum shoved them both into a gurney on the other side of the hallway. Angel’s arms had immediately gone around her to steady her, their eyes meeting and holding, hers overwrought, his amused.

Cordelia had just had her salvaged plan completely fall apart on her again and she was more than freaking out. She was in full-fledged chicken little, “the sky is falling!” overdrive. It had been bad enough that she’d had to ask Angel to kiss her. Now she had to ask Angel to marry her. The scary thing was that the idea of being his wife wasn’t at all unappealing.

Cordelia had laughed nervously when his arms encircled her to keep her from falling.

“Uh, sorry, Angel.” She’d smiled weakly, grasping the well-defined muscles in his upper arms, pushing back and giving them some distance.

Desperate to regain some control over her emotions, Cordelia had grasped at the first possibility of avoidance. “So you weren’t, like, standing outside the door listening just now, or anything, were you?” She’d asked, an expression of pathetic hope on her face. Maybe his super vamp hearing was on the fritz.

“I was,” he’d said.

“Oh,” Cordelia had looked disappointed. Damn it. This wasn’t her week.

It had occurred to Angel that he should make this easier on everybody and just agree to whatever she wanted and get it over with, but he’d been morbidly curious to find out how she was going to explain herself. He’d leaned back against the gurney, folded his arms, and prepared for an onslaught of Cordelia Logic.

Cordelia had sighed, realizing that there weren’t many options open to her. Stalling had failed miserably. Maybe straightforward was the best option here. It worked last time.

“Angel, will you marry me?” She’d asked bluntly, then rushed on when Angel just blinked at her. “It’ll only be for a little while, I promise.” Her eyes had begged him to agree.

Angel had realized he’d been boxed into an emotional corner. Earlier, after he’d gotten over the shock of Cordelia’s promise to her mother, he’d been determined not to give in this time. It was one thing to play at being her fiancée, but to actually marry her? No. He didn’t think he could handle that.

He’d agreed to this farce in the name of harmless fun, payback for minor irritations Cordelia had caused him since she’d started working for him. His plan had backfired miserably. They’d only shared one kiss so far, but in that instant, Angel had recognized the simultaneous response of both his demon and his soul. Cordelia had soothed one with her passion, the other with her trust in him. In that moment, she had become infinitely more than his friend.

He was falling amazingly hard and fast for his beautiful seer, and he knew instinctively that pretending marriage to her would seal his fate. Breaking up with Cordelia, even from a fake marriage, would affect him deeply. His soul would be broken and his demon would be pissed. Both halves of his being were too possessive to willingly part with a rare gem like Cordelia Chase.

Looking into her desperate features as she begged him to comply, Angel didn’t think he had the strength to refuse her. For his own sanity, though, he knew he had to try.

“Cordelia—“ Angel had said, raking his hands through his hair in frustration. “Why can’t you just tell her ‘no’? That’s an easy word. Two little letters. N. O. Nnnooo,” he enunciated slowly. Even as he said it, he wondered if he would have done any differently had he been in her place.

Cordelia knew that Angel was right; she should’ve said ‘no.’ Her conscience had been screaming the same thing at her. But her heart was battered with the knowledge that her mother was dying, and she just couldn’t bring herself to go back in that hospital room and refuse anything her mother requested of her. Mrs. Chase wanted to see Cordelia get married, and damn it, that’s what she was going to get.

Glancing back at Angel’s resolute features, Cordelia had glimpsed a crack in his armor. Even though his face was unreadable, Cordelia could sense a flicker of compassion in the depths of his dark eyes. But the fact that he was ignoring it really burned her. Would it kill him to just agree and spare her the trauma of convincing him?
Well, fine. Two could play at this game. Her jaw had set determinedly. Was the thought of being married to her—even pretend—that appalling?

So she’d fought back with the secret weapon of women everywhere: tears. Her eyes had welled up as she’d turned the big hazel orbs on her best friend, one fat tear spilling over and running slowly down her cheek.

“Angel, I’m losing her! This is her dying wish! You want me to say no to my mother while she’s on her deathbed?”

She’d paused dramatically, her lips trembling as she fought back tears that were mostly genuine, then whispered brokenly, “How could I do that to her?” Her shimmering eyes had held his for a split second, then she’d whirled away, sniffling, hiding her guilty expression from him.

Unable to handle the sight of her tears, Angel had tried to argue sensibly. “Cordy, I—,”

“Just—, just forget it, Angel.” Cordelia had interrupted; deep hurt and weariness lacing her tone, “I’ll think of something to tell her. God only knows what!” she had ended, brokenly.

God, I’m officially a bitch, she’d berated herself as she searched her purse for a tissue. She’d felt like such a heel as his face had softened at her tears, the need to reassure her now clear on his face.

Angel was desperately trying to figure how to fix this without breaking Cordelia’s heart in the process. Agreeing to “marry” her was a given at this point. The moment he’d seen her eyes well up with tears, a sight so uncharacteristic of his strong, independent seer, Angel had known he was lost. But now he had to figure out a way to avoid an actual marriage. Maybe if it wasn’t legal, his possessive nature would be mollified.

His immediate problem had been to cure the dejected look on Cordelia’s face when he’d displayed his obvious reluctance. She’d given him torturous silent treatments before, last night being one of them, but this new, suffocating blanket of disappointment was a whole new level. It had occurred to him that this time yesterday, he was the one inflicting the torture. If they were keeping points, she would definitely be winning.

Cordelia knew the ensuing quiet after her outburst meant that Angel’s resolve was breaking. As the silence reigned, Cordelia, her back to Angel, had allowed herself a small smile at how well this was progressing, her guilt fading to an ignorable level. She wasn’t faking the anxiety; for her mother’s sake, she really did fear that if she’d refused, her mother would become despondent and die even more quickly. Cordelia’s fears had led her to agree.

But she had to admit to herself that her other motivations weren’t so pure. She’d had just about enough of Angel turning on the charm and the heat, making her body melt and her mind turn to mush. She knew he was doing it to pay her back for roping him into this, and it was working way too well. If her dreams were any reliable indication, his behavior was affecting her emotionally as well as physically, and Cordelia decided that now was the time to get the upper hand back. If she didn’t get some control of the situation soon, her over-active hormones were going to turn into head-over-heels love for Angel. An annoying little voice in the back of her head said, Too late for that! but she squooshed it.

This was her golden opportunity to pay him back for his little seduction scheme and, at the same time, get what she’d always wanted: her mother’s approval.

Her only choice had been to fight back with the one tactic she knew was most effective with her boss and friend: guilt. Every time she cried, which wasn’t often, Angel felt responsible and rushed to comfort her.

In an innocent example of Cordelia’s thoughts, Angel had reached out a hand to grasp shoulder, turning her around and bringing her watery gaze to meet his. His eyes had spoken his apology for him more eloquently than he could ever put into words. He’d said simply, “Okay, Cordelia, I’ll do it.”

A brilliant smile had broken over her face, and he’d reached his hands out to stop her when she would’ve lunged in to hug him. “But I have one condition.”

“What condition?” Cordelia had asked, peering at him warily through drying tears, her hope wavering at his tone.

“Wesley performs the ceremony.”

“But Wesley’s not—” she had paused, then the light dawned. “Oh. I get it. Mom’s never met Wesley, so he can masquerade as a priest or something and then we won’t have to actually get married.”

Neither of them had been able to ignore the pang of disappointment that they had both felt at this practical solution.

So here they were in Wesley’s living room, trying to convince the ex-watcher to be the crux of their plan. Cordelia had reluctantly explained her dilemma, but Wesley was still trying to make sense of the situation.

Trying to buy time, he said, “Did it ever occur to either of you that I might not be comfortable with impersonating clergy?” Wesley knew the excuse was weak, but it did have some validity. Years of hellfire and damnation preaching at his childhood parish were hard to escape.

“You don’t have to impersonate a priest or a minister if you don’t want to,” Cordelia soothed. “You can be a justice of the peace.”

Frowning, Wesley removed his glasses and cleaned them thoroughly. “I still don’t know. We’re lying to your mother, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.”

For the second time that day, Cordelia felt the tears well up, mostly genuine, but partly for effect. Her eyes glistening, she whispered, “Please, Wes? My mother wants this so much, and I don’t know how much longer she has.”

Angel frowned as he watched Cordelia manipulate Wesley. Now that those big eyes weren’t locked on him, Angel could see her maneuverings for what they were.

That little twerp, he thought wryly, trying to con me. It made him feel like a doofus for falling for it earlier, but he also couldn’t help the admiration he felt at her ability to so easily wrap him around her little finger. Oh, he knew that most of her crying had been genuine, but there were enough crocodile tears mixed in to taint the purity of her performance. The hard edges of his thoughts softened a little more when he caught a glimpse of the real fear on her lovely face as she tried to convince Wesley.

Wesley was helpless against her. “Damn it, Cordelia,” he protested weakly. As her tears threatened to spill over, he relented. “Very well, I’ll do it,” he mumbled grumpily.

At his answer, Cordelia got up, sniffling, and enveloped Wesley in a tight hug. “Thank you, Wes. You’re such a great friend.”

Angel grunted his brand of Cordelia’s “pfft.” She ignored him.

“So will Sunday afternoon work for you, Wesley?” Cordelia asked, gathering her belongings as she prepared to leave.

“I think that will be sufficient time to prepare,” he agreed. Smiling, he admonished, “You know, it isn’t at all proper for engaged persons to be living under the same roof before the wedding.”

Cordelia just rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the etiquette lesson, Miss Manners,” she retorted. “I think we can manage to keep our hands to ourselves.” Ducking her face, that little voice mocked her once again, taunting her sarcastically, Oh, riiiiight.

That’s what YOU think. Angel mused, revenge for her manipulation foremost in his mind. He pushed the guilt away again, feeling justified now that he’d realized her motivations weren’t entirely pure. I haven’t even thought about breaking out the big guns yet.

As they turned to leave, Cordelia caught the look on Angel’s face before he schooled his features. She stopped breathing for a moment, a shiver running up her spine. She knew intuitively that she hadn’t even begun to pay for putting Angel in this predicament. What really worried her, though, was that it was excitement and anticipation she felt, not fear and anger.

Part 10

Sunday, 4:10 a.m.

Cordelia stared wide-eyed at the tantalizing image before her. She’d awoken in the pre-dawn hours with an urgent call of nature, and once it was taken care of, she couldn’t go back to sleep. She was sleepy and cranky, but her mind wouldn’t shut down again. Irritated, she’d shuffled toward the kitchen for some coffee.

Upon her arrival, she’d been greeted by a magnificent sight she’d seen many times before, but never truly appreciated: Angel’s bare chest. She’d touched it lots of times, but in the name of bandaging wounds or soothing him, never in love or abject admiration of its masculine beauty. Never, in all previous occasions, had the sight of Angel’s chest been accompanied by this unbelievable, tingly awareness throughout her body. Her mouth went dry, and her eyes wandered as she appreciated him.

He was casually leaning up against the counter, one arm crossed over his chest, his hand holding the elbow of his other arm as he drank his breakfast out of one of her mugs. He watched her watching him, and the unabashed hunger in her sleepy eyes was enough to make his body harden in response.

She’d known that he usually slept naked; somehow pajamas and Angel just didn’t seem to go together. Since he’d been living under her roof, he’d adopted a new sleeping uniform for her benefit: drawstring pants. The drawstring was almost never tied, though, and the two ends dangled tantalizingly when he moved. The pants always slung low on his hips, emphasizing their narrowness. His well-defined stomach muscles taunted her with their hardness, and the two sloping indentations in the places where his hips met his torso disappeared into his pants and drew her eyes to zero in on the one button closure of the garment, just below the drawstring.

Cordelia swallowed. Hard. Then licked her lips and swallowed again.

Desperate for something else to concentrate on, her eyes moved back up his body and into a pair of very amused eyes.

“’Morning, Cordelia,” he said gruffly, his voice still gravelly from sleep. “You’re up early.”

“Hi,” she squeaked, then rushed passed him to busy herself with the coffee maker.

As her face was turned away, Angel’s amused expression turned into a full-fledged grin as he sipped his blood. He hadn’t actually planned to flaunt himself like this, but it was an opportunity just begging to be exploited. Finishing his breakfast, he moved quietly to stand behind her, reaching around her in the small kitchen to turn on the faucet and rinse his mug. She wasn’t actually blocking his way, but he couldn’t resist the chance to brush up against her, teasing her with his close proximity.

She’d avoided him for nearly two days, escaping into the sunlight where he was unable to follow. At night, she’d run in and locked herself into her bedroom, claiming incredible tiredness and emotional stress. At least it was half true. She’d known that if she allowed herself to be alone with Angel, her hormones would take over and she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from responding to his advances. She had no doubt he’d make them; his expression at Wesley’s had made that clear.

And heaven help her, she wanted him to. Badly.

Her dreams hadn’t stopped. She’d had another one last night, this one uninterrupted by the phone, and it had left her aching and unfulfilled. It had taken every ounce of her will power not to go out onto the couch and drag him back into the bedroom with her and bring her dreams to life. The only thing she had going for her was the curse. She didn’t know if sex with her would bring Angel perfect happiness, but she didn’t want to face Angelus if she didn’t have to. She loved Angel, all of him, but she much preferred the whole package, not the homicidal, psychotic soulless part a la carte.

Oh, god. Did she just say she loved him?

Angel had noticed that she’d been avoiding him ever since they’d convinced Wesley to “officiate” their marriage. He knew that she’d seen the look in his eyes when he’d realized how she’d played him, and she was wary of retaliation. She was right to be anxious. He had every intention of continuing his plan of torturing her.

One major thing had changed, though, and that was Angel’s motivation. Originally, he’d done this as payback for her thoughtless actions. Now, all he wanted to was whip her into a lustful, emotional frenzy until she had no recourse but to fall into his arms. He wanted her to fall in love with him, just like he was falling for her.

This love for her was very fresh, born of her newfound selflessness, her easy friendship, her acceptance of him as a person, not just a monster with the face of a man. She knew that Angelus was still within, very much a part of Angel, and she didn’t seem to hold that against him. His demon had fallen in love with her, too, and that had never happened for him before. She made him feel human, but most importantly, she made him feel human in a way that didn’t threaten his demon. That was a rare gift, indeed.

He frowned as he thought about his curse. There had to be some way around that. If they continued down this path, they’d both combust from the sexual tension. He’d have to get Wesley to research that.

Cordelia’s thoughts as Angel pressed his hard body up against her back in the kitchen were much less complicated. In fact, she had no thoughts at all. Just feelings. She closed her eyes and leaned back, her body acting of its own accord, seeking his strength.

Angel, sensing her lack of control, slowly set his cup down in the sink and circled his arms around her waist. He pulled her against him, her backside pressing into him, taunting him. Her head lolled back against his shoulder and her hands came up to grasp his. Intertwining their fingers, Angel lowered his lips to her bared neck and kissed her lightly, shivers running up Cordelia’s spine as his mouth brushed her skin. His tongue darted out to graze her flesh, dampening it. Then he blew gently, drying the place he’d moistened and eliciting a whimper from Cordelia in response.

Hearing that sound escape her lips jerked Cordelia back to reality. Her eyes popped open and she was flooded with mortification as she realized what she was doing. She pushed back and Angel allowed it, then stepped out of his arms and quickly crossed the room.

“Geez, Angel. Two words,” she said, glaring at him, her arms crossed protectively over her chest. “Personal. Bubble.”

“Sorry, Cordelia,” Angel said, not meaning it at all.

“Pfft. Sure you are,” she retorted, not falling for it. “There’s no audience here, Angel, so you can just cut the act. Save it for the wedding.”

He contemplated her, wondering if he should take this conversation where he wanted it to go. After a moment, he decided against it. Now was not the time; her guard was up and any prodding would only strengthen her resolve to avoid him.

“Sure, Cordelia. I wouldn’t want your mother to be disappointed. I’ll make sure I’m very
convincing,” he said, his smile laced with promise. After a meaningful look, he walked past her into the living room for his clothes.

Cordelia shivered again, filled with a mixture of dread and lust at the thought of what he had planned for that afternoon.

When did he manage to get so much power over her?

***

Sunday, 6:46 p.m.

“Wesley, are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Cordelia asked apprehensively, unnerved to see him dressed in minister’s robes.

Wesley looked insulted. “Of course, Cordelia. I have it all written down; don’t worry.” He raised his leather journal, notes for the ceremony safely tucked inside.

Cordelia, somewhat mollified, turned to Angel. “Are you ready?”

Letting his eyes wander up and down her figure, Angel smiled, just enough wickedness in the expression to increase Cordelia’s nervousness tenfold. “Yes, Cordelia, I’m ready.” His tone made it sound like a lacivious: More than ready for you, babe.

She’d had just about enough of Angel’s teasing. Her eyes narrowed and she said, “Geez, Angel, I didn’t ask you to be a gigolo, just a devoted fiancée. Knock it off with the leering, already.”

With some difficulty, Angel wiped the smile off his face. “Let’s go,” he said, turning and leading them toward Mrs. Chase’s room.

The nurse who’d appreciated Angel a few days earlier was waiting for them outside the door.

“Well, look who’s here. It’s the happy couple! Let me be the first to congratulate you both,” she greeted, her smile stretching her round face, emphasizing her rosy cheeks. Without warning, she grabbed Cordelia into a bear hug. “You’re going to have one great
honeymoon with that beautiful man,” she whispered conspiratorially into Cordelia’s ear.

As she released Cordelia, she said, “Your mother has a visitor right now and she requested that you wait outside until she’s ready for you.”

Cordelia nodded, and the nurse took off down the hall.

“A visitor?” Wesley said. “Did your mother say anything about this, Cordelia?”

“No, she didn’t,” Cordelia answered, distracted. Her mother’s door was open a crack, and all Cordelia could see was the curtain surrounding her mother’s bed. She moved more closely, and could make out the sound of a masculine voice in conversation with her mother’s feminine one. She heard her mother laugh, and the man laugh with her, a sound that was completely unfamiliar to Cordy.

“I don’t know him,” Cordelia said to no one in particular. She turned to Angel. “Can you hear what they’re saying?”

“Nothing that will help us figure out who he is. Some reminiscing, I think,” he paused again to listen. “Wait, she just told him to come out here.”

At Angel’s words, the door swung open, revealing a distinguished, silver-haired man in a three piece suit and tie. He smiled warmly, motioning them into the room as he spoke.

“Cordelia, Angel, please come in. Your mother is so looking forward to this,” he said excitedly. Noticing Wesley, he said, “Ah, I see you’ve brought a clergyman with you.”

Cordelia stammered to explain. “Uh, yeah, yes. This is Reverend Pryce. He will be—”

She was interrupted by her mother. “Cordelia!” Mrs. Chase said excitedly. “Come here by me. I have someone I’d like you to meet.”

Cordelia looked at Angel, puzzled by her mother’s statement. She walked over to Mrs. Chase and grasped her hand. Leaning down to kiss her cheek, she said, “Hi, Mom. Are you ready to be a mother-in-law?”

“Definitely, dear,” she said, somewhat distracted. “Cordelia, I’d like you to meet Reverend Donovan Jennings.” She gestured to the older man who had greeted them at the door. “Don, this is my daughter, Cordelia, her fiancée Angel, and,” she paused, finally noticing Wesley. “Who is this, Cordelia?”

“This is Reverend Pryce, mom. He’ll be performing the ceremony.”

“Oh, no, that won’t do at all,” her mother said, frowning. “Reverend Jennings has agreed to perform the ceremony. Reverend Pryce isn’t needed.”

Shooting a panicked look in Angel’s direction, Cordelia whispered, “Mom, we’ve already paid Reverend Pryce. We can’t just tell him to go home!”

Her mother looked at her strangely. “Cordelia,” she admonished, matching the soft tones of her daughter. “It’s uncouth to speak of money in public. You know better.”

Raising her voice back to a normal level, she continued. “This is really important to me, Cordy. Don is a very close friend, and he performed the wedding ceremony for your father and I. That was such a special day.” Her eyes turned misty and she paused, lost in the memories. “Anyway, Don is the hospital chaplain now. Isn’t that just a wonderful coincidence?”

“Mom, I’m really not comfortable with this—,” Cordelia tried again, desperately looking for a way out.

“Please, sweetie?” Mrs. Chase begged. “I miss your father so much, and if I can’t have him here, at least I can have something to remind me of him on your special day.”

Angel smothered a smile at the scene before him. Watching the interaction between Cordelia and her mother, he understood his friend so much better than he had before. Her mother’s tears and tone of voice were a carbon copy of Cordelia’s when she’d tried to convince him to play along.

He caught her frantic expression, her eyes imploring him to do something to fix this. Oh, he’d fix it all right.

“Mrs. Chase,” Angel began, his tone giving Cordelia hope that he’d put a stop to this nonsense and insist that Wesley officiate.

His next words smashed that hope to smithereens. “Cordelia and I would be honored to have Reverend Jennings perform the ceremony.”

“But, Angel. . .” Cordelia whispered, shocked.

Angel walked over to her and put his arm around her waist. Looking deeply into her eyes, he said, “Honey, we’re going to be married forever. It doesn’t matter who says the words for us. The point is that we love each other and we want to make the commitment.” He leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose gently.

Cordelia felt as though she’d had the wind knocked out of her. Didn’t he understand what he was doing?

Part 11

Sunday, 7:12 p.m.

From the shocked look on her face, Angel knew exactly what Cordelia was thinking when he’d agreed to their marriage by Reverend Jennings. She thought he was nuts.

Maybe she was right, but even if she was, it was irrelevant.

It had been one thing to plan a sham marriage ahead of time, using Wesley as their fake clergyman. They were being practical, and he could live with that. But when they’d had Reverend Jennings thrust upon them, he’d suddenly realized that he truly wanted to be married to Cordelia, and this was his chance. He knew that there would be hell to pay later when Cordelia wanted to annul the marriage and get things back to normal. He knew, deep down, that his demon had already claimed her, and that giving her up would be akin to peeling his fingernails off slowly, one by one.

Angel knew there would be consequences, but he’d done it anyway. He had a plan: torture, tease, and taunt Cordelia until all she wanted was him, and no one but him. Having a real marriage ceremony would fluster Cordelia so much that she wouldn’t know what hit her. She’d be putty in his hands, and that’s exactly what he wanted. He smiled, satisfied that he was in complete control.

Cordelia’s train of thought wasn’t in the same hemisphere as Angel’s. Once she’d gotten over the initial shock of Angel’s announcement, all Cordelia could feel was blind fury. This was her problem, her scheme, her mess, and all she wanted was for him to cooperate. Their plan up to now had been workable, if not good; she could get out of this mess. She’d asked him to do one simple thing: play along. Then he had to go and agree to a real marriage ceremony and ruin everything. It had been his idea to have Wesley perform the ceremony, and here he was, screwing it all up?

He was up to something, and Cordelia was not happy. Not happy at all. Her eyes narrowed, her jaw clenched, and she prepared for battle. Angel had never really, truly seen her inner bitch before.

It was about time that her inner Bitch met his inner Demon. Something told her that they’d be well matched.

One glance at Cordelia’s now icy glare and Angel felt a wave of nervousness. He hadn’t seen that look on Cordelia’s face before. He’d seen the “Queen C” glare directed at other people, but never this acerbic, and never at him.

Maybe his plan wasn’t such a smart idea after all.

“Angel and Cordelia, if you’d step over here, please?” Reverend Jennings’ voice interrupted their thoughts and he motioned them to the foot of Mrs. Chase’s bed. Wesley stood at her side, now feeling useless but extremely curious to see how this was going to play out.

Cordelia schooled her features with difficulty, trying to maintain a happy façade for her mother’s benefit. Cordelia smiled at her warmly, receiving an excited grin from her mother in return. She took Angel’s hand, and in a desire to let him know that she wasn’t happy, she dug her fingernails into his palm as hard as she could.

Angel grimaced as her nails cut into his skin. He led her over to the end of Mrs. Chase’s bed, and stood facing Cordelia.

“Are we ready, then?” Reverend Jennings asked, smiling warmly at the supposed happy couple.

Cordelia turned her bright smile on him. “Of course, Reverend. We can’t wait.”

“We are gathered here today to celebrate one of life’s greatest moments, to give recognition to the worth and beauty of love, and to add our best wishes to the words which shall unite Cordelia and Angel in marriage,” Reverend Jennings began, his smooth voice transforming the bleak hospital room into a sacred place.

Cordelia let the words flow over her, cooling her, reminding her why she was here, why she was doing this. She glanced back at her mother, and the rapture on Mrs. Chase’s face was reason enough for Cordelia to let go of her anger at Angel’s hasty actions. She would deal with him later; right now, her mother’s happiness was all that mattered.

As Reverend Jennings began his opening comments, Angel let his mind wander. He perused Cordelia’s features, admiring her smooth skin and big eyes. He knew he’d made her angry, and he was actually sorry for that, but he was glad they were going through with this. She belonged with him.

Angel and Cordelia were jerked out of their respective thoughts as the minister continued.

“Should there be anyone who has cause why this couple should not be united in marriage, they must speak now or forever hold their peace.” Reverend Jennings perused the few faces gathered in the hospital room.

In the short silence following the minister’s statement, Cordelia felt a strong urge to shout “Stop!” She knew intuitively that this was her last chance to avoid being tied to Angel forever. She’d seen that look in his eyes, the one of possession, of ownership. She’d seen it right after he kissed her in front of her mother. She’d seen it again when he’d stared back at her in the kitchen this morning. And she’d seen it most clearly just five minutes earlier when he’d told her mother that Reverend Jennings could marry them. Cordelia knew that annulling this marriage to Angel would be next to impossible.

She knew that, but Cordelia held her peace. She held her peace for her mother’s happiness, for her own sanity, and, while she wouldn’t admit it, she held her peace because, despite her anger, she knew she wanted Angel.

Angel squeezed her hand gently, the contact making her turn her eyes to his.

“Angel,” Reverend Jennings said, “do you take Cordelia to be your wife? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and protect her, forsaking all others?”

Buffy flashed through Cordelia’s mind at the “forsaking all others” line, along with a twinge of pain. Angel would never choose her over Buffy.

“I do,” Angel said softly, his eyes boring into Cordelia’s as he promised sincerely.

Reverend Jennings repeated the same words for Cordelia.

It was Angel’s turn to be nervous. Would Cordelia really cherish him? Would she always see past the demon to the man inside?

“I do,” Cordelia said, her voice nearly a whisper. She struggled to hold onto her anger. Hearing the vows spoken made it so difficult.

As the reverend continued, both Angel and Cordelia felt a transformation within themselves. It was as if speaking the words had made the event real. In that moment, the pretense was gone, and they knew in the deepest parts of their souls that they wouldn’t be able to walk away from this unchanged.

“Do you have the rings?” The minister asked.

Wesley stepped forward and handed him the rings that they’d bought earlier that day on the way to the hospital. At the time, neither Angel nor Cordelia had expected them to mean so much.

Beginning with Angel, Reverend Jennings said, “Please take Cordelia’s left hand into your own and repeat after me. ‘I, Angel, take you, Cordelia, to be my wife. To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death parts us.’”

Angel repeated the words, sliding the ring onto Cordelia’s trembling finger.

Cordelia repeated the same words, her hands shaking, her voice barely audible, and she slipped the ring onto Angel’s finger.

She raised her eyes to his and their gazes locked, emotions passing between them in a way they never had before. Cordelia was still apprehensive, still mad at him, still determined that this wouldn’t be forever, but a small part of her recognized the burgeoning love in her heart. Angel was just as determined that Cordelia was his now, and nothing was going to separate them. But neither could deny the pull of their souls toward one another. Neither of them could deny the desire they had for each other. Neither of them could deny how right this farce of a ceremony felt.

“As the two of you come into this marriage uniting you as husband and wife, and as you this day affirm your faith and love for one another, I would ask that you always remember to cherish each other as special and unique individuals, that you respect the thoughts, ideas and suggestions of one another.”

Angel felt a twinge of guilt as he realized that he’d been unconcerned with her thoughts and ideas, only his own. He’d been determined to have her, and he hadn’t given any thought to her thoughts and feelings.

“Be able to forgive, do not hold grudges, and live each day that you may share it together – as from this day forward you shall be each other’s home, comfort and refuge, your marriage strengthened by your love and respect for each other.”

It was Cordelia’s turn to feel guilty. She did hold grudges, and she wanted to make Angel pay for making her go through with this. But maybe she could forgive him. Maybe.

The reverend’s final words pierced them both.

“Angel and Cordelia, just as two very different threads woven in opposite directions can form a beautiful tapestry, so can your two lives merge together to form a very beautiful marriage. To make your marriage work will take love. Love should be the core of your marriage, love is the reason you are here.”

Angel’s eyes bored deeply into Cordelia’s, and for a moment, their souls were bared, their new love recognized and displayed.

That moment was broken, shattered, as the words continued and the windows to their souls were shuttered closed more tightly with each phrase.

“But it also will take trust – to know in your hearts you want the best for each other.”

I don’t trust him. He doesn’t share anything with me. I know that he struggles with his evil side. I’ve seen him when he doesn’t think I’m watching. He doesn’t learn. He just runs and broods.

I can’t trust her with the real me. If she knew, really knew, what Angelus was like, and how much of him is still in me, how much I have to repress . . . I can’t trust her with that.

“It will take faith – to always be willing to go forward to tomorrow, never really knowing what tomorrow will bring.”

Tomorrow? If Buffy came back and his curse wasn’t an issue, he’d be gone in a heartbeat.

Tomorrow? If she had the chance to get rid of the visions, she’d be gone in a heartbeat.

“And it will take commitment – to hold true to the journey you both now pledge to share together.”

Commitment? He doesn’t want me. He wants a dream. He wants Buffy.

Commitment? She doesn’t want me. I’m a demon, a freak. She wants, no, she deserves, something normal.

By the last phrase, their eyes were still locked on each other, but their gazes were unreadable.

“Angel and Cordelia, in so much as the two of you have agreed to live together in Matrimony and have promised your love for each other by these vows, I now declare you to be Husband and Wife.”

Smiling grandly, Reverend Jennings closed the book in his hands, the sound like a gunshot to the bride and groom.

“You may now kiss your bride.”

What should have been a moment of loving display and barely restrained passion was now a desperate attempt to get through this and escape. Escape the implications, the emotions, and the consequences. Angel put his arm around Cordelia’s waist and drew her close, his lips descending on hers. The kiss appeared soft and sweet, but neither
Angel nor Cordelia remembered any of it.

Both were too wrapped up in their own pain and perceived rejection that they barely noticed. In a desperate attempt to regain control, both retreated back into their earlier feelings, all tenderness discovered in the ceremony now completely forgotten.

Cordelia remembered her anger, and her jaw clenched.

Angel remembered his determination to make her want him, and his eyes narrowed.

They had just turned the molehill into Mt. Everest.
Part 12

Thursday, 12:02 p.m.
4 days after the wedding

Cordelia’s head ached as she steered her car in the direction of the hospital. It was a good thing that traffic was light, because her mind was too full of other things to worry about safe driving. The last four days had been a living nightmare.

After the wedding, she and Angel had gone back to her apartment in complete silence. Even Wesley hadn’t said anything except good-bye when they left Mrs. Chase’s room that day. Angel drove them home, and the tension in the car was thick. When they arrived at her apartment, she locked herself in the bedroom and didn’t come out until morning.

Her anger toward Angel had dissipated somewhat during that night. She’d had a dream in which she and Angel declared their love for each other, slept together (but no Angelus), and then he cheated on her with Buffy. She woke up abruptly, her face covered in tears, her heart breaking, and it took her several minutes to calm down and realize that it was just a dream. Having it affect her so much made her realize that Angel was much more important to her than she’d been willing to admit. She was falling in love with him, and she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

The only thing stopping her from admitting her feelings was that she was deathly afraid that he would abandon her at the first chance he got. She knew he was attracted to her, but she didn’t think he loved her, not really. He loved Buffy, not her. They had a love that was an epic, tragic romance, the stuff that poems and songs were written about. All she and Angel had was friendship and an unwanted supernatural connection. And her own track record was horrible. She’d loved Xander, and he’d cheated on her. She’d loved her parents, and they’d practically abandoned her. She didn’t think her heart could take the abuse of Angel leaving her, too.

It hadn’t helped that every day since the wedding, he’d used every opportunity possible to touch her and be near her. He would brush up against her, smile at her softly, or stare at her from across the room. But he never said anything to indicate a change in his feelings. For all she knew, he was still just trying to tease her. His behavior was so unnerving that Cordelia began to avoid being in the same room with him. He was playing with her heart and she couldn’t take it anymore.

An SUV honked insistently behind Cordelia, and she shook herself out of her thoughts to realize that the light had turned green. She would be at the hospital within a few minutes. Her mother needed her now, and it was too tiring to keep thinking about Angel.

***

Angel awoke to the silence in Cordelia’s darkened living room. He’d heard her leave earlier and had feigned sleep, knowing she’d rather not talk to him. He stared at the ceiling and contemplated the sad state of his life.

His plan was failing miserably.

He’d tried several times to get a response out of Cordelia like he had the morning of their wedding. He’d walked around in his pajama pants, discretely flexing his muscles and stretching to the best advantage. He’d “forgotten” his clothes when he took a shower and paraded around in a towel, but she acted like she didn’t notice. He was uncomfortable flaunting his body like that, but he knew how it affected her, so he did it anyway. It hadn’t worked. He’d tried touching her in ways that seemed inadvertent, but she wasn’t paying attention. He’d touch her hand, and she’d move hers away absent mindedly. He’d brush up against her, and she’d move aside. He’d try to catch her eyes, but she’d avoid his gaze.

Every time he turned around, she was walking out of the room or putting more distance between them. And the harder he tried, the worse it became.

He wanted to just grab her and kiss her senseless, make her acknowledge the attraction they had to each other, but he couldn’t get her to stay put long enough for that to happen. He knew that short of forcing her to comply, he wouldn’t get his chance anytime soon. Angel knew he’d messed up by giving her no choice but to really marry him. He’d broken Cordelia’s spirit and betrayed her trust. She’d relied on him to help her get her out of trouble, and all he’d done was dig the hole deeper. It was no wonder she was avoiding him.

The guilt was killing him. And that, combined with the love for her that only seemed to grow daily, was going to eat him alive inside.

***

“So, Mom, how are you feeling?” Cordelia asked Mrs. Chase, her happy mask firmly in place.

“I’ve been feeling wonderful, Cordy. The doctors started me on a new set of medications before your wedding, and they seem to be working great. Almost no pain at all.” Her attitude and color seemed to enunciate her words. She did look much healthier than she had days earlier.

“That’s so wonderful, Mom. I’m so happy that you’re feeling better,” Cordelia squeezed her mother’s hand, then fell into silence. She looked down at their intertwined fingers, and with her free hand, picked at the lint on the blanket covering her mother.

The silence concerned Mrs. Chase, as well as the fact that Cordelia’s smile didn’t reach her eyes. “Cordelia, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Mom, just tired.”

Mrs. Chase looked at her strangely, then smiled knowingly. “Had some late nights, have you?”

Cordelia sighed, not picking up on her mother’s innuendo. “Yeah. I haven’t been sleeping very well. Bad dreams.”

“Uh-huh,” Mrs. Chase said, her tone implying that Cordelia was just making excuses.

Finally, Cordelia got it. She frowned and tried to decide whether or not to set her mother straight. It wouldn’t do any good; her mother had an annoying habit of believing whatever she wanted to believe, and adjusting the rest to fit her wishes. This wasn’t going to be any different.

As Cordelia was frantically trying to come up with something else to talk about, her mother’s doctor strode into the room, his bearing that of a confident, friendly professional.

“Hello, Mrs. Chase. How are we today?” He smiled dazzlingly at Cordelia’s mother, and Cordy was shocked to see her mother blush in return. The doctor was a handsome, 40-something married man, if the ring on his finger was any indication. But it was just as obvious that her mother was smitten with him.

“I’m doing just great, Dr. Murphy,” Mrs. Chase replied.

“Wonderful,” he said, distracted by the information on the clipboard at the foot of the bed. He scribbled some notes at the bottom of one of the pages, then clicked his pen closed and returned it to his pocket.

He turned his attention to Cordelia. “I understand congratulations are in order, Cordelia,” he said warmly.

“Thank you,” Cordelia said, embarrassed.

He continued, the smile on his face growing wider as he imparted his news. “Your happy event may have just saved your mother’s life.”

“What?” Cordelia said, confused. How could a wedding cure cancer?

Dr. Murphy returned the clipboard to its hanger on the end of the bed, crossed his arms, and smiled conspiratorially at Mrs. Chase as he continued. “Your mother and I didn’t want to get your hopes up unnecessarily, but we found out just the day before your wedding that it appeared your mother’s cancer had been eradicated. That bad spell last week was her body fighting the final, winning battle against the cancer. She had her final evaluation just this morning, and she’s officially been given a clean bill of health.”

Stunned, Cordelia gaped at her mother, who smiled reassuringly and squeezed Cordelia’s hand. “Isn’t it wonderful, sweetie? I’m healed! And thanks to you!”

She turned back to the doctor, elated at her mother’s recovery but still baffled as to how she was at all responsible. “How did I have anything to do with it?”

His answer was the last thing Cordelia expected. “Mrs. Chase was very down about the state of her health, and it has been medically proven that a patient’s mental state is an important factor in recovery. She was convinced that she was dying, and her predictions were about to become self-fulfilling. Your marriage changed all that. Your mother was so happy for you that it ensured her recovery.”

There was silence as Cordelia digested this. “I—, I don’t know what to say,” she stammered. “This is wonderful, Mom. I’m so happy for you.”

Mrs. Chase sighed. “I know. I’m so excited myself. The best part is that I get to come and live with you and Angel until the hospital releases me to move out of the country! We’ll have so much fun, Cordy!”

“You’re coming to live with me?” Cordelia said, dread creeping up her spine. She knew she’d suggested this, but she didn’t think it would actually happen.

“Yes! Isn’t that fantastic? I know your place is small, but you have a hide-a-bed in your sofa, so I’ll sleep there. That way, you and Angel won’t have to leave your room. I know how newlyweds need their space.” She winked at Cordelia.

Cordelia’s heart skipped a beat. Her mother was coming to live with her. She only had one bedroom. One bed. One queen-sized bed.

Oh, god. She was going to have to sleep with Angel.

Part 13

Thursday, 6:45 p.m.

Cordelia eyed the outside of her front door with trepidation. Since her mother’s shocking announcement at the hospital this afternoon, she had avoided coming home to face Angel. She’d caught several sales at the mall, and it had been discouraging to realize that shopping didn’t really right the world’s wrongs for her like it used to. Prada on sale didn’t quite fix the problems that came with apocalyptic visions and domineering mothers. Only a vampire with a soul could do that for her now.

Sighing, Cordelia gave in to the inevitable. Gathering her purchases in one hand, she brought out her keys to open the door, but it swung open before she had the chance to unlock it.

“Thanks, Dennis,” Cordelia said gratefully. Noting the virtual silence in the apartment, she asked, “Where’s Angel?”

The dry erase marker floated from its resting place and “shower” was scribbled on the board.

“Okay,” Cordelia said, still puzzled. She couldn’t hear the water running.

Just then, the bathroom door jerked open and Angel exited, drying his hair with a towel. He was shirtless, his black pants halfway zipped and unbuttoned. He stopped when he saw her.

“Cordelia,” he said, surprised to see her. “How is your mother?”

She frowned in answer, a look that was more consternation than concern. Sitting down heavily on the couch, Cordelia threw her bags onto the floor and propped her feet up on the coffee table. “Apparently, my mother is completely healthy.”

“What?”

“It seems our wedding was the ticket to her recovery. She was so happy, she got better.”

“I don’t get it.” Angel said. He’d been around sick people before, and being happy didn’t usually make a change like this.

“Those were my thoughts exactly. Apparently, she was getting better before our wedding but the doctor didn’t want to get my hopes up,” Cordelia said dryly.

There was a brief pause as Angel absorbed this.

Cordelia suddenly jumped up from the couch, pacing back and forth, throwing her hands around as she talked. “I am so angry at my mother right now. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. We didn’t have to get married. She wasn’t dying! And she knew it, too. I could see the look in her eyes today. The one that says she’s satisfied that her little plan worked,” her eyes narrowed. “Oooh, I hate it when she does that,” she griped, stomping her foot for emphasis.

Angel wisely held his tongue as he recalled how much he hated it when she did the exact same thing to him.

Trying to be supportive, Angel said, “Well, at least she’s not going to die now.”

Cordelia stopped and turned to face him. “Oh, you haven’t heard the half of it. I spoke with her doctor alone today. He cautioned me not to give my mother any big surprises in the next few months because her body was still weak and she might not be able to survive the shock. So I can’t even divorce you any time soon.”

Angel couldn’t help but smile at this bit of good news. Her next words wiped the smirk off his face.

“And she’s coming to live with us.”

“Live with us? As in here, at your apartment?”

Cordelia nodded. “Yes. I can’t even begin to think about how awful that’s going to be. I hate living with my mother. She’s messy, she’s nosy, she talks way too much, and she doesn’t listen to a thing I have to say.”

Angel raised an eyebrow. He knew she didn’t realize it, but Cordelia had just described herself six months ago. The visions had changed her somewhat, but not enough to completely erase the similarity.

Cordelia resumed her pacing. “And she had the nerve to tell me that she’d sleep on the couch and we could have the bedroom, since,” air quote, “’Newlyweds need their space.’” She rolled her eyes. “Can you believe it?” she said, shaking her head incredulously.

Satisfaction spread through Angel what Cordelia was insinuating. Maybe his plan wasn’t going to be a total loss. Sleeping in the same bed with Cordelia was going to be a fantastic opportunity to make her see they belonged together.

Cordelia wasn’t paying attention and she missed the look on Angel’s face. “Somehow, we’re going to have to figure out how to get my mom to stay someplace else. She can’t stay here. I am not sharing a bed with you,” she vowed, whirling to face Angel.

By that time, he’d adjusted his features into a noncommittal mask. “What are you afraid of, Cordy? I don’t bite.”

She scrunched up her nose at him and rolled her eyes. “Ha, ha. Funny Mr. Vamp guy. And I’m not afraid of you,” she said untruthfully. She was very afraid of him, but not that he would hurt her physically. She knew instinctively that one night in bed with him, curse or no curse, would change her life irrevocably. She didn’t think her heart could handle the torment of sleeping next to Angel, desperately craving his touch, but knowing that he was in love with someone else.

“Well, great. Then it’s decided. Your mother will come to live with us and we’ll stay married.”

“What?!? Who died and made you king? We didn’t decide a damn thing.”

Before he could argue further, the phone rang. Angel was closer, so he answered it. A calculating gleam crept into his eyes as he greeted the caller.

“Well, hello, Mrs. Chase! Congratulations on your recovery.”

Cordelia narrowed her eyes and tried to shoot him a “if you even THINK about telling her she can live here, you’re going to die” glare, but he ignored her.

“Uh-huh, she’s doing just fine. I’m taking really good care of her.” His tone left no doubt as to the level of care she was receiving.

Cordelia clenched her jaw at his implications.

“It will be so great to have you here with us, Mrs. Chase.” Pause. “Well, if you insist. I would be honored to call you Mom.”

Angel’s grin graduated from calculated to evil as he stared down Cordelia.

“Yes, I believe the sofa bed is quite comfortable, but it’s rather close to the bedroom. I hope we won’t keep you up at night. Cordelia is very . . . enthusiastic.”

Cordelia’s mouth dropped open at what he was insinuating, and her face colored when she imagined her mother listening to them making love. Unwanted flashes of Angel’s body on top of hers, his mouth on her skin, his hands on her, swept through her mind. Oh, god. I can’t take this.

His laugh at her mother’s response jerked her out of the lust-inspired fog. “Yes, she is.” Pause. “I’ve got it. Tomorrow, 9 a.m. I won’t be able to be there; I have to work. Cordelia will pick you up and bring you home.”

Having regained control of her senses, Cordelia motioned for him to give the phone to her.

He ignored her again, and he could see the steam start to seep out of Cordelia’s ears. “Well, thank you, Mom. It will be wonderful to have you here.” Pause. “Okay, same to you. Bye.”

Hanging up the phone, Angel crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

Cordelia was livid and embarrassed; not a combination that brought out the best in her. “Why do you have to be such a bastard, Angel? I wish I’d never asked for your help in the first place. All you’ve done is make this more difficult.”

“What’s the big deal, Cordelia? It’s just your mother. We’ve shared living space before, and we’re both responsible adults. I think we can manage to keep our hands to ourselves,” he said. You’re going to want me so bad by the time I’m through with you, you’ll be begging me to take you.

“Fine,” Cordelia said, her voice biting. “But at least I have tonight away from your grabby hands. Just stay out of my way, Angel.” She glared at him one more time for full effect, then stormed into the bedroom and slammed the door. Oh, you think you’re so smart, huh, Angel? Well, you’ve never seen a cold shoulder like this one. I’ll make you sorry you ever laid a hand on me in the first place.

Even as her angry thoughts formed, Cordelia recognized a twinge of anticipation in herself. She knew that, eventually, he’d wear her down. She couldn’t help the fact that the thought of being with him made her entire body sizzle.

***

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

“Well, Mom. It’s so nice to see you well settled in our little home,” Angel greeted Mrs. Chase as he strode in the front door, looking for all the world like he’d just spent a hard day at the office. Actually, he’d hidden in the closet in Cordelia’s bedroom when she brought her mother home, then spent most of the day patrolling underground tunnels when they were out shopping. He’d returned only when he saw them come home.

In an effort to avoid talking to him, Cordelia was in the kitchen, trying to fix dinner. She only knew how to make a few things that turned out edible, and soup was one of them. Water. Vegetables. Meat. Seasoning from a packet. It wasn’t rocket science, and Cordelia got it right every time. Okay, so she wasn’t Julia Child, but who cares? She couldn’t do everything.

At the moment, her frustration was being released as she brutally chopped vegetables with a knife that would have been more at home between a broadsword and an axe in the weapons cabinet than it was in her kitchen. A loud *thwack* sounded every time she brought the blade down, and it was almost as satisfying as hurling dishes at the wall, but much less expensive.

Her current irritation in a mile long list was how Angel kept insisting on calling her mother “Mom.” She knew he did it because it annoyed her, and that knowledge just made her that much angrier. When would he stop being such a jerk about this?

‘When he gets what he wants,’ the annoying little voice inside Cordelia’s head answered.

“Oh, yeah? And what, exactly, does playboy vamp want?” Cordelia muttered, viciously cleaving a helpless stick of celery in two.

‘You. Naked and writhing beneath him, screaming his name.’ The knife stopped mid swing as the thought ricocheted off the walls of Cordelia’s brain, and she nearly lost her grip on the handle as the images those thoughts inspired flitted through her mind.

She began chopping again, this time with more force, each swing punctuating her words. “What is the matter with me? I’m starting to sound like some sex-starved groupie at vamp appreciation night. How am I ever going to survive tonight?” she whispered, trying to let the sound of her own voice drown out the thoughts in her head.

’Why do you have to survive? Why not just give in? You know it will be the best sex of your life. Who cares if he doesn’t love you?’

Cordelia recognized the voice: it wasn’t exactly her conscience, more like her inner vixen. In human form, it would be Cordelia at her sexiest . . . and coldest. Short, tight red dress, strappy heels, pouty lips, and a sly wink accompanied by a come-hither look. This was the Cordelia that called Angel “salty goodness” when she first saw him at the Bronze, and later when she tried to woo him away from Buffy. This was the Cordelia that flaunted herself in front of Wesley time and again in high school. This was the Cordelia that asked Wilson to stay and sleep with her, but it was suspiciously silent when she was pregnant with demon spawn. When she had conversations with herself, this part of her psyche was the one that always got her into trouble. She knew better than to let it talk her into anything, but sometimes, the voice sounded too good to ignore.

“I care, moron. If he sleeps with me and leaves me. . .” she trailed off, hands pausing in her work. After a beat, she shook herself out of morbid thought land and dumped the vegetables in the pot on the stove.

“I can’t take that chance. He’ll leave me, and I wouldn’t survive it,” as if to emphasize her point, she brutally ripped open the package of seasonings and dumped them into the pot.

’He can’t leave you. You’re his link to the Powers,’ her inner vixen reasoned.

“Oh, he may not actually leave me, but he’d act like nothing happened, or he’d avoid talking to me. In the long run, he’d know he made a mistake,” she argued back, stirring the pot vigorously. “No, it’s better not to even go there.”

“Go where?” Angel’s voice nearly made her heart leap out of her chest. She twirled around, and smacked his shoulder with the spoon.

“Jeez, Angel. Don’t creep up on me like that! You scared me half to death!” She glared at him.

Angel took advantage of her ruffled composure and leaned down, pressing a light kiss to her lips. “Hello to you, too, baby. Bad day?” he asked, smirking, his eyes dancing with the fun he was having at continuing their charade.

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed and her speech dropped to a near-whisper, “Keep the Ozzie Nelson crap down to a minimum, honey, or you’ll be sleeping at Wesley’s tonight.” Her voice dripped with sarcastic warning.
“And how would you plan to force me to do that?” Angel asked, wary of her confidence.

It was Cordelia’s turn to be smug. “I have my ways.”

“Really,” Angel said dryly. “And what would those ‘ways’ be this time?”

“You don’t want to find out, darling,” she said, batting her eyelashes and smiling sweetly as she noticed her mother peering into the kitchen, watching their low conversation.

Before Angel could pry further, Mrs. Chase’s voice intruded into the kitchen. “Cordelia, sweetie, do you need help with dinner?”

Panicked, Cordelia said, “No, Mom, thanks. Angel’s a great cook; he’ll help me.”

To Angel, she whispered, “She’s a worse cook than I am.”

“Is that possible?” Angel asked, his face a picture of saintly innocence.

“Hey!” she yelled, hitting him again with the spoon. “Thanks a lot, dork.”

Angel smiled at the glimmer of his Cordelia that had shone through her statement, the girl he knew before her mother made a mess of their lives,. “Oh, good, I’m back up to ‘dork.’ That’s an improvement over ‘undead jerk.’”
“You’re both,” Cordelia retorted, trying to hold on to her anger. His smile was making it so difficult.

Angel decided to quit while he was ahead. He leaned into her, peering over her shoulder at the pot. “Shouldn’t there be water in there with the vegetables?” He asked guilelessly.

Cordelia spun around, gasping as she saw the smoke curling up from the pot. “Crap! Help me, Angel!”

“That’s me. The Dark Avenger. Help to the helpless. Rescuer of damsels in distress,” he said drolly, removing the pot from the stove and putting it under the running water in the sink.

Cordelia looked at him strangely. “Stick to the detective thing, grr guy. Being a comedian wouldn’t buy you jack squat.”

He held her gaze for a moment as the pot filled. When the intensity became too much, Cordelia looked away and pushed past him, heading toward her mother in the living room.

As she left, Angel allowed himself a full-fledged grin as he thought about the possibilities tonight held. His grin disappeared as quickly as it came when he remembered the bane of his existence: the damned gypsy curse.

After a moment of self-pity, his smile returned, this time tainted with lustful anticipation. He may not be able to make love to her, but he could still give her the greatest pleasure of her young life.

Part 14

Friday, 8:20 p.m.

Angel sat back in his chair at the head of the table, looking for all the world like the reigning patriarch. He patted his stomach and groaned, then said, “Cordelia, honey, that was a fantastic meal.”

Cordelia blushed demurely. “Thank you, Angel.”

Angel actually hadn’t been lying; she’d made a dinner that was even palatable for him. He’d salvaged her soup but let her finish it. While he’d occupied her mother with inane conversation, Cordelia had got out another pot. She’d spooned some of the soup into the new pot, then added a generous helping of blood, heating it up to the desired temperature. To make the rest look like Angel’s version, she’d added tomato sauce to the first pot. Her mother never knew the difference.

Cordelia began clearing the bowls and Angel got up to help her.

Mrs. Chase sighed in pleasure at the domestic scene before her. “Cordelia, you’re so lucky to have a man who helps with the housework.”

Her back to her mother, Cordelia rolled her eyes. To Angel, she whispered, “This coming from the woman who’s never washed a dish in her entire adult life.”

To her mother, she answered, “I know, Mom, isn’t it great? He’s so helpful.”

After clearing the dishes, the “happy couple” joined Mrs. Chase in the living room.

“Angel, I thought Cordelia said you worked nights,” she asked.

Cordelia jumped in to answer for him. “He does, but today he had a daytime appointment. He’ll probably be out late from now on. Right, honey?” She said, patting Angel’s knee.

“Yup. But not too late. I wouldn’t want to miss Cordelia at bedtime,” he looked pointedly at her, his eyes dark and sexy.

Mrs. Chase grinned as Angel lusted after Cordelia in her presence. “Speaking of bedtime, I’m feeling rather tired myself. Would you two mind if I retired now?”

“Of course not, Mom,” Cordelia said, jumping up from the couch, desperate to get away from Angel and his heated looks. “I’ll go get your bedding. Angel can pull out the hide-a-bed.” She quickly escaped to the bedroom.

She returned after a few minutes with some sheets, blankets, and a pillow. The bed was unfolded and ready to be made up. As Cordelia and Mrs. Chase began to make up the bed, Angel turned to leave.

“Good night, Mrs. Chase,” Angel said. “Cordelia, you won’t be long, I hope?” His eyes held hers, the brown depths making Cordelia shiver involuntarily.

“Um, yeah, I’ll be there soon,” she answered shakily.

She and her mother made up the bed in silence. As she tucked in the last corner, Cordelia felt a rush of cold, then hot, flow over her body. Her feet felt like lead, and she didn’t know if she had the strength to go into that bedroom, shut the door behind her, and crawl into bed with Angel.

“He still has the power to make your knees weak, doesn’t he?” Mrs. Chase asked softly.

“Yeah,” Cordelia sighed dreamily.

“If you’re lucky, that will never go away,” her mother answered, her tone filled with the knowledge of a woman thoroughly worshipped by her man.

She continued when she saw Cordelia’s hesitation. “Go to your husband, Cordelia. You love him. He loves you. Let him show you.”

Cordelia turned angst filled eyes to her mother, then swung them back to the door to her bedroom. She thought about Angel waiting on the other side, and she started toward the door, suddenly wanting to run to get there.

As the door shut behind her daughter, Mrs. Chase smiled softly. What she wouldn’t give to be 20 years old and in love for the first time.

***

Cordelia’s desire to run intensified when she shut the bedroom door behind her, but the desire had splintered in two different directions. One wanted her to bolt for the front door and never come back; the other wanted her to sprint across the room and rub her body against Angel’s. She leaned against the door, trying to calm her fears and keep her inner vixen from jumping him.

He was standing near the window, looking out at the night sky, his back to her. He could sense her elevated heart rate, her fear mingled with the unmistakable scent of desire, and he was torn. She was vulnerable right now, and Angelus was shouting at him to take her. His need was so strong that he had to fight to keep his feet planted and his eyes facing the window.

His soul was more cautious. Now faced with the possibility of making her his own, Angel was afraid of pushing too hard. He knew that if he pounced on her, she’d run and he’d ruin his chances with her. He also knew that if he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, he might not get another one.

Oh, screw it, Cordelia thought, pushing away from the door and crossing the room toward the bathroom. I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’ll leave it up to him. If he tries something, I’ll deal with it then.

Angel heard the bathroom door close behind her and he sighed, running his hand through his hair. You’re such a wus, his demon mocked. She’s practically dripping, she wants you so bad, and you stand here like a virgin schoolboy!

“This is Cordelia,” Angel argued back. “I can’t afford to screw this up.”

Oh, jeez, can I throw up now? Please? You finally have the opportunity to get a piece of that luscious ass, and you have to bring *love* up and ruin it. This isn’t about love. This is domination. Power. Pure and simple.

“It is not!” Angel hissed, annoyed to be arguing with his alter ego but unable to stop himself. “I do love her. If I hurt her, that ‘luscious ass,’ as you so suavely put it, will be miles away from me, and not likely to return no matter what I do.”

Fine. Be the gutless wonder and ignore what’s right in front of you. But you know as well as I do that tonight will be really painful, and your cold hand is a sad replacement for her hot little body.

“Whether I make a move or I don’t, it will be painful, because I’m not about to ‘get groiny with her’ as she would put it, and let you out to terrorize her.”

Oh I know where she could put it, soulboy. Right on my—

“Shut up!” Angel angrily interrupted his demon. “I am not going to let you ruin this for me.”

He paused, debating his course of action as the voice inside him retreated back to his cage.

Coming to a decision, he said aloud, “No. I can’t take that chance.”

“Did you say something to me, Angel?” Cordelia asked, exiting the bathroom.

“No,” he said tersely, looking at her intensely for a moment, then heading toward the bed. Getting under the covers, he lay on his side, facing away from her.

“Good night, Cordelia,” he said, his voice dispassionate.

Cordelia was stunned. She’d expected to come out of the bathroom and have him attack her, his eyes liquid heat and his hands insistent. She’d never considered a stony silence. Disappointment flooded her.

Damn him. Enough with the mixed signals, already. she thought, climbing into bed herself. She snapped off the light.

“Good night, Angel,” she said softly, her voice betraying her disappointment and confusion.

***

Saturday, 4:27 a.m.

Angel woke slowly, feeling warmer than he had in a very long time. Hair tickled his chin and he inhaled, the smell intoxicating: a hint of peaches and Ivory soap, but mostly just the simple, clean fragrance of Cordelia. He looked down her body, only to find that he was sprawled half on top of her, his leg curled around hers, his arm wrapped around her middle, holding her close to him. Her head was buried under his chin, her warm breath grazing his chest.

His arm had worked her tank top up, exposing her stomach to his view, his skin warmed by hers. Her chest rose and fell with each slow breath, and he marveled at the perfection of her form. She was so beautiful.

And she was his.

He adjusted his position downward, placing his face near hers. Reverently, he placed a gentle kiss on her lips, then drew away. Amused, he watched her crinkle her nose in her sleep, then press her lips together as if to keep the feel of him with her. He kissed her again, this time lingering there. In her sleep she responded, turning her body and pressing into him. He darted his tongue out to touch her lips, running the tip along the seam between them. She opened her mouth slightly, and he took the opportunity to deepen the contact, slanting his mouth over hers and thrusting his tongue inside.

She whimpered as his tongue rubbed sensually against hers and her hand came up to touch his face. He pulled back, separating them, giving her time to breathe, and she sleepily whined her protest. She moved her hand to the back of his head and pulled his lips back to hers. This time, she was the aggressor, seeking his tongue with her own. Angel’s body responded, hardening at her drowsy attempt at dominance.

Angel’s hand strayed from her middle to travel up her torso, pushing her tank top further, uncovering her breast for his touch. He rubbed her nipple with the backs of his fingers and it hardened instantly. Enjoying the stimulation, Cordelia pushed her breast more firmly into his hand, and he cupped the soft sphere, molding it and shaping it, stopping only to pinch the sensitized tip between his fingers.

As the kiss grew more passionate, so did their caresses. His mouth moved to her neck, lightly kissing, nipping the sensitive skin. Cordelia’s hand traveled the length of his back, reaching down to graze the top of his top of his butt with her fingertips. The fingers of her other hand curled tightly into the hair at the back of his head, pulling the short strands as he teased her with his touch.

Angel’s head lifted from her neck, and he looked down at her face, a study of passion personified. He paused for a moment, dwelling on how much he had come to love her, then moved his fingers down her body slowly, softly grazing her belly, then her hip, and finally diving beneath the waistband of her pajama pants. The moment his fingers grazed her wet heat, Cordelia’s eyes shot open and her jaw dropped, her breathing heavy in the stillness.

He became completely still, his hand cupping her gently. Her eyes changed from hazy desire to confusion and finally to anxiety as she awoke completely and realized what she was allowing him to do to her.

“Angel?” she said shakily, her eyes laced with growing panic. What had she gotten herself into?

Part 14
Friday, 8:20 p.m.

Angel sat back in his chair at the head of the table, looking for all the world like the reigning patriarch. He patted his stomach and groaned, then said, “Cordelia, honey, that was a fantastic meal.”

Cordelia blushed demurely. “Thank you, Angel.”

Angel actually hadn’t been lying; she’d made a dinner that was even palatable for him. He’d salvaged her soup but let her finish it. While he’d occupied her mother with inane conversation, Cordelia had got out another pot. She’d spooned some of the soup into the new pot, then added a generous helping of blood, heating it up to the desired temperature. To make the rest look like Angel’s version, she’d added tomato sauce to the first pot. Her mother never knew the difference.

Cordelia began clearing the bowls and Angel got up to help her.

Mrs. Chase sighed in pleasure at the domestic scene before her. “Cordelia, you’re so lucky to have a man who helps with the housework.”

Her back to her mother, Cordelia rolled her eyes. To Angel, she whispered, “This coming from the woman who’s never washed a dish in her entire adult life.”

To her mother, she answered, “I know, Mom, isn’t it great? He’s so helpful.”

After clearing the dishes, the “happy couple” joined Mrs. Chase in the living room.

“Angel, I thought Cordelia said you worked nights,” she asked.

Cordelia jumped in to answer for him. “He does, but today he had a daytime appointment. He’ll probably be out late from now on. Right, honey?” She said, patting Angel’s knee.

“Yup. But not too late. I wouldn’t want to miss Cordelia at bedtime,” he looked pointedly at her, his eyes dark and sexy.

Mrs. Chase grinned as Angel lusted after Cordelia in her presence. “Speaking of bedtime, I’m feeling rather tired myself. Would you two mind if I retired now?”

“Of course not, Mom,” Cordelia said, jumping up from the couch, desperate to get away from Angel and his heated looks. “I’ll go get your bedding. Angel can pull out the hide-a-bed.” She quickly escaped to the bedroom.

She returned after a few minutes with some sheets, blankets, and a pillow. The bed was unfolded and ready to be made up. As Cordelia and Mrs. Chase began to make up the bed, Angel turned to leave.

“Good night, Mrs. Chase,” Angel said. “Cordelia, you won’t be long, I hope?” His eyes held hers, the brown depths making Cordelia shiver involuntarily.

“Um, yeah, I’ll be there soon,” she answered shakily.

She and her mother made up the bed in silence. As she tucked in the last corner, Cordelia felt a rush of cold, then hot, flow over her body. Her feet felt like lead, and she didn’t know if she had the strength to go into that bedroom, shut the door behind her, and crawl into bed with Angel.

“He still has the power to make your knees weak, doesn’t he?” Mrs. Chase asked softly.

“Yeah,” Cordelia sighed dreamily.

“If you’re lucky, that will never go away,” her mother answered, her tone filled with the knowledge of a woman thoroughly worshipped by her man.

She continued when she saw Cordelia’s hesitation. “Go to your husband, Cordelia. You love him. He loves you. Let him show you.”

Cordelia turned angst filled eyes to her mother, then swung them back to the door to her bedroom. She thought about Angel waiting on the other side, and she started toward the door, suddenly wanting to run to get there.

As the door shut behind her daughter, Mrs. Chase smiled softly. What she wouldn’t give to be 20 years old and in love for the first time.

* * * * * * * *

Cordelia’s desire to run intensified when she shut the bedroom door behind her, but the desire had splintered in two different directions. One wanted her to bolt for the front door and never come back; the other wanted her to sprint across the room and rub her body against Angel’s. She leaned against the door, trying to calm her fears and keep her inner vixen from jumping him.

He was standing near the window, looking out at the night sky, his back to her. He could sense her elevated heart rate, her fear mingled with the unmistakable scent of desire, and he was torn. She was vulnerable right now, and Angelus was shouting at him to take her. His need was so strong that he had to fight to keep his feet planted and his eyes facing the window.

His soul was more cautious. Now faced with the possibility of making her his own, Angel was afraid of pushing too hard. He knew that if he pounced on her, she’d run and he’d ruin his chances with her. He also knew that if he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, he might not get another one.

Oh, screw it, Cordelia thought, pushing away from the door and crossing the room toward the bathroom. I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’ll leave it up to him. If he tries something, I’ll deal with it then.

Angel heard the bathroom door close behind her and he sighed, running his hand through his hair. You’re such a wus, his demon mocked. She’s practically dripping, she wants you so bad, and you stand here like a virgin schoolboy!

“This is Cordelia,” Angel argued back. “I can’t afford to screw this up.”

Oh, jeez, can I throw up now? Please? You finally have the opportunity to get a piece of that luscious ass, and you have to bring *love* up and ruin it. This isn’t about love. This is domination. Power. Pure and simple.

“It is not!” Angel hissed, annoyed to be arguing with his alter ego but unable to stop himself. “I do love her. If I hurt her, that ‘luscious ass,’ as you so suavely put it, will be miles away from me, and not likely to return no matter what I do.”

Fine. Be the gutless wonder and ignore what’s right in front of you. But you know as well as I do that tonight will be really painful, and your cold hand is a sad replacement for her hot little body.

“Whether I make a move or I don’t, it will be painful, because I’m not about to ‘get groiny with her’ as she would put it, and let you out to terrorize her.”

Oh I know where she could put it, soulboy. Right on my—

“Shut up!” Angel angrily interrupted his demon. “I am not going to let you ruin this for me.”

He paused, debating his course of action as the voice inside him retreated back to his cage.

Coming to a decision, he said aloud, “No. I can’t take that chance.”

“Did you say something to me, Angel?” Cordelia asked, exiting the bathroom.

“No,” he said tersely, looking at her intensely for a moment, then heading toward the bed. Getting under the covers, he lay on his side, facing away from her.

“Good night, Cordelia,” he said, his voice dispassionate.

Cordelia was stunned. She’d expected to come out of the bathroom and have him attack her, his eyes liquid heat and his hands insistent. She’d never considered a stony silence. Disappointment flooded her.

Damn him. Enough with the mixed signals, already. she thought, climbing into bed herself. She snapped off the light.

“Good night, Angel,” she said softly, her voice betraying her disappointment and confusion.

* * * * * * *
Saturday, 4:27 a.m.

Angel woke slowly, feeling warmer than he had in a very long time. Hair tickled his chin and he inhaled, the smell intoxicating: a hint of peaches and Ivory soap, but mostly just the simple, clean fragrance of Cordelia. He looked down her body, only to find that he was sprawled half on top of her, his leg curled around hers, his arm wrapped around her middle, holding her close to him. Her head was buried under his chin, her warm breath grazing his chest.

His arm had worked her tank top up, exposing her stomach to his view, his skin warmed by hers. Her chest rose and fell with each slow breath, and he marveled at the perfection of her form. She was so beautiful.

And she was his.

He adjusted his position downward, placing his face near hers. Reverently, he placed a gentle kiss on her lips, then drew away. Amused, he watched her crinkle her nose in her sleep, then press her lips together as if to keep the feel of him with her. He kissed her again, this time lingering there. In her sleep she responded, turning her body and pressing into him. He darted his tongue out to touch her lips, running the tip along the seam between them. She opened her mouth slightly, and he took the opportunity to deepen the contact, slanting his mouth over hers and thrusting his tongue inside.

She whimpered as his tongue rubbed sensually against hers and her hand came up to touch his face. He pulled back, separating them, giving her time to breathe, and she sleepily whined her protest. She moved her hand to the back of his head and pulled his lips back to hers. This time, she was the aggressor, seeking his tongue with her own. Angel’s body responded, hardening at her drowsy attempt at dominance.

Angel’s hand strayed from her middle to travel up her torso, pushing her tank top further, uncovering her breast for his touch. He rubbed her nipple with the backs of his fingers and it hardened instantly. Enjoying the stimulation, Cordelia pushed her breast more firmly into his hand, and he cupped the soft sphere, molding it and shaping it, stopping only to pinch the sensitized tip between his fingers.

As the kiss grew more passionate, so did their caresses. His mouth moved to her neck, lightly kissing, nipping the sensitive skin. Cordelia’s hand traveled the length of his back, reaching down to graze the top of his top of his butt with her fingertips. The fingers of her other hand curled tightly into the hair at the back of his head, pulling the short strands as he teased her with his touch.

Angel’s head lifted from her neck, and he looked down at her face, a study of passion personified. He paused for a moment, dwelling on how much he had come to love her, then moved his fingers down her body slowly, softly grazing her belly, then her hip, and finally diving beneath the waistband of her pajama pants. The moment his fingers grazed her wet heat, Cordelia’s eyes shot open and her jaw dropped, her breathing heavy in the stillness.

He became completely still, his hand cupping her gently. Her eyes changed from hazy desire to confusion and finally to anxiety as she awoke completely and realized what she was allowing him to do to her.

“Angel?” she said shakily, her eyes laced with growing panic. What had she gotten herself into?

Part 15
4:40 a.m., Saturday

Time seemed to stand still as Cordelia stared into Angel’s eyes, his fingers caressing her in the most intimate of places. Her breath stopped, her eyes widened, and her mind argued with itself. What he was doing to her felt so unbelievably good that she never wanted it to stop. But at the same time, a very insistent voice inside her head screamed, “He doesn’t love you!!”

That voice threatened her entire existence.

Angel saw the panic in the beautiful hazel eyes looking back at him and he knew he had some serious explaining to do. Up until now, every move he’d made on her had been under pretense, part of their scheme to fool her mother. He knew that his overtures had become genuine, but she didn’t.

He didn’t have time to explain. Before he could open his mouth to declare his intentions, Cordelia shoved his hand away and bolted out of the bed. She backed away from him slowly, heading for the bathroom door. He lunged after her, trying to grab her shoulders and get her to face him.

She jerked away from him, escaping. Her face was tortured, her eyes brimming. “Don’t touch me, Angel. Please, just–” she paused, a tear spilling, tracking a course down her flushed cheek. “I can’t take it if you keep touching me. I can’t do this.”

Cordelia’s mind was in turmoil, thoughts swirling around like hurricane force winds. The one thought that kept echoing back, the strongest feeling she had, was that he was playing her. He didn’t love her; he loved Buffy. He may be attracted to her, and he may want to sleep with her, but he didn’t love her. Not like he loved Buffy; not for forever. And that meant that he was just using her.

Angel’s heart broke at the pain in her eyes. He felt about two inches tall when he realized that he’d played on her subconscious desires as she slept. He knew that she’d respond to him and he’d manipulated her into a place where she felt extremely vulnerable.

And he hadn’t even told her that he loved her.

“Cordelia, I—” he stopped, wanting to declare his love for her but the mistrust in her eyes held him back.

“Angel,” she said, her voice breaking. “Don’t say anything. Please. I can’t take it. I trusted you, and you take advantage of me like this?” Her eyes accused him, and another piece of his heart disintegrated into dust at her words.

“I wasn’t trying to take advantage,” he tried to get her to listen to him, but it was no use.

Tears were coursing freely down her cheeks now. “My whole life, men have looked at me like a sex object, Angel. Even Wesley, who’s one of my best friends now, looked at me with lust the first time he laid eyes on me. You didn’t. You were different, Angel. First you ignored me in Sunnydale, and then in L.A., you saw me for me. You were my best friend. I knew that if I could count on anyone not to take advantage of me, it would be you.”

Her use of the past tense was cutting.

“That’s why I came to you for this. I knew that you might play the game of a devoted fiancée, but when it came right down to it, you’d respect me. You’d respect the friendship that we have and not jeopardize that for meaningless sex.”

“It wasn’t meaningless, Cordelia!” He reached out a hand to touch her, wanting to take her into his arms and tell her how much he loved her, but she shrank away from his touch like he was diseased.

She acted as if he hadn’t said a thing. “I trusted you, Angel. I trusted you with my life, and now with my heart. And you’ve broken it. I know you can never love me because of Buffy, because of the curse, because I’m human and you’re a vampire. But I thought that what we had was special, and now—,” her voice broke on a sob, “Now I don’t know what to think of you.”

Cordelia gave him one last, tortured look, her eyes filled with the pain and hurt that he’d caused, and then fled into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

Angel sank down onto the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. He could hear her sobs from the other side of the door, and he felt as though his life had ended. Again.

* * * * * * * *
Saturday, 6:24 a.m.

Angel feigned sleep as Cordelia exited the bathroom. He’d heard her sobbing cease, followed by a long period of silence, then he’d heard the water running and the unmistakable sounds of a long bath. He’d mentally flogged himself over and over during the period she’d locked herself in the small room, calling himself all kinds of stupid for not just blurting out that he loved her. Somehow, though, he didn’t think she would’ve believed him.

And he couldn’t entirely blame her. His actions had been less than convincing.

For what seemed like the hundredth time since Cordelia had approached him with this marriage thing, Angel questioned his motives. If he’d been honest with himself from the very beginning, he would have admitted that he was at least attracted to her. If he hadn’t been so hung up on getting her worked up, his actions would’ve seemed a lot more genuine. And his advances this morning might not have been perceived with so much insincerity. But then again, hindsight is always 20/20.

Now he had no idea what to do. He was miserable, Cordelia was miserable, and they were still very legally married to each other. He knew she’d want to annul it now more than ever, and that was the last thing he wanted. He couldn’t live without her. He knew she’d say it was because he needed the link to the PTB’s, but it really had nothing to do with that. She was the sunlight in his life, the only kind of sunlight he ever saw, and he didn’t want to plunge back into eternal darkness again.

She was his. He had to make her see that.

Cordelia didn’t even spare a glance at the inert form on her bed as she walked quickly from the bathroom to the bedroom door. She opened the portal quietly, trying to avoid waking her mother.

“You’re up early, Cordelia,” Mrs. Chase said, startling her daughter so much that she jumped and slammed the door behind her.

Cordy brought a hand up to her quickly beating heart. “Mom, you scared me!” She managed a smile for her mother. “You’re up early, yourself.”

Mrs. Chase smiled warmly at her daughter, masking the concern she felt at Cordelia’s tired appearance and sad features. “I am. I’ve been getting up earlier lately. I’ve read that it’s the curse of retirement. Extra time with no place to go.”

Cordelia nodded, not feeling up to much more than that. She wandered into the kitchen to start the coffee and begin preparing breakfast.

She’d made an important decision while escaping from Angel in the bathroom this morning. She knew that she was in love with him. But she also knew that she couldn’t live with being second place, especially behind Buffy. Her heart broke when she realized how close she’d come to letting him violate her, how she’d almost given herself to him completely, both emotionally and physically, all while knowing he’d never said he loved her.

So she’d decided that she wasn’t going to acknowledge him at all. She was going to pretend like nothing happened, and be as uninvolved as possible. She’d just tell herself over and over again that he loved Buffy, not her, and she had no right to feel as she did. The only problem was that when she’d made that decision, something inside of her died. It was like the light of her existence was blown out when she acknowledged that the one person she valued above everyone else would never be hers.

Completely underestimating the turmoil in her daughter’s heart, Mrs. Chase perused the newspaper, enjoying the bright morning sunlight streaming in from Cordelia’s windows. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? Maybe we can go to the beach this afternoon.”

“Mm-hmm,” Cordelia murmured noncommittally. She wasn’t in the mood for small talk, especially at 6 a.m. when her emotions were so frayed.

Mrs. Chase frowned at Cordelia’s virtual silence. Something was wrong with her daughter, and she was determined to find out what. Putting down the newspaper, she stood up to seek out Cordelia in the kitchen. Just as she stood upright, the door to Cordelia’s bedroom opened in front of her for mere seconds, then slammed shut quickly. She raised an eyebrow.

“Is everything okay in there, Angel?” She inquired, intrigued at his behavior.

Hearing the slam of the bedroom door had garnered Cordelia’s attention and she’d come out of the kitchen. She took in the sunny room and immediately realized her husband’s predicament. Her inner bitch screamed to let him suffer in her room all day, but she realized she was too hurt and too tired to play those games.

“Mom, can you close the drapes? Angel’s, um, light sensitive.”

She looked at her daughter strangely, saying only, “Of course, dear.” Quickly covering the windows, she called to Angel that it was safe to come out.

He looked sheepish as he poked his head out the door, then his body followed when he ascertained that the room was no longer unlife-threatening.

“The sun,” he paused, looking embarrassed. “I’m allergic,” he explained inanely.

“Well, then it makes sense that you work nights,” Mrs. Chase said graciously, smiling warmly in an attempt to ease his discomfort.

Cordelia swept into the room, a forced, sunny smile on her face. She carried a tray of pastries and coffee, setting them down on the table in the dining room.

“Breakfast, anyone?” she said cheerfully, although it was painfully obvious that she was anything but.

Angel noted there were three mugs on the tray, one of which was already steaming. He watched, baffled, as she handed the mug of hot blood to him before her mother could see what was inside.

She’s being nice to me. Angel thought, perplexed, taking the mug from her hands. He’d expected to be totally ignored, or glared at. He hadn’t expected her to act like nothing was amiss.

Cordelia busied herself with preparing a plate for her mother.

Angel watched her carefully, trying to catch her eyes. Maybe she wasn’t as upset as he’d thought.

He finally caught her gaze for the briefest of seconds, and what he saw there scared him so much he almost dropped his breakfast.

Her eyes were empty when she looked at him.

There was no anger, no hurt, no betrayal, just a blank wall of nothing. It was as if the light that was Cordelia, the sunshine that he craved more than anything, had been extinguished. It was then that he realized he’d broken her spirit. He’d hurt her so badly that she’d retreated completely behind walls as if he’d never known her at all. The door to her heart was firmly closed, and he had no idea how to open it.

Angel was jolted from his disturbing thoughts as the plate Cordelia held clattered to the tabletop and she grasped her head in pain. She moaned, her eyes shut tightly as the images flashed. She became dizzy, losing her balance, and Angel rushed to her side, grabbing her and holding her steady.

“What do you see, Cordy?” he asked, anxiously. He hoped fervently that it wasn’t anything outside at this time of day. Wesley wasn’t battle ready yet.

“Kids, four little ones. Crawled down into the sewer on 9th, playing down there,” she gasped as the pain intensified, then lessened as the vision ended. She opened her eyes and stared up at him, her expression filled with horror. “Oh, god, Angel. A Ku’uran Demon is going to attack them. Go. Now!”

She shoved at him, pushing him toward the door. Just as he reached the door, she pulled him back. “Sunlight, Angel! Call Wesley.”

“Cordelia,” he said quietly. He cupped her chin with his hand, looking at her tenderly. “Sewer access from here, remember? The kids are there, too, so I won’t have to go outside. Call Wesley if it will make you feel better, but I’ll be okay. Trust me.”

His words inadvertently reminded Cordelia that she didn’t trust him anymore, and the concern in her eyes was quickly replaced by the blank stare that had scared him so much just a few minutes earlier.

“Go, Angel,” she said emotionlessly, then turned away from him and walked back to her now very confused mother.

He was torn between duty and desire in that moment, as he desperately wanted to stay and make things right with her. But he knew that now was not that time, no matter what he wanted.

Part 16
Saturday, 7:02 a.m.

Cordelia’s vision was blurry as she trudged into the kitchen for her painkillers and a glass of water. She brought them back to the dining room table and sank wearily into her chair, pouring four tablets into her hand and downing them quickly. Only then did she raise her eyes to her mother’s still form across from her.

Mrs. Chase’s expression was not as surprised as Cordelia would have expected. “I think you have some explaining to do, daughter,” she said, smiling wryly to herself at her understatement. In truth, she had some idea of what was going on, but she wanted to hear it from Cordelia herself.

Cordelia tried to think of a way to explain her life that wouldn’t alarm her mother but also wouldn’t sound fabricated. Her brain hurt too much, so she decided to stick to the truth. “I get visions, Mom. Images of people in trouble.”

“You’re psychic?” Mrs. Chase asked, her voice carefully neutral.

That would be nice, Cordelia thought caustically. Nice and normal. Like Miss Cleo.

“Not exactly,” she answered. She didn’t elaborate further.

“And how does Angel figure into all of this?”

“He helps the people in my visions.”

“You said it was a demon.”

“Yes.”

“Angel fights demons?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Chase frowned at Cordelia’s curt answers. Maybe it would help if Cordelia realized just how understanding she could be.

“Cordelia, is Angel a vampire?” Mrs. Chase asked bluntly.

Her daughters eyes flew open in shock, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water as she tried to comprehend the fact that her mother had actually asked her that question.

“What? No! Where would you get an idea like that? Vampires aren’t real, Mom!” Cordelia said, trying to sound incredulous.

Mrs. Chase raised an eyebrow, fixing her daughter with a knowing glare. “Please, Cordelia, don’t patronize me. I lived in Sunnyhell for 45 years; you don’t think I know what goes on there?”

Cordelia just gaped at her.

Her mother sighed, realizing that she wasn’t going to get Cordelia to admit it until she laid everything on the table. “Angel never visited me in the hospital in the daytime. He works nights. He kills demons. He never eats anything, only drinks. There’s a jug of something very blood-like in your refrigerator that isn’t very well hidden. He’s ‘allergic’ to sun. And his hands are colder than anyone’s should be in Southern California weather.”

After another moment of stunned silence, Cordelia surrendered to the inevitable. “Yes, mom, he’s a vampire.”

“Thank you for admitting it,” Mrs. Chase said, then daintily sipped her coffee.

“You seem very calm about this, Mom,” Cordelia said warily. “Aren’t you concerned that I’m married to a vampire?”

“No,” she said, deliberately avoiding further explanation.

Cordy wasn’t going for it. It was one thing for her to avoid the topic when she was covering for Angel, but she wasn’t going to drag this out of her mother.

“Why aren’t you concerned?”

“He’s obviously reformed somehow. Otherwise, you’d be dead and so would I.”

There was a pause as Cordelia continued to absorb this bizarre conversation. “You have a point. Vampires tend to do that murdering people thing.”

“It is in their nature, after all.” Mrs. Chase said. It was as if she’d said “boys will be boys,” and left it at that.

Cordelia was definitely at a loss for words. She sipped her coffee silently, wondering if she knew her mother at all.

If she only knew that her mother was just getting warmed up.

“I think its time you told me the whole story, sweetie. Tell me all about your vampire, and how he came to be. And make sure you tell me exactly why you were looking so miserable this morning.”

Well, I have always wished that Mom and I could be closer, Cordelia thought. But I never *ever* thought vampires would be involved in that conversation.

* * * * * * * *

The goo factor was at a surprising minimum as the Ku’uran demon’s head split cleanly from its body. Angel thought wryly that Cordelia wouldn’t have even had a dry cleaning bill if she’d come along for this battle. He viewed his kill with distaste for a moment, then proceeded to dismember it and dispose of it discreetly.

After a moment of pure panic, the children had shimmied back up the ladder to the surface and scampered away, sufficiently frightened to ensure that they wouldn’t be tempted to play in the sewers ever again. The Ku’uran was really upset that its dinner had been scared off, but it wasn’t much of a fighter and Angel was left feeling cheated. He’d hoped to work out his anger and frustration in a really tough fight, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now he had to return to Cordelia’s apartment and face the most chilling music of his unnaturally long life.

As he headed slowly back toward home, he considered his options. In truth, he didn’t have many. He could pretend like nothing happened and hope that she’d forgive him and things would get back to normal, but he knew that nothing would ever be the same again. He thought about locking her in a room and forcing her to listen to him, but that would probably only make things worse.

In the end, he decided to wait until they were alone, and then just tell her he loved her. No preamble, no working up to it, just say it. She could argue with him, but at least he would have said it. Then he could keep saying it and show her through his actions that he meant it and he wasn’t going to change his mind.

He knew it was a plan as holey as swiss cheese, but it was all he had. It would have to be better than nothing.

* * * * * * * *

“I always wondered what happened to the Mayor,” Mrs. Chase said absently as she finished the last of her coffee.

“Well, that’s what you get for being out of the country while I was graduating,” Cordelia said good-naturedly, but her words held a hint of the betrayal she’d felt at her parents hasty departure, leaving her to fend for herself.

Mrs. Chase didn’t get the hint. In her mind, Cordelia had been left in the care of her sister, Abigail, and hadn’t suffered for anything. What she didn’t know was that Abigail, in all her snootiness, had shunned her niece, not even informing Cordelia of her parents intentions for her to stay with them. Cordelia had been left to fend for herself, her part time job and personal savings barely supporting her through the end of her senior year. Mrs. Chase had no idea that Cordelia thought she’d been abandoned by her parents.

Oblivious to her daughter’s inner turmoil, Mrs. Chase continued. “So Angel can’t have perfect happiness? That’s what has you so upset?”

It was difficult for Cordelia to frame the words. “No, that’s not it. I mean, if he loved me back, then it would be the biggest problem. But he doesn’t love me. Not like I love him,” she answered, swallowing back the lump in her throat.

Mrs. Chase looked at her with disbelief. “Angel does love you, Cordelia.”

“No he doesn’t, Mom, trust me.”

Her mother shook her head. “He does, Cordelia. He may not say it, but the look in his eyes when he watches you can’t be fabricated. You mean everything to him.”

Her words sparked a small flame of hope in Cordelia, but she quickly doused it. “No, Mom. He’s in love with Buffy, not me. He might love me as a friend, but . . . no, he’s not in love with me.” Hearing the words aloud made it that much more painful.

A very unladylike snort escaped Mrs. Chase’s lips. “He couldn’t be in love with that flighty, self-absorbed little girl still. She’s obviously moved on. You remeber Dorthea Martin, right?” Cordelia nodded, remembering her mother’s country club pal. “Well she does volunteer work at the museum and says that Joyce Summers hasn’t been able to talk about anything but her daughter’s successful new boyfriend, some good looking UC Sunnydale student from some prominent Midwestern family.”

Cordelia was not surprised at the fact that her mother was up to date on the most recent Sunnydale gossip. But her mother didn’t know the whole story, and Cordelia wasn’t about to elaborate.

She sighed again, knowing that her statement wouldn’t convince her obstinate mother, but she found it necessary to say anyway. “You don’t know the whole story. Let’s just say that there are supernatural forces at work here. Angel and Buffy are soulmates. Halves of the same whole. Star-crossed lovers. Meant to be. Nothing’s going to stand in the way of that; somehow they’ll be together again and Angel would never choose me over her. Never.”

Mrs. Chase wisely remained silent, recognizing the stubborn set to her daughter’s jaw. They sat in companionable silence, only to jump as someone knocked loudly at the front door.

Cordelia crossed the room to answer it, wondering who it could be. The knock was definitely not the timid one Wesley gave. She opened the door and her jaw dropped at her newest visitor.

“Daddy?”

Mr. Chase smiled widely at his daughter, reaching to envelop her in a bear hug. “Hi, baby girl. Got room for one more?”

Part 17
Saturday, 1:35 p.m.

The bright afternoon sun warmed Cordelia’s shoulders as she sat across from her parents. They had just been served lunch at a garden terrace restaurant, and the quality and presentation of the food was reminiscent of the days before the IRS had turned the Chase family upside down and shook them for loose change. It was obvious that her father was back in the government’s good graces, but Cordelia didn’t know what had changed. All she knew was that her mother was the happiest and healthiest that Cordelia had ever seen her, and that included when they were living in Sunnydale.

Swallowing a bite of her salad, Cordelia slowly set down her fork and sat back, observing her parents. Mrs. Chase literally glowed every time her husband looked in her direction, and there was a sparkle in her father’s eyes that she hadn’t seen before.

Just then, Mr. Chase leaned over and whispered something into his wife’s ear, and she blushed, then giggled. Cordelia rolled her eyes. She’d had just about enough of parental PDA to last her a lifetime.

Cordelia cleared her throat. “Hello?” she waved a hand in front of her parents faces. “What gives? You two are acting like you’re sixteen or something. I’ve never seen you like this before.” Her parents just smiled dreamily at each other.

“And Daddy,” Cordelia turned her penetrating stare to her father. “I take it you’re no longer in danger of being arrested?” She’d dropped her voice to keep nearby diners from hearing them, but she still received a reproving glare from her parents at that comment.

Mrs. Chase frowned at her daughter. “Really, Cordelia. What manners. I leave you alone for a few years and your tact has gone out the window.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes at her mother. “Really, Mother,” Cordelia mimicked her mom’s statement. “When have I ever said anything but exactly what I was thinking?”

Mr. Chase smiled proudly at his daughter. “That’s my baby girl. Always telling it like it is.”

“Randall,” Mrs. Chase reproached her husband, but there was no bite behind the word. His eyes met hers, and they drifted back to Happy Married Couple Land.

“So?” Cordelia said, exasperated and not wanting to lose the conversation again to their saccharine display. “What happened to you, Daddy?”

Mr. Chase tore his gaze away from his wife. “I cut a deal with the government. I had some associates who were involved in some less than reputable business dealings, and I gave up some information. In exchange, the IRS cancelled out what I owed and let me come back in the country.”

Cordelia raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Must’ve been some juicy information, Daddy. I thought the IRS wrung you out until you were dry.”

“Your mother had some equity in her name. We liquidated that and we’re living quite comfortably in the Caribbean.”

“It’s beautiful there, Cordy,” Mrs. Chase said, excitedly. “We’d love to have you visit.” Her the curve of her smile straightened out as she remembered Angel. “I guess we’ll have to visit Angel here, right? I would imagine that tropical destinations don’t appeal to him.”

“Most vacation destinations don’t appeal to him, Mom, so don’t feel bad about it. I’ve learned to live with it. He doesn’t like me going places by myself, but he’ll just have to deal.”

“So what’s Angel like, Cordelia?” Mr. Chase asked, finally setting his concentration on something other than his wife.

Cordelia shared a meaningful look with her mother as she sifted through Angel’s characteristics; so many of them weren’t lunchtime conversation. “He’s a good man,” Cordelia said truthfully. She may be hurt and upset at his recent behavior, but she couldn’t lie about something like that.

Mr. Chase nodded and continued. “Does he have a sound portfolio?”

Cordelia snorted unbecomingly. “He doesn’t have anything except his good looks and charm, Daddy.”

Mrs. Chase recognized the disapproval that was beginning to form on her husband’s face and she decided to take charge of the situation. “Darling, Cordelia’s leaving out some very important information.”

Cordelia, having just taken a sip of her water, nearly choked when she realized what her mother was about to say. She shook her head violently, even considered kicking her mother beneath the table, but wouldn’t have done any good. Mrs. Chase just ignored her and continued.

“Angel’s a vampire with a soul,” she said with the emotional intensity of an announcement of a weekend sale at Nordstrom’s. “He’s working for the Powers that Be and he saves the world. He doesn’t have time to develop an investment portfolio.”

Holding her breath with nervousness, Cordelia stole a glance at her father and was surprised to see that he’d only raised an eyebrow at the bomb his wife had just dropped.

She nearly hyperventilated when he answered impatiently, “I already knew that.” He waved his wife’s comment away and took a healthy drink of his chardonnay.

Mrs. Chase wrinkled her nose in consternation. “How did you know?”

He looked indignant as he set down his wineglass and turned to his wife. “Really, Amelia. What type of father do you take me for? As soon as Cordelia told us where she was working I hired a PI of my own to check out her situation. I wouldn’t just leave my daughter helpless in a dangerous town like Los Angeles. The investigator found out about Angel and his mission, and how Cordelia was helping him. The PI assured me that Angel would protect her.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me about it?”

His eyes softened as he answered her. “You were sick, Amelia. I was scared for you and I didn’t want you to worry about Cordy when you didn’t feel well.”

She smiled softly at him. “You’re so good to me, Randall.”

They drifted off again, and after removing her jaw from the floor at her father’s apathy toward Angel’s demonic nature, Cordelia lost her patience.

“AHHHH! Enough, you two!! Back to earth. Please!!”

They turned guiltily from each other and faced Cordelia.

Mr. Chase suddenly remembered the earlier portion of the conversation. “Mission or not, no one should neglect their finances. Can Angel provide for you, daughter?”

Mrs. Chase defended her son-in-law once again. “Angel shared with me that he has some family money saved if they need it.”

Cordelia stifled a sarcastic comment. Her parents may know and accept the fact that Angel was a vampire, but they wouldn’t accept that his “family money” was a figment of his imagination. It was a bizarre situation, but it made sense somehow. Her parents had always valued financial stability above everything else.

“Family money, huh?” Mr. Chase mused. “If its from his family, it must have accrued a great deal of interest, given the length of his life. I’ll have to talk with him about that.”

“Oh, Randall, don’t bother him with business,” Mrs. Chase scolded him playfully. “Let’s enjoy our time here with Cordelia and Angel.”

“Of course, dear,” Mr. Chase said absently, suddenly noting the fact that his daughter wasn’t dressed in her usual designer outfits. When had that changed?

“Well, baby girl, I think its time that your Daddy spent some money on you,” he smiled broadly at Cordelia. “How about Rodeo Drive?”

Mrs. Chase clapped her hands with glee. “Wonderful, Randall! Versace just released their fall line.”

Cordelia gaped at her parents. This entire situation was unreal, but she would deal with it later. She was never one to pass up Versace, especially if Daddy was paying.
* * * * * * * * *
Saturday, 7:02 p.m.

Angel paced Cordelia’s living room floor, his arms crossed and his expression implacable. He’d returned to the apartment that morning only to find a very terse note from Cordelia saying that her father had come to get her mother and the three of them had gone out for the day. She said they’d be back, but she didn’t say when. He usually spent this time of day asleep, but today his mind wouldn’t shut down. He’d become very single-minded since deciding he just had to corner her and declare his love, and he just wanted to do it and get it over with, then deal with the aftermath.

The fact that Cordelia’s father was in town made Angel nervous. He shouldn’t be; he was nearly 250 years old, for Pete’s sake, and he shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone. But the thought of having to impress Mr. Chase was enough to make his insides twist. If he’d been human, he would’ve felt like throwing up. He knew that getting along with Cordelia’s parents was important to her, and he didn’t want another problem to fix. He was already in good with her mother, but since Cordelia treated him like he had leprosy lately, he didn’t know if he could pull off the same act with her dad.

Just as he began to rehearse what he’d say to Mr. Chase, heard voices outside the door. Dennis rushed by in a whoosh of cool air and the door was flung open to reveal Cordelia and her parents, Mr. Chase’s face barely visible behind a delicately balanced stack of boxes.

“Oh, Angel! Good, you’re home,” Mrs. Chase greeted him warmly as her daughter ignored him. “We ate dinner before we came home; we knew you didn’t want to join us. Did you have a chance to eat yet?”

Angel was puzzled, but he answered truthfully. “Um, yes ma’am.”

“Oh, good. Angel, this is Randall Chase, my husband,” she motioned to the large man behind the stack of boxes.

A muffled “Hello,” floated from behind the cardboard tower, and Angel greeted him in return.

“Cordelia, honey, what do you want to do with these?” Mr. Chase yelled to his daughter, who’d disappeared into the bedroom.

“Just bring them in here, Daddy,” Cordelia called, and Mr. Chase disappeared into the bedroom. He returned a few minutes later and extended his hand to Angel.

“Nice to meet you, son. My wife hasn’t been able to stop talking about how great you are. I’m anxious to get to know you.”

Angel smiled nervously. “I’d like that, too,” he answered, not knowing what else to say.

Cordelia entered the room briefly, grabbing Angel’s arm and dragging him back into the bedroom. “Excuse us for a minute, Daddy. I need to talk to Angel and then you can have him back.”

Sighing with relief that he was finally going to get her alone, Angel followed her willingly. Cordelia dropped his arm as soon as they were out of her parents’ line of sight. It scared him that her eyes were just as emotionally closed as they’d been that morning, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it because her next words jolted him.

“They know you’re a vampire, Angel.”

At his shocked look, she continued. “Don’t ask. It’s a long story, one that I’m not sure I fully understand. But the weirdness keeps on coming. They’re totally okay with it. Actually, Daddy’s more concerned with the fact that you don’t have any money. He’s going to take you out for a drink, so make up something to satisfy him, okay?”

She turned to leave, but he grabbed her arm, not about to miss this chance. “Cordy, I love—”

She recognized the look on his face and cut him off. “Don’t, Angel,” she hissed. “Don’t even think about telling me you love me. That’s not going to fix a damn thing, even if it is true, which I highly doubt. Now is not the time to talk about what you did to me. If you handle it like this it may never be the right time. Just leave me the hell alone, okay? I’ll come to you if I’m ready to talk about it.”

He dropped her arm, realizing that he had no other choice. So much for that plan.

Part 18
Saturday, 9:46 p.m.

The inside of O’Neill’s bar was thick with cigar smoke; obviously they’d chosen to ignore the newly-enacted anti-smoking laws. Mr. Chase breathed deeply, enjoying the pungent aroma as it filled his lungs. He’d given up cigars five years ago, but he loved to come to places like this and get a taste of the good old days.

He glanced over at his son-in-law, who sat hunched over the bar, swirling the scotch in his glass. Angel seemed mesmerized by the spinning amber liquid, lost in thought. Dejection rolled off the vampire in palpable waves, mixing with the bittersweet smoke and engendering fatherly concern in his drinking companion.

They’d barely said two words to each other since they’d entered the bar, bonding silently in the way of strong, confident men who are acquainting themselves with each other’s presence. Mr. Chase could sense the integrity in this man, the desire to be more than he was, the fierce love he held for Cordelia. He’d seen the protective way Angel’s eyes had scanned her form as she’d entered her apartment, checking to make sure she was safe and uninjured. He knew that Angel did it without thinking about it, and it comforted him to know that his daughter was loved and protected.

As much as he was pleased by that, he was dismayed by the realization that the misery Angel felt right now was most likely his daughter’s doing. If he knew anything about Chase women, it was that they weren’t hurt easily, but when they were, the return trip from the doghouse to the bedroom was nothing short of hell.

Mr. Chase cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “So, son, why does my daughter look like she’d like to skin you alive?”

Angel looked up at him in surprise. “What?”

“I recognized that false cheerfulness. Amelia’s done that number on me more times than I can count. What did you do, forget her birthday?”

Angel wished it were that simple. “Not exactly.”

Realizing he’d have to force the truth from his recalcitrant son-in-law, Mr. Chase’s voice turned gruff. “Well, spill it, boy. I’ve had some experience with angry Chase women. That’s a patch of thorns you’d do good to get out of as soon as possible.”

Swallowing a drink of scotch, Angel contemplated how much he should reveal to Cordelia’s father. He couldn’t tell him about the marriage charade, but maybe he could be vague enough to satisfy the man.

“Last night, I, uh, we—“ He stopped. How exactly do you tell your wife’s father that you were trying to have sex with his daughter?

Mr. Chase smiled knowingly at Angel’s obvious discomfort.. “I get it; say no more. You were enjoying the benefits of marriage, eh?” He winked, nudging Angel’s side with his elbow. “So, how’d you foul it up?”

“She’s still not convinced I love her, and I didn’t say it before I, um, well, you know.”

Mr. Chase whistled long and low as he shook his head. “Well, I’d say you screwed up. Big time.”

Angel just nodded, then downed the rest of his scotch in one quick gulp. He welcomed the fire in his throat as the liquid burned as he swallowed.

He was glad he’d set down the glass when Mr. Chase continued. “My wife whispered to me today that Cordelia thinks you’d divorce her if your ex-girlfriend, Buffy, wanted you back.”

Angel was shocked at first. “Really? She actually thinks that?”

Then after a moment of self-deprecating contemplation, Angel grunted and said, “I guess I can’t blame her. I haven’t exactly told her I’m not in love with Buffy anymore.”

“You must have a serious history with her for Cordelia to be so scared.”

“We had a tough break up. I couldn’t give her the life she deserved, and I wanted to stay with her, but it just didn’t work out. When Cordelia and I first started working together here in LA, I was still in love with Buffy. But not anymore.”

Studying Angel carefully, Mr. Chase sat back in the barstool and crossed his arms in front of him. “I’ll tell you what, Angel. I’ll let you in on a little secret about Chase women.”

Angel waited, albeit somewhat skeptically. He didn’t think there was anything he could do to make the situation better, but he was willing to hear anything.

“I had a similar situation with Amelia when we were first married. I had been engaged when I met Amelia for the first time, and she was dating someone else. Genevieve and I had a really rocky breakup; basically she slept with someone else and I was heartbroken. Amelia started out as my shoulder to cry on, and then I fell in love with her.”

He paused for a moment, lost in the memories.

“Anyway, about two months after we got married, Genevieve caught me at home alone and pushed her way in. She got all teary and begged me to take her back and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She kissed me, I gave in to a moment of weakness and didn’t stop her, and Amelia saw it. I’ll never forget that look on her face: cold, abject betrayal. I couldn’t say anything that would make her believe that I wanted her now, not Genevieve. After all, I’d told her at least a hundred times when we first met how much I wanted Genevieve back.”

Angel waited anxiously for him to continue. “So what happened?” he prompted.

“Genevieve kept calling, I kept hanging up on her, and it just kept getting worse. I had no idea how to fix it, but I knew that I wasn’t about to let Amelia out of my sight; I didn’t want Genevieve to catch me alone again and make the situation worse.”

He grunted, shaking his head ruefully as he remembered the day it all came to a head.

“This went on for a few weeks; Amelia giving me the silent treatment and me following like a wounded puppy at her heels. She wouldn’t let me say ‘I love you’; she said it was insulting after what she thought I’d done. So I tried to show her, but that didn’t work very well, either. The true test came when Genevieve called our house again and Amelia answered. She got this strange look on her face, clenched her jaw, and just handed the phone to me. ‘It’s her,’ she said, as if just saying Genevieve’s name was enough to make her sick to her stomach.”

“I took the phone and when Amelia tried to leave the room, I grabbed her and made her stay to listen. I told Genevieve in no uncertain terms that if she ever called our house again, I’d have the law on her so fast she’d have to move to Europe to get away from the hassle. And I told her that I loved Amelia and I planned to be with her until I died, so Genevieve should just leave us the hell alone. Then I hung up on her.”

“Did it work?” Angel asked, a little skeptical that Amelia would believe Randall’s performance.

“Actually, it did. I was even kind of surprised. I’d almost given up hope. It turns out that all Amelia wanted me to do was take a stand on the issue. She thought I was being two-faced; that I told her I loved her and acted like it when she was around, but that I really wanted Genevieve and I was marking time until I could be with her again. Telling her and showing her weren’t enough; I had to kick Genevieve’s ass, well, verbally anyway, before Amelia would give me the time of day again.”

Angel ordered another scotch as the bar tender passed their way, then asked, “So were you two okay after that?”

“Yep, right as rain,” he said cheerfully, grabbing a handful of pretzels from the basket near him and stuffing them in his mouth.

“And you think this would work with Cordy?” Angel asked warily.

Mr. Chase sighed. “I don’t know, son, but it’s worth a try. This Buffy girl been trying to get you back?”

“Not exactly,” Angel smiled wryly. “And she’d kick my ass if I called her up out of the blue and told her to stay away from me forever when she’s planning to do just that.”

“Well, I guess the only other thing to do is corner my daughter when Amelia and I leave and tell her that if Buffy came back, you’d stay with her, not leave with Buffy. That’s going to mean more to her than a million ‘I love you’s.”

Mr. Chase smiled proudly as he thought of his daughter. “My baby girl is a carbon copy of her beautiful mother; that girl won’t take shit from anybody.”

He clapped Angel on the back, hard enough to make him choke on his scotch. “Makes it hell on us husbands, but the flip side is that the making up is just as passionate as the anger.” He grinned. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The emotional torture increased as Angel allowed himself to imagine the possibility of making love to Cordelia with no barriers, emotional or physical, between them. He knew, without a doubt, that the experience would be so blissful that it would sever the delicate bonds anchoring his soul to his demon, and he couldn’t allow that.

Damn it, he had to talk to Wesley about that curse.

Mr. Chase’s words once again brought Angel out of his cloud of misery. “So, about your finances. Any chance that ‘family money’ wasn’t just a fib to make my wife feel better?”

Angel decided that truth was the best course of action. “Before I got my soul back, I accumulated a lot of wealth from my victims. I haven’t touched it because it’s tainted, but I still have access to it and I’d use it in a heartbeat if Cordelia needed it.”

Mr. Chase couldn’t keep himself from asking, “How much are we talking here, round numbers?”

“With interest, $100 million, give or take a few hundred thousand,” Angel said. He could’ve been talking about the weather for all the emotional intensity of his words.

Cordelia’s father was taken aback at the figure. “Well, I’d say you’re financially stable, then.” He cleared his throat, his head reeling at what he could do with a sum that large, but he shook it off. “Makes me feel better, knowing that my baby girl is taken care of.”

“Please don’t’ say anything to Cordelia; she thinks I’m poor and I’d like to keep it that way,” Angel said.

Gulping down the last of his scotch, Mr. Chase nodded and stood up. “Of course, Angel. I’ll respect your privacy.”

He threw some money on the bar.

“Let’s go see if we can get your wife to talk to you again, eh?”

* * * * * * * *
Sunday, 6:05 p.m.

“Bye, Mom. Call me when you get there, okay?” Cordelia hugged her mother fiercely.

“Sure, sweetie,” Mrs. Chase answered, her eyes teary.

Cordelia turned to her father. “Bye, Daddy.” She reached to give him a hug.

As his arms went around his daughter, Mr. Chase took the opportunity to whisper in Cordelia’s ear, “Don’t stay mad at him forever, baby girl. He loves you and you don’t want to run him off.” He kissed her cheek, then pulled away.

He grinned when he saw his daughter’s irritated scowl and was reminded once again of his wife.

“Angel, take care of her for us,” Mr. Chase said, shaking Angel’s hand. “And remember what I said, okay?”

“I will on both counts. You’re welcome to come visit anytime; we’d love to have you,” Angel said, surprised that he meant it.

Mr. and Mrs. Chase made one last round of hugs, then exited, the door shutting with a click that echoed in the silence that remained.

Angel and Cordelia both stared at the door for a few minutes, wary of each other and not sure how to proceed. They’d both used her parents as an excuse to avoid dealing with their problems, but now they had to face them.

Cordelia moved first. She spared a brief, shuttered glance at Angel, then grabbed her purse. “I’m going out,” she said, not able to take the tension in the room.

Angel shot a hand out and stopped her as she reached for her coat. “No, let me. I have to patrol anyway.”

“Fine,” she said tersely, turning away and disappearing into the bedroom.

She stood stiffly, facing the window as he prepared to leave. The moment she heard the door click softly as it closed behind him, her shoulders slumped and her face fell, revealing tired features she’d been trying so hard to hide. She shuffled over to the bed, laying down and curling up into a fetal position, hugging her knees to her chest, despondent beyond tears.

Misery was not a pleasant state.

The past 24 hours had been an emotional torture unlike anything she’d ever experienced. Her face hurt from forced smiling, her head throbbed from trying not to think about Angel, and her throat hurt from holding back tears. At least when Xander had cheated on her, she’d been able to wail and carry on in peace. Now, she had to put up a brave front for her parents and she had to live with the man who’d broken her heart.

The truth was that she wanted Angel back so badly that she could taste it. At this point, Cordelia almost didn’t care if he was in love with Buffy. She wanted him anyway. She would take as much of him as she could get, live with the consequences of unrequited love, but at least she would have him. She knew it was an unhealthy attitude, but being strong wasn’t getting her anything but a migraine.

Angel wanted her; that part wasn’t in dispute. The part that cut her so deeply was the question of whether or not he’d choose her over Buffy if a choice ever became an option. When she’d woken up in so much physical pleasure with him the other morning, she would’ve said unequivocally that he was just using her. Now, though, after the way he’d been acting the last 24 hours, she wasn’t so sure. Maybe he was in love with both women at the same time. But that option didn’t solve anything either. Cordelia was selfish; she wanted Angel to love her and only her, and she thought she had a right to feel that way.

Last night had been the acutest torture of all. Sleeping alongside Angel, knowing that he was just inches away and that he wanted her if she would accept him, ate away at her resolve like acid on metal. She’d slept fitfully, waking with her pride intact but very, very fragile. She wanted him so badly that she was practically shaking with it, but her mind wouldn’t let her give in. She was too hurt, felt too betrayed, to surrender.

Suddenly the emotional baggage of those thoughts became way too heavy to handle, so she shoved them aside and closed her eyes, begging for the oblivion of sleep.

Insistent knocking dragged her out of pleasant nothingness a few hours later. She groaned, pulling the pillow over her head as if blocking the sounds would make the person go away. When it didn’t, she hauled herself from the bed, just in time to see Angel bolt from the bathroom, dripping, a towel wrapped around his waist. She wondered sleepily when he’d come back, then trudged after him, stopping at the threshold of the bedroom and leaning against the doorframe.

Angel lunged for the door, flinging it open, and both their mouths dropped open in surprise at their visitor.

Cordelia recovered first, saying tightly, “Well hi, Buffy. Welcome to our corner of hell.”
Part 19

Sunday, 9:25 p.m.

Buffy looked at Cordelia strangely, then shrugged as if she didn’t understand her. She turned her gaze to Angel, and her eyes softened and she smiled.

“Hi, Angel.”

Angel just gaped at her, his head reeling, time seeming to stand still as he stared into the pretty face of his ex-girlfriend.

Buffy was here.

In L.A.

What the hell was going on?

Cordelia broke into his scattered thoughts. “Don’t just stand there like a dork, Angel, invite her in.”

It tore her in two to say that, but at least she’d be able to finally put this behind her. Angel would fall all over Buffy like he usually did, he’d ask for an annulment, and Cordelia could get on with her life.

She’d be dead inside, but she would deal with it. She always did.

“Um, yeah, Buffy, come on in,” Angel said, feeling totally like the dork that Cordelia always accused him of being. He stepped back, opening the door wider and giving Buffy room to enter. He followed her to the couch and sat down on the opposite end, leaving plenty of room between them.

Buffy, obviously not enjoying the distance, scooted over closer to him, but Angel bolted off the sofa and perched on the edge, maintaining the space.

“So what brings you to L.A.?” Angel asked, crossing his arms and looking nervously over at Cordelia, who was still watching from the bedroom door.

Buffy looked pointedly over at Cordelia. “Can we talk alone, Angel?” she said, her tone indicating that Cordelia should just take the hint and scram.

Her not-so-subtle suggestion made Cordelia’s blood boil. Her thoughts turned nasty: He’s mine, bitch, and I’ll die before I leave and let you sink your claws into him again. Immediately, she turned the anger on herself when she recognized the jealousy. She had no legitimate claim on him. Maybe legally, but not emotionally. He’d never told her he loved her. It didn’t matter how she felt.

So she did the mature thing, as much as it killed her inside.

“Obviously you two have a lot to talk about,” Cordelia said, her smile forced as she refused to meet Angel’s eyes. “I’ll just be in here.” She backed into the bedroom and reached to close the door.

“Wait! Cordelia, you don’t have to go,” Angel said, his voice close to desperate as he jumped off the couch and crossed the room to her, grasping her arm.

“Yes, I do, Angel,” she argued quietly, trying to free herself from his grip.

“No, you don’t. I want you here.”

“Um, Excuse me?” Buffy’s annoyed voice interrupted them and Angel turned to look at her. “Angel, it would really be better if I could talk to you alone. Cordelia doesn’t have anything to do with this,” her eyes were expressive, leaving no doubt that the conversation topic would concern their relationship, not any apocalyptic predictions.

Angel’s expression hardened as he dredged up 250 years worth of stubbornness. He was not going to make the same mistake that Mr. Chase had made. He was NOT going to compromise his relationship with Cordelia by being alone with his ex-girlfriend who obviously wanted him back.

“Angel, just do what she asks,” Cordelia implored him, not wanting to make a scene.

“Buffy, excuse us for a second, okay?” He smiled tightly at her and dragged Cordelia back into the bedroom, shutting the door behind them.

“Cordelia, I DO NOT want to be alone with Buffy. I want you there with me, okay? I need you there. I don’t want to give Buffy any impression that I want to get back together with her.”

Cordelia was dumbfounded. “You don’t want Buffy back? But I thought. . .”

Angel growled with frustration, knowing that Buffy was waiting with growing impatience out in the other room and that there would be hell to pay if he didn’t deal with her soon. He didn’t have enough time to explain to Cordelia, who still felt very used and betrayed, how he felt and not sound like he had ulterior motives.

So he left love out of it for now and gave her as honest an answer as he could.

“My life is here, Cordelia. My mission is here, my family is here. Buffy can’t leave Sunnydale. Nothing about our circumstances has changed since we broke up, and nothing she will say can convince me otherwise.”

She looked at him skeptically.

“I need you with me so that I’m reminded of what I have here. I need you to hear me say that I won’t leave you, not even for Buffy. Please, Cordy.”

She seemed to hesitate for a moment, then her features softened.

“Okay, Angel,” she said simply.

He smiled with relief, then took her hand and brought her back to the living room with him. They stood awkwardly in front of Buffy, not wanting to sit down.

Buffy looked less than pleased.

“Buffy, whatever you have to say does concern Cordelia. I want her here,” he said, his voice leaving no room for argument. “So what is it you wanted to talk about?”

Buffy allowed herself to glare at Cordelia for a moment, then she ignored her completely and turned an excited face to Angel.

“Giles found a way to make your soul permanent, Angel.”

Cordelia gasped. “Are you sure it’s legitimate?”

Annoyed at Cordelia’s interruption, Buffy answered with no small measure of snottiness. “Of course. I wouldn’t have come here if there was a chance it might not work.” Her face turned serious as she considered that unpalatable possibility. “I don’t think I could take it if there was a slight chance for us to be together and then it didn’t happen.”

Buffy’s expression brightened as she pulled herself out of self-reflection. “But this is a sure thing. Giles has checked it a bunch of times, and he’s sure it will work.” She stood up excitedly, rushing to Angel, grasping him in a hug.

“Isn’t that fantastic, Angel? We can finally be together, just like we’ve always wanted.”

Cordelia’s world rocked and she suddenly felt extremely nauseous. Angel said that he didn’t want to be with Buffy because nothing had changed. Well, this changed everything. Angel could have a real relationship with Buffy.

Angel was going to leave her, just like she’d feared. Her nightmare was about to come true.

Daring one stricken glance at Angel, she saw how his arms had gone to Buffy’s shoulders, grasping them firmly as she hugged him. She saw the shocked look on his face, and the light in his eyes as he realized that the curse could be a thing of the past. She saw in that embrace the destruction of every last shred of hope she’d held on to, and she couldn’t stay there and watch her life implode. She choked back a sob and disappeared back into the bedroom.

Angel watched her go helplessly as Buffy held him in a grip that would’ve crushed a mortal man. Suddenly, his skin crawled with the knowledge that Cordelia had seen Buffy hugging him and he hadn’t pushed her away fast enough.

Noticing the pressure he was applying to her shoulders, Buffy pulled back, her arms still around his waist. Her eyes turned questioning and she asked, “What’s wrong, Angel?”

In the bedroom, tears coursed silently down Cordelia’s cheeks. She desperately wanted to let go and scream, but she couldn’t do that, not with Buffy in the next room. She wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of seeing her broken heart. But upon hearing Buffy’s question through the slightly open door, she couldn’t help but listen. She didn’t think her heart could take hearing Angel declare his love for Buffy, but she couldn’t drag herself away.

Angel gently grasped Buffy’s hands and pulled them from around his waist, pushing her away from him.

“I’m married to Cordelia, Buffy.”

“Uh, what?” Buffy said, aghast.

“We’re married.”

“Married?” Buffy looked like she might hyperventilate, her eyes wide as she stepped back a step. After a moment of stunned silence, her eyes narrowed and she looked at the bedroom door suspiciously.

“What did Cordelia do to you?”

“Do to me?” Angel asked, an eyebrow raised. “Nothing like what you’re implying. She has been my closest friend since I moved to LA, and I fell in love with her.”

Cordelia stifled a gasp at his words as she listened, desperately wanting his words to be true, but dreading that they were just a way to get Buffy to leave for her own good.

Buffy shook her head slowly, refusing to accept this. “No, you can’t love her Angel. You love me.”

“I did love you, Buffy, but not anymore, not like that,” Angel’s features held no apology, just determination.

“But the curse. . .You didn’t sleep with her, did you?” Buffy asked, ironically hopeful that he would say he did. If he did and he still had his soul, that meant that he wasn’t really happy, and she still had a chance.

“No, we haven’t, not that it’s any of your business. But I want to, more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my entire life.”

Buffy saw the truth in his eyes as he said that, and her world fell apart. “Angel, I still love you. We could make this work. I know that when I saw you last you saw me with Riley, but what you and I had was so much more. . . I love you so much, Angel. Please, don’t do this to me,” she begged, tears forming in her eyes and spilling over.

Angel sighed. Now he had two women upset with him. “Buffy, I never meant to hurt you, but I never thought we’d be together again. I couldn’t hang on to a love I could never have. And when I let go, Cordelia was there. First as my secretary, then as my best friend, and now as the woman I can’t imagine my life without.”

Smiling softly, Angel thought back to what had made him see the truth. “What really convinced me is when I realized that even Angelus is in love with her, although the ass won’t admit it,” Angel shook his head ruefully, remembering Angelus’s lustful taunting in Angel’s head. The demon wouldn’t admit it, but he was definitely in love with Cordelia, too.

“Both my soul and my demon are fulfilled by Cordelia, and I can’t live without her.”

Cordelia’s tears flowed unchecked as she listened to Angel speak, the sincerity and earnestness obvious in his voice.

Angel did love her.

Buffy sobbed once, then stopped, choking the rest down in a way that made her feel as if her throat were closed off.

“You’ll change your mind, Angel. You love me, I know you do,” she said hoarsely, desperation driving her words.

“I’m not going to change my mind, Buffy. I have a chance to be happy with Cordelia and I’m not going to jeopardize that.”

At the mention of the word “happy,” Buffy’s thoughts returned to the curse she’d come here to dispel. Her broken heart gave way to intense rage.

“If you think I’m going to give you the solution to your curse just so you can sleep with Cordelia, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Angel’s eyes widened and in the bedroom, Cordelia’s heart nearly stopped. Buffy couldn’t do this.

She wouldn’t withhold that from Angel so cruelly, would she?

“Buffy—“ Angel began, reaching for her imploringly.

Buffy shook her head. “No, Angel. I’m not going to encourage your temporary insanity. You should have thought about this before you chose her over me.”

She backed up a few steps, nearing the door. Her eyes narrowed and she stared him down, the venom in her eyes almost tangible.

“When you come to your senses, you know where to find me. Until then, I want you to think about whether a lifetime of misery with Cordelia would be better than a lifetime of happiness with me. I think the right answer is pretty obvious.”

Angel’s heart was breaking. “Buffy, please, don’t do this,” Angel begged, the pain in his voice strengthening Buffy’s resolve.

She shook her head slowly. “Don’t you see, Angel? I have to. For us.”

In the bedroom, Cordelia’s heart pounded frantically as she realized what was happening. Her chance for happiness with Angel was walking out the door with Buffy, and she’d still never have him even though he loved her. No, Buffy, please. she begged silently. For once, look outside yourself and let Angel be happy, even if it isn’t with you.

But her pleas went unheard and she heard the door slam behind her nemesis. She gave way to the pain and sobbed, her tears flowing unchecked as she hugged her knees and rocked herself on the floor.

Her anguish was echoed by a ferocious growl and shout from the living room, followed by the sound of broken furniture.

Part 20

Sunday, 10:59 p.m.

Angel stared at the broken coffee table with eyes that saw nothing. His vision was blurred with unshed tears of anger and hopelessness. He was no stranger to these feelings, but never before had the intensity of those emotions been so cruelly peppered with the most concentrated form of desperation he’d ever felt. He’d had the cure to his curse within his grasp and he’d been unable to get it. He’d let Buffy walk out the door with the key to his happiness, and he knew that if she didn’t change her mind, he might remain cursed forever.

Despite the fact that he probably wouldn’t be able to remove the curse that had plagued him for the last hundred years, Angel was certain he’d made the right decision. Leaving Cordelia was not an option of any kind, and if that meant that he had to love her without touching her, then so be it. He knew that she deserved someone who could make love to her, someone who could take her into the sunlight, but he was selfish. No one was going to touch Cordelia except him ever again. She was his whether the curse stood between them or not. That was what Buffy didn’t understand: Angel and Cordelia were so tightly bound together, down to their very souls, that they were virtually inseparable.

For the second time this week, Angel heard Cordelia’s sobbing subside behind a closed door. This time, though, he had the power to comfort her and he had every intention of doing so. He was going to tell her how much he loved her, and nothing short of an apocalypse in her bedroom would keep him from doing that.

***

Cordelia hugged her knees tightly, drying her tear-streaked face on the sleeve of her sweatshirt. Her heart was torn completely in two, one half desperate to run out and comfort Angel and tell him how much she loved him, too. The other half was more practical, considering the fact that their relationship was doomed before it began. More than anything she’d wanted in her young life, Cordelia wanted to love Angel fully and completely, be the partner of his soul and his life until she died. But she knew that with the curse still in place, they would be condemned to relationship of near-touches, guarded conversations, false smiles and secret tears. There was no place that their relationship could go except to a place of misery and longing.

Because of that, Cordelia made the most difficult decision of her life: to reject Angel’s love.

Her heart cried that she was a moron of every conceivable variety for giving up her one true love without a fight, but in reality, Cordelia had no strength left to wage a battle that was lost before it even began. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if she tried to love Angel without touching him she wouldn’t succeed. They would end up in bed together because they loved each other too much to resist, and she would have to face Angelus alone. She would have to kill him, or die trying.

She knew that Angel thought that Angelus was in love with her, and Cordelia didn’t doubt that Angel was right. What she did know, however, was that Angelus’ brand of love was not selfless or compassionate like that of Angel’s soul, only feral and possessively violent. He would claim her, brutalize her, then turn her, all in the name of ownership and a soulless vampire’s brand of love. She loved Angelus, but only as the fire and passion that spiced the steadfastness and loving responsibility of the soul; she didn’t love him on his own, without the soul to restrain him.

Sniffling, Cordelia wiped her face again quickly as the door slowly pushed open and Angel walked into the bedroom. He turned to face her, then sank down, crossing his legs and facing her, their knees touching. He looked deeply into her eyes, seeing in them the war between her heart and her common sense in the split second before she schooled her features into an unreadable mask.

Gently, he reached a hand out and brushed his fingers against the one remaining tearstain on her cheek. He smiled at her tenderly, every ounce of love he felt reflected in the obsidian depths of his warm eyes.

“I love you, Cordelia,” Angel said softly, his smile leaving his face as the intensity of his feelings took over.

His fierce look bored into Cordelia’s heart and nearly demolished the resolve she’d just built to reject him. Nearly, but not quite.

“I heard what you said to Buffy,” Cordelia conceded, shielding the love she felt for him from appearing in her eyes. “But I don’t believe you.”

Angel was shocked. If he’d had breath, it would have been stolen as she declared her mistrust of him. His mouth opened as if to speak, but he couldn’t form any words that would make sense. Of all the things he’d expected her to say, this was the last one.

She continued, her emotional walls going up to protect herself from him even as her heart disintegrated into tiny fragments as she spoke the hatefully untrue words.

“It doesn’t matter anyway, Angel,” she said, her voice eerily void of emotion. “I don’t love you back, even if you really do love me.”

Rage consumed Angel as he watched her lie, although her features didn’t reveal otherwise.

“You’re in love with me, too. I know you are, Cordelia. Stop lying to me and yourself; you won’t accomplish anything by doing this.”

The hazel eyes staring back at him were apathetic, almost lifeless, as she took his heartfelt declaration and threw it to the floor.

“Cordelia Chase does not lie. Pay attention here, moron. I. Do. Not. Love. You.” Her tone was acidic, burning through his soul.

“The hell you don’t,” Angel said, growling, nearly vamping out with frustration and rage at this stunt she was pulling. His demonic nature finally won and took over, frustration forcing him to desperate lengths. He lunged for her with inhuman speed, his strong hand encircling the back of her neck and pulling her lips cruelly toward his.

In contrast to the violence of his actions, Angel’s lips were soft and gentle when they met Cordelia’s, his human face once again in place, her mouth safe from the sharpness of his vampire’s fangs. He darted his tongue out, sweeping the cool surface over her bottom lip, then between the upper and lower lip, urging her to open her mouth for him. Unable to stop herself, Cordelia did as he silently asked, opening herself to his mouth.

At her acquiesce, Angel’s ferocity returned and his visage changed again, his eyes glowing yellow and his teeth scraping her lips. He released all the passion he’d been holding back into his attack on her mouth; it was all Cordelia could do to keep up. His tongue sought hers, toying with it, seeking it out as she tried to avoid such an intimate invasion of her space. She ended up just responding, caught up in the storm of his kiss, desperate with the realization that this was the last time she’d ever get a chance to be with him like this.

Angel finally broke the contact, his eyes still gleaming with amber passion. “You do love me, Cordy. Admit it. You couldn’t respond to me like that if you didn’t.”

Cordelia had closed her eyes before he could see the passion in them and struggled to regulate her breathing, knowing that she had to get control. Reaching deep within herself, she sought the bitch that had so long served her well when she was in danger of being trampled on emotionally. That bitch allowed her to attack those she loved in defense of herself, and she needed that person within to shove Angel away from her irrevocably, so that his soul would be safe.

She raised one eyebrow haughtily, spearing him with a glare that would have withered a lesser man. “I will admit that you do have a way with your mouth, Angel. I can’t deny that you can make me want to tear off our clothes and ride you until I scream. But when push comes to shove, that’s all it is.”

Her voice was audible ice as she continued. “You’d be a good fuck, Angel, but I don’t love you. How could I? You’ve betrayed me more times than I can count, just in the last week alone. You’ve manipulated me, humiliated me, and nearly raped me. I couldn’t love a person like that, much less an undead thing like you.”

Angel didn’t even bother to change back to his human features as her hateful words ripped the fabric of his soul and stirred the wrath of Angelus. Both halves of the vampire responded in sync, shooting up from the floor and towering over Cordelia in a dark, menacing shadow the likes of which the young Seer had never seen.

For a moment, Cordelia was scared to her very bones by the strength of anger and power that Angel was displaying. He’d always been gentle with her, even when he was upset, and she’d never seen him like this. She’d never seen the demon so close to the surface when the soul was still present. Her breath caught in her throat as she began to contemplate the ramifications of what she’d done.

Angel’s soft words burned her with underlying promise. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Cordelia, but I will not give you up. I have waited 250 years for my soul mate, and I’m not about to give you up this easily. And don’t think I’m going to let Buffy leave this city without giving me the answer to the curse. I refuse to spend the rest of my life holding you at arm’s length.”

He lowered himself back down, crouching on the balls of his feet, his beautiful human face barely inches from her own. She was trapped by the dark promise in his eyes as he said, “I plan to love every square centimeter of your body before I’m through, filling you with every inch of me, body, mind, soul, and demon.”

Cordelia’s insides liquefied with desire as she envisioned what he planned. The ability to maintain her aloof exterior was becoming impossible.

His cheeks stretched with a sensual, yet foreboding smile as finished his vow. “And if screaming is what you want, sweetheart, I have every intention of letting you ride me until you shriek.”

With that vivid promise, he stood up again, this time slowly, unfolding himself with a graceful power that left her breathless. He gave her one last smoldering look, then turned and left the room.

She heard him open the door and exit, and only then did she let herself release the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. Her face burned with the heat of his words, and she realized that she had just made a very costly mistake. She should never have assumed that he’d give up on the curse now that he knew it was curable. And he’d just very blatantly stated, multiple times, that she was the only person he wanted in his life and in his bed.

Instead of protecting his soul and her future, her words had only served to provoke the wrath of his demon and the resolve of his soul. Her careless words, though spoken with pure motives, were the worst possible solution to their problems.

Now she just had to hope that he would forgive her for her hasty actions, and trust her when she finally told him what was really in her heart.

***

A fine gray powder sparkled in the cool night air as the vampire exploded into dust. Buffy paused as she watched the small particles float toward the ground, bound by gravity and returning to become one with the earth once more. Strangely, the satisfaction she usually gained from a kill was lacking this time. Her heart was still heavy, the last ten minutes and the death of five skilled vampires not sating her need for destruction.

She usually enjoyed coming to LA, not only to see Angel, and sometimes her father (although that was rarely fun), but because the vampires here didn’t know her at all. They’d only heard rumors of the Slayer, and it was always extremely satisfying to see their faces when they realized that this pretty slip of a girl could pummel their asses all the way to hell and back and not even break a sweat. The victory was that much sweeter when she could deliver her patented smart ass commentary and rid this town of a few of its unwelcome citizens. It always made her feel so useful, like her purpose was a global one rather than limited to Sunnydale and the perils of the hellmouth.

Tonight, though, all her actions felt hollow, as if she were fighting herself along with the vampires.

Buffy straightened her posture, tucking Mr. Pointy into the sleeve of her leather jacket. She scanned the alley for any remaining vampires, knowing that there were none, but doing it anyway. After confirming that she was alone, Buffy began walking slowly out of the alley toward Cordelia’s apartment, her hands shoved in her pockets, her gaze skimming the grimy asphalt beneath her feet.

In a way, she supposed she was at war with herself. The moment she’d left Cordelia’s apartment, she’d felt an overwhelming sense of guilt over her actions and words to Angel. She’d quickly swept the offensive feeling aside, calling up the anger she felt was her right as a scorned woman.

But in reality, she was no more scorned than any other ex-girlfriend. She had no claim on Angel, no matter what her heart told her. They’d gone their separate ways and she’d slept with someone else; she’d even declared herself in love with Riley and run Angel off when he’d come to protect her not once, but twice. If anyone was at fault for giving up on the possibility of their relationship in the future, it was herself.

When Giles had told her how he’d stumbled across a spell reversal for Angel’s curse that would allow him to keep his soul, Buffy had been shell shocked. Her mind had been instantly transported back almost two years earlier to the moment that she’d found him snarling and feral in his mansion, returned from the hell she’d sentenced him to. At the time, she thought she’d closed the emotional circuit from her heart to his, but she quickly realized that she still loved him more than ever. And then, when he’d so abruptly severed their relationship at the end of her senior year, it had again taken her time to get over him, but she thought she’d done it.

But with Giles’ declaration, that connection to Angel had opened once again, this time stronger than ever. The promise of forever that this spell reversal held was enough to make her drop Riley like yesterday’s newspaper. She hadn’t even told him she’d come here to L.A.; she’d just left, ignoring the fact that she was betraying him by seeking to renew her relationship with her ex-boyfriend.

All she’d thought about was the fact that Angel was in LA and he was miserable without her. When she’d seen him with Cordelia, declaring his love for Cordelia, the idea that he wasn’t miserable was like a sensory overload, shorting out her mental pathways and making her act like a cruel bitch. Her insides twisted as she remembered all the times she’d called Cordelia a bitch, and here she was, worse than Queen C had ever been.

She knew she had to apologize to Angel and give him the cure to his curse. If she’d ever loved him at all, she would want him to be happy, even if it mean that her own heart was broken in the process. Loving him unconditionally, even as a friend, meant acting selflessly. And that was something that was more difficult for her to do than she’d ever thought possible.

Buffy was determined to make this right. She owed it to Angel, for all he’d sacrificed for her in the past, and for the memory of the love that had made them both into better, stronger individuals. That love might not have been for forever, but it wasn’t for nothing.

Part 21

Sunday, 11:04 p.m.

Insistent pounding on Wesley’s front door dragged him out of much-needed sleep. He’d been translating more of the scroll that mentioned the vampire with a soul, and he couldn’t seem to tear himself away from it to sleep. He’d finally given in to his body’s demands at 8 p.m. this evening, only to be awakened by his late-night guest.

Only one person he knew would be so inconsiderate at this late hour.

Wearily, he rubbed the bridge of his nose, then rested his glasses on his face. He opened the door, stepping back so that Angel’s rapidly descending fist would avoid his face.

“Wesley,” Angel said tersely. “I need to talk to you.”

“I figured that, what with the pounding and glowering and all,” Wesley responded dryly. “Newlywed life not turning out like you’d hoped?” he asked, earning a glare from Angel, who pushed passed him and entered the apartment.

“Shut up, Wesley,” Angel said, not wanting to talk about Cordelia right now. He got right to the point. “Buffy stopped by the apartment tonight.”

Wesley raised an eyebrow at this unexpected information.

“She said that Giles found a reversal for my curse, one that would allow me to keep my soul.”

Silence flooded the room as Wesley gaped at him. “Why didn’t he call me?” Wesley mused aloud. “It’s not like I’m incompetent.”

“Focus, Wesley. Leave the self-flagellation for later, okay?”

Frowning at Angel’s comment, Wesley nevertheless took charge. “I take it you want me to see if I can get it myself?”

“Yes. Buffy’s less than happy with me right now and she’s holding the curse over my head. She’s punishing me for being with Cordelia instead of her.”

Wesley shook his head in disapproval. That girl had always been too headstrong. “I’ll call Giles. I doubt he would be happy that Buffy was effectively ensuring the survival of Angelus. With your soul secured, you’d be infinitely more effective in your mission. Having to worry about it all the time has been somewhat of a hindrance.”

“Tell me about it,” Angel grunted, remembering how many times he’d wanted to lose himself in Cordelia’s softness. Lately, it had been more difficult than ever before.

“And if Giles won’t help?”

Wesley hated to ask that, but the possibility remained. Giles was notoriously loyal to his young charge, and if Buffy was heartbroken like Wesley suspected, Giles’ need to protect her might overcome his common sense. Lord knows it had happened before.

“Do what you can,” Angel said, his heart sinking at that possibility. He turned to face Wesley, his tone earnest. “I don’t want this curse removed just so I can be with Cordelia, Wesley. I want it removed because I want to know that happiness is a possibility. It’s true that I may never get it; nobody has that promise in life. But I want the opportunity to at least try to be happy.”

Angel’s declaration had moved the former watcher. He so seldom allowed himself to want for anything, or at least display want like that, and the uncharacteristic speech struck a chord in Wesley. He nodded slowly, understanding the need for redemption and the promise for a better tomorrow.

“I’ll get right on it, Angel.”

“Thanks,” Angel said gratefully. As he moved toward the door, Angel stopped and looked back at his friend. “Wesley.”

“Yes, Angel?”

“I’ve waited 100 years for this, so another day won’t matter. It can wait until tomorrow. Get some sleep; you look like hell.”

Wesley just smiled tiredly at him. “Bye, Angel.”

***

In an attempt to get her mind off the debacle earlier that evening, Cordelia had thrown herself into a job she hated: ironing. It seemed like a lame thing to do when her whole future hung in the balance, but she took actually took comfort in the repetition and brainlessness of the task. By paying meticulous attention to each crease and wrinkle, she didn’t have time to let her mind wander. She’d managed to iron all of her clothes and was now looking for other things that she never would’ve even thought of ironing, like sheets and her pajamas.

She was putting the finishing touches on a pillowcase when a knock on the front door startled her out of her work. She turned the iron off and walked to the front door, puzzled that Dennis hadn’t admitted the visitor. She reached to open the door, opening it several inches, but Dennis shoved the door shut again.

“Dennis, knock it off!” Cordelia hissed. She tried the door again to no avail.

“Dennis!! I am so going to kick your transparent ass if you don’t knock it off,” she grumbled.

She knocked on the door herself. “Hello? Who’s out there?”

There was silence for a moment, then she heard, “It’s Buffy.”

“Well, no wonder Dennis wouldn’t open the door,” she mumbled to herself. “What do you want, Buffy?” Cordelia yelled back, her skepticism evident in her tone.

“Can I come in, Cordelia? This is kind of, um, weird.”

Cordy sighed. What the hell; if Buffy tried to kill her, Dennis would help kick her ass.

“Let her in, Dennis,” Cordelia ordered. A pause followed, so she said, “Let her in, Dennis, or I’ll go on vacation for a month and leave you here all alone, with the Elvis Greatest Hits CD on repeat.”

The door swung open rapidly, then Cordelia felt a whoosh of cool air as Dennis stalked off to the back of the apartment, obviously miffed at her.

Left alone, the two women eyed each other warily. Cordelia broke the silence first.

“Come in, Buffy,” she said, obviously reluctant.

Buffy tentatively stepped across the threshold. “Is Angel here? I really need to talk to him,” Buffy said, her eyes not meeting Cordelia’s.

Cordy bristled, recalling what Buffy had said last time, and she couldn’t help taking the Slayer down a peg or two. “If you’re going to try to get him to take you back, he’s not going to do it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that upset.”

She paused for a moment to catch her breath, finding that her heart was racing. “He doesn’t deserve to live with that curse hanging over his head, Buffy. Whether or not he wants you back shouldn’t make any difference. I can’t believe you’d take that chance at happiness away from him if you say you love him.”

Buffy cringed at the truth in Cordelia’s words. She’d already come to the same conclusion herself, but hearing the words spoken out loud made her guilt increase exponentially. She’d been such a bitch; she supposed she deserved to receive the brunt force of Cordelia’s admonishment.

Lightheadedness overcame her for a moment as she was overwhelmed by the conflicting emotions roiling around inside her head. “Can we sit down, Cordelia?” she asked, finally meeting her eyes.

Seeing the remorse in Buffy’s eyes softened the corners of Cordelia’s heart. She led Buffy to the couch and they both sat down gingerly, plenty of space between them.

“I wanted to apologize to Angel for what I said, but I guess I should apologize to you, too. You probably heard it all,” Buffy said, her eyes fixed the hands clasped tightly together in her lap.

“I heard it,” Cordelia answered, trying not to let the emotions of those awful moments flood her again.

“I’m sorry, Cordelia,” Buffy apologized, her eyes seeking Cordelia’s, surprised that she was actually able to say the words. “I was just . . . surprised that Angel wasn’t in love with me anymore. I guess I thought he’d wait for me forever.” She couldn’t help the tears that formed in her eyes, her pain still very raw.

“He did wait for you, Buffy, for a long time,” Cordelia said softly, her eyes begging for understanding. “What we have, Angel and I, it was really unexpected. Neither of us were looking for it; it just happened.”

Buffy had to ask. “Do you really love him, Cordelia? Being with Angel isn’t the easiest thing in the world.”

“I do love him,” Cordelia said without reservation. “I know that he can be a total ass sometimes, and he definitely has limitations because of the vampire thing, but he’s such a good person. He’s my best friend first. The love we have for each other developed from that.”

“So you’re not just doing this to torture me?”

Cordelia laughed briefly at Buffy’s statement, then sobered. “A lot has happened since we graduated, Buffy. I’m not the same insecure person I was back then. When I started getting visions from the Powers I didn’t understand how important they were. I tried so hard to get rid of them. Then one day I got flooded with visions by this . . . well, it’s a long story. Anyway, I realized how many people there are out there who need someone like Angel to help them.

“In high school, I never fit in anywhere. My friends all looked at me like I was some kind of movie star, not a real person. You guys thought I was a bitch and you only tolerated me because of Xander. Everyone had a place: Giles was the know-it-all, Willow was the computer nerd, witch girl, and best friend, Angel was your boyfriend and the dark hero, Xander was the loyal clown, and you were the Slayer. I had nothing, except maybe bait girl.

“But here, in LA, I finally feel like I belong. I mean something; I have a purpose. And loving Angel is just the icing on the cake. If I hadn’t fallen in love with him, I would still feel more fulfilled here than I ever have in my entire life.”

Cordelia’s words rendered Buffy speechless. She’d never seen Cordelia with so much light in her eyes. She’d always been a vibrant, vivacious person, but until now, Buffy hadn’t realized that that vivacity never actually reached her eyes. Now, Cordelia was practically glowing. She obviously knew what she wanted and where she belonged.

In that moment, Buffy was more jealous of Cordelia than she’d ever thought possible.

But in that moment, Buffy also had an epiphany: even if Angel wasn’t cursed, they still couldn’t be together. She couldn’t be the woman he needed so desperately.

She was jealous of Cordelia, but she also knew that the life she’d come to LA to create with Angel wasn’t even a possibility; it was only in her imagination. Angel had always said that they couldn’t be together because he couldn’t give her what she needed. Buffy had never seen, until now, thatshe couldn’t give him what he needed.

As the Slayer, Buffy would always be fighting the fact that they should be enemies. She and Angel were both tethered to the darkness, and she would only pull him deeper. Cordelia was the sunlight he needed, and as hard as she tried, Buffy could never give him that. As much as it hurt, Buffy knew that she wasn’t meant for Angel.

The tears in her eyes overflowed and coursed down her cheeks. She looked up at Cordelia, seeing the moisture in her eyes, too. Buffy knew she should hate Cordelia, but she couldn’t bring herself to dredge up the negative energy. She’d lost so much in the last few hours; she couldn’t afford to lose more.

On shaky legs, Buffy brought herself to her feet. She reached into her back pocket and took out a folded piece of parchment paper, holding it out to Cordelia.

“Is this—,” Cordelia asked, stunned that Buffy wasn’t angry.

Buffy just nodded. She swiped a hand across her cheek, collecting some of her tears. “You’re right, Cordelia. If I really do love him, I should let him be happy even if he doesn’t want to be with me. It was just hard to see at first,” she said weakly, trying to smile, but her sorrow preventing the expression from being born.

Cordelia stood up, reaching for Buffy. She wasn’t sure why she felt this compulsion to hug her nemesis, but Buffy looked like she really needed it. Just before she touched her, Cordelia’s head was filled with shooting pain, her eyes closing involuntarily.

“Oh, damn it!! Why now?” Cordelia moaned, the curse fluttering to the floor as she gripped her head. The images flashed before her, making her dizzy. She tried to find the chair behind her to steady herself, but her balance was off.

Buffy froze when she saw Cordelia in pain, stunned that the visions could do that to her. When she saw Cordy struggling to stay upright, she grabbed for her, catching her from behind just before she fell to the floor. One arm slipped around Cordelia’s waist, the other around her shoulders, just under her chin.

One minute, she was steadying Cordelia and the next, she was flying across the room, landing hard on her butt, hitting her head against the wall. She looked up in shock to see Angel towering over her, snarling. Buffy didn’t even have time to catch her breath or react; Angel’s hand grasped her throat and shoved her into a standing position, then slammed her against the wall.

The tone of his voice was deadly, his eyes blazing with anger. “If you ever touch her again, Buffy, I swear, I will forget any love I ever felt for you. I’ll make you so miserable, you’ll wish you’d killed me when you had the chance.”
Part 22

11:45 p.m.

Buffy struggled to speak, spots appearing before her eyes as Angel’s death grip cut off her oxygen. She glanced desperately at Cordelia, who was shaking her head and blinking her eyes rapidly as she pried herself off the floor.

As soon as Cordelia’s vision cleared, she raised her head and gasped.

“Geez, Angel! Let her go!! She was trying to help me. God, you are such a dumbass sometimes!”

In a moment of confusion, anger still coursing violently through his veins, Angel looked back at Cordelia, then to Buffy. He seemed to jerk himself out of the red haze, snatching his hand away from Buffy’s throat and allowing her to drop to the floor. She took in deep heavy breaths, trying to replenish the oxygen she’d lost. She clutched her fingers around her neck, rubbing cautiously at the bruises that were already forming.

The room was bathed in tense silence as Cordelia fumed and Buffy tried to recover.

The injured slayer spoke first, her voice hoarse. “I’m sorry, Angel, for everything,” she said, looking up at him, the remorse in her eyes unmistakable.

Angel just stared at her, his emotions still in turmoil. He’d come into the room and seen Buffy grabbing Cordelia, and he’d feared the worst. For that split second, he’d let his anger take control and he’d reacted without thought. Cordelia had been in danger, and he couldn’t allow that.

Mistaking his silence for mistrust, Buffy continued. “I shouldn’t have demanded that you take me back like that, Angel. I just . . . I just love you so much that it was a shock to see that you don’t love me anymore.” Buffy dropped her gaze to the floor, the intensity of the feelings too much to handle. “I know that you love Cordelia, and I can see now that you belong with her, not me. Even though it hurts like hell.”

Angel was stunned. He knew her apology was genuine, but he never actually expected her to accept his love for Cordelia.

“Thank you, Buffy,” Angel said, the emotion raw in his voice. “It means a lot to me that you said that. And I’m sorry for hurting you. I saw Cordelia in pain, and I . . . overreacted.”

“Geez, you can say that again,” Cordelia complained, now sitting upright and dragging herself to the couch. “That was a vision headache, in case you didn’t figure it out, dork. That means a message for you. There are a few vampires who are going to make a prom after-party into their midnight snack. You’d better go.”

Angel crossed the room, crouching before her, his fingers brushing her cheek. “You okay, Cordy?” he asked, concern lacing his tone.

“I’m fine, Angel,” Cordelia said softly, her own hand reaching up to cup his face. Her eyes sparkled as she teased, “No thanks to your show of possessiveness!”

“Yeah, well, I love you. I want to protect you,” he said, lamely trying to excuse his actions.

“I love you, too, Angel,” Cordelia said, “but next time, pay a little better attention before you start attacking people.”

He just stared at her, lost in her eyes, amazed at the love she was finally admitting to him. He’d completely forgotten that Buffy was in the room at all.

Cordelia glanced over at the Slayer, who was watching their exchange with an expression that was a mixture of sad acceptance and longing. “Buffy might be able to hold her own, but if she were any normal human, you might have killed her. You’ve got to start thinking ahead, Angel.”

After a moment of silence, Cordelia just rolled her eyes at his love-struck expression and pushed on his chest. “Go, vamp guy. People need saving.”

He stood up, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I’ll be back in a little while.”

Cordelia nodded. “You okay over there, Buffy?”

Standing up wearily, Buffy crossed the room to the couch and sank into it heavily. “Yeah. A little worn around the edges, I think, but okay.” She paused for a moment, absorbing the last 24 hours. “This has been just, well, weird.”

Angel wasn’t one to mollycoddle her, especially now that she wasn’t the love of his life anymore. “Buffy, the curse?”

“Don’t worry, Angel. I’ll leave it with Cordelia,” she said. She looked up at him, the earnestness evident in her face. “You deserve to be happy, Angel, no matter who you love. When it came right down to it, I couldn’t let myself keep that from you, no matter how angry I was.”

At her words, she saw the forgiveness appear in his eyes, and the sorrow he felt at hurting her. “Thank you, Buffy,” he said, his voice raspy. “I never meant to hurt you; I hope you know that.”

“I do,” she said, and the silence between them was healing. “Cordelia’s right. You should go. Fight the good fight.”

The two women watched as he exited the apartment, the lack of his presence creating a vacuum that nothing else could fill.

Buffy stood up, facing Cordelia, tears once again in her eyes. “I’m going to go home and see if I can get my boyfriend to forgive me. Although I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t,” Buffy said, speaking to Cordelia but her thoughts a few hundred miles away.

She walked to the door and Cordelia followed her in silence, not sure what to say. Buffy was still lost in thought, her mind in Sunnydale.

Buffy shook herself and continued, her expression hardening as she grasped the doorknob, her tears finally overflowing as the finality of everything sunk in. “If I ever find out you broke his heart, I will personally kick your ass, Cordelia. He deserves to be happy,” she said, opening the door and leaving, shutting it firmly behind her.

“So do you, Buffy,” Cordelia said softly to the closed door, the Slayer’s footsteps retreating on the other side.

***

The post-battle high was intoxicating, and Angel let himself feel every enhanced nerve and savor the feeling. He wanted to hang on to the adrenaline so that he could use it for tonight, for when he finally had the chance to make love to the woman he adored more than anything in his long life. His chest tightened in anticipation as he imagined what the evening might hold for them.

Nearly rubbing his hands together with glee, Angel bolted for Cordelia’s front door as soon as it was in view. He burst into the apartment, silence greeting him. Momentarily, he felt bereft, as if half of himself were missing. Then he realized Cordelia was gone, a piece of pink paper folded over on the dining room table with his name scrawled in her messy script.

He opened it, smiling at the little heart she’d drawn next to his name.

Angel,

I went to Wesley’s to show him the spell. Meet me over there, okay? After that, I was thinking maybe we could hang out, or something. Got any ideas?

Cordy

P.S. I love you.

Smiling, Angel stroked the words with his index finger. Oh, yeah. He had some ideas alright. Beginning with that ride he’d promised her.

He turned and strode out of the apartment, his coat billowing behind him. He had places to be. A soul to secure. Things were finally going to turn out right in his life.

It was about freakin’ time.

***

“So that’s it?” Cordelia asked, skepticism evident in her voice. She tilted her face up at Wesley, her eyebrows raised, highlighting her question.

“It appears that way,” Wesley answered. “There’s not much to it. It’s quite amazing, really.”

Wesley shook his head in wonder as his eyes skimmed the short Latin lines on the paper. “Who knew that the gypsy curse had such a simple addendum to it? It’s no wonder that they sent Jenny Calendar to watch him back in Sunnydale. If anyone knew about this, the vengeance they were wanting so badly would be negated forever.”

Cordelia was still trying to understand what was happening. “So if Willow had added these lines at the end of the curse, his soul would’ve been made permanent already?”

“Yes. When I called Giles, he said that the disk left by Jenny had some un-translated text in it. It was a challenge to Giles, but he felt he owed it to her memory and he’s been working on it all this time. He had no idea what was in it until a week or so ago.”

“Well, I still don’t understand why they didn’t make his soul permanent in the first place. It took him 100 years to get over having it. Don’t you think that would be enough suffering?”

Wesley shrugged. “Apparently, the Gypsies have used the entire curse to make other kinds of demons suffer with a soul, but it was never used against vampires. With other demons, having a soul at all was more of a torture than anything else; they’d never been human before, so they didn’t know how to deal with the soul, permanent or not.”

Wesley scratched his head and frowned, trying to make this easy for Cordelia to understand. “Vampires were once human, and their original soul takes over when they’re cursed. In Angel’s case, the Gypsies knew that he would suffer more greatly if he had his soul and wanted to keep it more than anything else. They knew that he’d want to be happy and keep his soul, and they wanted him to suffer as he walked the line.”

Cordelia frowned fiercely. “That’s just wrong.”

“Well, he did kill a favored daughter of their clan,” Wesley said wryly.

“Angelus killed her. Angel had to pay for it,” Cordelia said, defending him.

“But Angel is Angelus, Cordelia. You have to understand that.”

“I do, Wesley. I really do,” Cordelia said intently. “But what bothers me is that Angelus isn’t Angel. Angel’s soul wasn’t present when he did all those bad things, but he has to feel guilty and suffer for it. Angelus could no more stop himself from being an evil vampire than you could stop from being British. It’s just who you are.”

Wesley’s expression turned disapproving when he realized that Cordelia had just compared him to a vicious killer. “Thanks a lot, Cordelia,” he said wryly. “The last thing I want is to be compared to Angelus.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, Wes.”

Wesley regarded her in silence, not deigning to comment.

“One more thing I don’t understand. When you add this part to the curse, Angelus isn’t there anymore?”

“Not exactly,” Wesley said. He removed his glasses and scrubbed the lenses with his handkerchief, trying to find a way to explain the complicated procedure. “Right now, Angel has almost a multiple personality thing going on. Angelus is there in his head, a separate voice. Angel has control and he can shut out Angelus for the most part, but there are two separate entities at home in one body: the voice of the demon and the voice of the soul.”

“Right, I get that. I’ve seen Angel arguing with himself before. At first I just thought he was weird, but I get it now. The curse takes that away?”

“Angel and Angelus will merge, becoming one voice. Basically, Angel will get all of Angelus’ thoughts as his own, but those feelings will be filtered through the soul. He will still want to kill, feed, and hurt people at times, but his soul will be his conscience, preventing him from carrying through with it.”

Cordelia still looked confused. “How is that different than now?”

“Now, Angel has to worry about letting Angelus take over. He’s always holding him back, ignoring the taunts in his head, etcetera. After the curse, he won’t feel that anymore. He’ll just feel anger or disgust, but not actual words in his head from Angelus.”

“Oh,” Cordelia said, lost in thought. Suddenly, a thought struck her. “But won’t that make Angel more dangerous?”

“Maybe,” Wesley conceded. “More likely, he’ll be more aggressive, more sarcastic, more outgoing than he is now. He’ll still have a quick temper, but he’ll probably use the new aggression to his advantage. Basically, he’ll feel more confident because he’ll have peace within himself. No more inner struggle between the soul and demon for domination of the body.”

A sweet smile passed over Cordelia’s face as she realized that this meant Angel’s happiness would be inevitable. He’d always wanted peace. In his entire life, he’d never had that, even as a human. But now, it was within his grasp. She was so happy for him.

Just then, Angel knocked on the front door, letting himself in when he realized it was unlocked.

“Hey,” he said, suddenly overcome by nervousness. What if this didn’t work? What if he was doomed to be cursed forever?

“Hey, yourself,” Cordelia said, gracing him with a soft smile. She walked over to him and hugged him tightly.
Pulling back, Cordelia looked up into his face, her eyes shining. “Can you believe it? You’re about to be Angel permanently. Way cool, huh?”

Angel smiled at her, calmed by her presence. “Definitely way cool.”

Wesley just rolled his eyes at their display. “I take it you’d like to get this done as soon as possible?”

Nodding, Angel walked over to Wesley. “So what do I do?”

“Nothing, actually,” Wesley said, adjusting his glasses and opening the scrap of paper in his hand. “You can stand or sit; it’s up to you.”

“How will we know if it worked?” Angel asked, still worried that this wasn’t real.

“Giles said that the curse came, rather conveniently, with a description of what would happen. Apparently, when the entire curse is read, your eyes glow white as the soul is cast, then the glow turns blue when it is made permanent. Since the Gypsies and Willow only did the first half of the spell, there was only a flash of white.”

“Okay,” Angel said, somewhat mollified. “Will I feel anything?”

“Um, let me see. . .” Wesley said, skimming over his notes. “Giles’ notes say that there should be a sharp pain followed by disorientation as the soul enters your body. Then . . . well, there’s not much here. Basically, when the soul is made permanent, you should feel a ‘peace within.’ Not exactly a detailed description.”

Angel was still a little confused, but he said only, “I think I understand.”

A thick silence permeated the room as they all absorbed the ramifications of this act. Taking a deep breath, Angel said, “Okay, Wes, I’m ready.”

“Angel,” Cordelia said, feeling the need to reassure him. “I love you, no matter what happens, okay?”

Smiling at her, Angel replied, “I love you, too, Cordy.”

As she moved away again, he was chanting silently, Please let this work, Please let this work.

“Okay, let’s begin,” Wesley said solemnly, coming to stand before Angel. He turned to his right, his eyebrow raised. “You ready, Cordelia?”

“Stinky herb girl, standing by,” Cordelia said, with a wink at Angel.

“No Orb of Thessela this time?” Angel said, unable to keep the nervousness out of his voice.

“Relax, Angel,” Wesley said with a frown. “Your soul is already in place, so we don’t need to channel it. No need for the orb.”

“but what if something goes wrong and I lose my soul?”

“Geez, Angel! You’re such a worrywart,” Cordelia complained. “It will work, and if it doesn’t, Wesley has taken precautions.”

“Such as?”

“Pfft. Like we would tell you. Duh, Angel. Angelus is in that head with you, isn’t he?”

“Oh, yeah,” Angel said sheepishly.

“Are we ready NOW?” Wesley asked, somewhat petulantly.

Angel just nodded.

The scent of burning herbs suffused the room, making Angel’s nose twitch. Wesley began chanting the Latin incantation, and almost immediately, Angel felt a searing pain in his chest.

Cordelia watched anxiously as his eyes glowed with white light, the coffee color she loved so much nearly obscured by it.

To counteract the pain, Angel focused on the words flowing from Wesley’s mouth. Knowing the language so well, he couldn’t help but translate it in his head. He took comfort in the words:

May the soul within change your evil ways
May it eradicate the evil that has plagued you
May you become a force that fights for good
And lives to serve others.

May it always be thus
May it never be removed
May it never be separated from the demon within.
Until death.

As Wesley uttered the last few phrases, Angel felt a sudden cessation of the pain in his chest, and his vision cleared. In that moment, his mind and heart cleared as well, as if someone had taken a broom and swept out all the dark corners.

Cordelia & Wesley let out breaths they didn’t know they’d been holding as Angel’s eyes glowed blue, then dimmed to the original color.

Angel was awestruck. For the first time in 100 years, all he heard in his head was his own voice.

The silence was deafening.

No taunts from Angelus, no bitching and moaning in the background, no sudden snorts or grunts of displeasure or irritation. But most obvious was the lack of struggle between his soul and his demon. Angel no longer felt the need to fight his demon’s every instinct; they were a part of him, second nature, without the guilt. He didn’t have to draw on Angelus for his vampiric power or skills; he just acted, and they were there.

Wesley’s earnest voice tore into Angel’s self-discovery. “How do you feel, Angel?”

Angel stared at him in wonder. “I feel great, Wesley. It’s amazing. It’s like . . . ,” Angel struggled for the words, knowing what he wanted to say but not really believing it. “It’s like being human again.”

“Except for the blood drinking thing,” Cordelia quipped, an excited smile on her face.

“Except for that,” Angel conceded. His thoughts turned inward again, and his two best friends watched breathlessly as a myriad of very un-Angel emotions passed over his face.

“I had forgotten what it felt like to be human. To have a soul that was at home in my body. I thought I knew, but I didn’t,” he said, his voice hoarse as tears of joy flooded his eyes.

Searching the room, his gaze found Cordelia’s, and she saw how much he needed her right now. Hurrying to him, Cordelia enveloped him in a tight hug, savoring the moment when his arms wrapped around her. Her happiness left abruptly as she pulled back from his chest and saw the tears streaming down his face. “Angel, what’s wrong?”

“I’m just happy, Cordelia. I’ve waited so long for this, and now that it’s here, it’s overwhelming me.”

“You’re not going to turn all sensitive, softy guy on me now, are you?” Cordelia teased. “The next thing you know, you’ll be out hunting demons and instead of killing them, you’ll be checking them in to Baddies Anonymous.”

Angel’s tears had mostly stopped, and he rolled his eyes at Cordelia, something she’d never seen him do before. It made her laugh. Giggle, actually. She couldn’t help herself.

“You’re rolling your eyes at me,” she said.

“So. Whatcha gonna to do about it?” Angel said playfully.

“I think impertinence like that deserves severe punishment,” Cordelia said coyly, her eyes holding his.

“Oh, really,” Angel said, his smile turning into a smirk, a sparkle in his eye. “If anyone should be doing the punishing around here, it should be me. You put me through hell with that little display of yours tonight.”

“What display?” Cordelia asked innocently, her eyes wide as if to say, “Who, lil’ ol’ me?”

“That one where you ripped my heart out and danced the chicken dance on it.”

“The chicken dance.”

“Yep. I think its kind of appropriate, since you were such a chicken about this.”

“Wesley, I think you need to check your notes. I don’t think this turned out right. Angel’s acting kinda weird,” Cordelia called, then turned when no one answered. “Wesley?”

His voice floated from the back of his apartment. “Please, for the love of God and all things good, go get a room. Don’t defile my apartment with your disgusting display of happiness and love, okay?”

“I think Wesley needs a girlfriend,” Angel said, laughing.

“I think you might be right,” Cordelia grinned. “Can you think of anyone?” She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door.

“What about Faith?”

Cordelia looked at him strangely, then called, “Bye, Wesley!”

To Angel, she said, “Hello? Faith’s Prison Girl, remember? Not to mention she kind of tortured him. The thought of dating her would be a punishment.”

“Speaking of punishment. . .” Angel smiled wickedly as Cordelia pulled him out the door.

“I get dibs. I want to go first,” Cordelia said, a wicked smile of her own firmly in place.

Part 23

Saturday, 2:12 a.m.

The trip back to Cordelia’s apartment was nothing short of torturous. Cordelia kept to her side of Angel’s car, her palms itching with the need to touch him. She knew he wanted her as much as she wanted him; he kept looking over at her, each glance longer and longer, until he nearly ran a red light and almost hit a pedestrian.

“Freakin’ jogger. What the hell is someone doing running around at 2 a.m.?” Angel muttered, miffed at having been caught driving dangerously.

Not able to help herself, Cordelia slid over to Angel’s side as the car was stopped, and put her arm around his shoulder. Her other hand came to rest on his thigh, just above his knee. Slowly, she began to stroke his leg, her fingers squeezing the firm muscles occasionally, an erratic rhythm that was impossible to anticipate. Her lips moved up to the side of his face, licking his jaw and taking his earlobe into her mouth, biting down and rolling it between her teeth.

She was too caught up to notice when the car started moving again.

“Angel,” she whined, “why aren’t you kissing me back?”

“I’m trying to get us home in one piece, Cordy. If you keep doing that, we’re not going to make it,” he said. The words ended in a hiss and Angel had to struggle to keep his eyes open as her tongue darted into his ear, swirling around and leaving a fiery trail of wetness behind. She intensified the already heady feeling by blowing into his ear, one long, warm puff of air that sent sparks of desire to every erogenous zone in Angel’s body.

The car swerved erratically.

Another red light gave Angel an opportunity to turn the tables on her. Growling, he turned his head and grabbed her face with both hands, smashing their lips together in a bruising, passionate kiss. His tongue wasted no time, reaching into her slack mouth to explore every inch of it. He skimmed her teeth and her lips, bringing the bottom one into his mouth and sucking on it erotically. Cordelia moaned into his mouth, turning onto her side and bringing her right leg up over his, arching her back to get as close as possible, rubbing her breasts against his pecs.

The kiss ended as loud honking interrupted them, leaving Cordelia breathless and Angel irritated at the interruption.

Determined to make it home as quickly as possible, Angel pushed on Cordelia’s shoulder, forcing her back to the passenger side.

“Stay over there, Cordelia.”

She pouted. “But I don’t want to.”

“If you don’t, I’m going to end up taking you in this car. While that holds interesting possibilities, I don’t want to do this for the first time up against the steering wheel or cramped in the backseat. I want to be in our bed, the lights on, your gorgeous body naked under mine, with me making you scream so loud the neighbors will talk about it for weeks.”

His eyes stayed focused on the road while he talked, but Cordelia’s were riveted to his face. Her heartbeat quickened as she envisioned the scenario he’d so vividly painted. While she knew she was torturing them both, she wanted to continue this burning conversation.

“What will you do to me, Angel?” Cordelia asked breathlessly.

Angel’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white at the strength of his grip. He still refused to look at her, but he answered her question.

Boy, howdy, did he answer it.

“I’m going to take off your clothes, one garment at a time, unbuttoning and unzipping so slowly and carefully that you’ll whine with frustration. Every inch of skin I uncover will be burned by my tongue as I lick and stroke you, dampening your skin and giving you the shivers.”

Cordelia’s pupils dilated, her nostrils flaring.

“I’ll pay careful attention to your breasts, squeezing them, laving your nipples with my tongue, biting them gently. They’ll stiffen into hardened peaks, aching for me to suck on them.”

At his words, her nipples tightened in response, dying for what he said to come true.

Angel adjusted his position in the seat, his pants uncomfortably tight. This monologue was agony, but in a very, very good way. The scent of Cordelia’s arousal was thick in the confined space of the car, nearly tangible.

“When I’ve revealed every inch of your golden skin to my eyes, I’ll lay you softly on the bed, running my hands down your curves, teasing, squeezing and stroking, touching you everywhere but the places you want most.”

Her skin tingled everywhere and the place between her thighs throbbed, begging for him to at least say he’d touch her there, even if he couldn’t do it yet.

They were a block from her apartment, just enough time to fan the flames into a bonfire.

“My mouth will join my hands and I’ll kiss the inside of each thigh, working my way up. I’ll spread your legs wide and look at you, at the beauty of your body, the perfection that is my wife.”

Cordelia’s heart nearly stopped at that mental picture.

Angel pulled into the parking space and turned off the car. He turned to face her, a few feet still between them, and his eyes burned into hers as he finished what he was saying.

“I’ll continue to move up your body, kissing and tasting you, showing you how much I love you. And then, when I slide inside of you, our bodies becoming one, I’ll tell you I love you. I’ll tell you that my life would be nothing without you. I’ll tell you that you are the beat of my heart, the air in my lungs, the sun in my life, when otherwise I would have nothing.”

They stared at each other across the darkened interior of the Plymouth, Cordelia’s breath escaping in short gasps, her heart pounding like she’d just ran up ten flights of stairs. The electricity that passed between them practically crackled with intensity.

Cordelia tore her gaze away from him and reached for the door. She wrenched it open, lunging out of the car and sprinting for the front door. Even though she’d gotten a head start, Angel beat her there and thrust it open, Cordelia sailing through the opening like she was running from a fire.

She didn’t give him a chance to close the door, she just jumped on him, the momentum pushing him back into the portal and slamming it shut as he was thrust against it. One leg wrapped around his leg and her mouth attacked his viciously, like he was water and she was dying of thirst. She savored his taste, exploring his mouth with her tongue, rubbing her tongue against his.

Angel’s hands roamed her back, reaching down to cup her ass, squeezing the firm half spheres with his strong fingers. He moved his hands up, skimming the warm skin under her top, tracing the tattoo he loved but couldn’t see at the moment.

Dragging her mouth from his and gasping for breath, Cordelia looked into his heated stare and smiled the smile of a woman who was exactly where she wanted to be, getting exactly what she wanted. “I love you, Angel,” she said, her face turning serious. “This is so perfect; we’re married, you love me, and you’re not cursed. I want to cry, its so good.”

“It’s about to get better, Cordy,” he promised.

“Bring it on, grr guy,” Cordelia said, pulling away from him, skipping backwards, then whirling around and bolting for the bedroom.

“Last one naked does the dishes for a month!” Cordelia called, giggling.

“We’ll see about that,” Angel grinned, running after her.

He entered the bedroom to find her topless, struggling with the zipper in her pants. He was momentarily mesmerized by the sight of her breasts, but he recovered his senses quickly. He smirked at her as she fought with her clothes, then stripped in record time.

“Looks like you’re doing the dishes, honey,” he said smugly.

Cordelia forgot all about her zipper as she stood awestruck at the Adonis in front of her.

Angel was beautiful.

She’d seen most of him at one time or another, but never the whole package at once. And wow, what a package. This was the best (and definitely biggest) gift she’d ever had the privilege of receiving. Her hungry gaze devoured his muscular chest, hard stomach, chiseled arms, and powerful legs, but it was the center attraction that caught her attention and held it. Her eyes widened as she took in the impressive evidence of his desire for her, and it was only Angel’s satisfied chuckle that broke her concentration.

“What?” she asked, irritated to be interrupted in her ogling.

“See anything you like, baby?”

“Maybe,” Cordelia said her eyes sparkling, “But I think I have to try it on for size, first.”

“It’s adjustable, you know.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yep. I’m sure I can find something in the next size up, if that’s what you’re looking for,” Angel said, barely holding in his laughter at her wary expression.

“I’m not sure I can handle what I’m looking at,” Cordelia said, her uncertainty taking over.

“Oh, you can, Cordelia. You will. And you’ll love every inch of it,”

“Well, let’s take it for a test drive, shall we?” Cordelia said, flooded with wet anticipation at his words. She was desperate to hurry, yanking off her pants and underwear and tossing them away.

She fell back onto the bed, her legs parting slightly, her elbows supporting her weight.

“So how about a ride, handsome?” She asked, winking saucily at him, arching her back so that her breasts strained in his direction.

“What is it with you and riding, Cordelia?” Angel smiled at her, obviously pleased by her excitement. He leaned over her, planting his hands beside her elbows, his face inches from hers.

“Just this thing I have, I guess. You promised me, don’t forget.”

“Oh, I haven’t,” Angel said, his voice full of sensuality.

“Okay, then,” Cordelia answered. “So stop with the talking, already.”

He didn’t have to be asked twice. His mouth descended on hers, the kiss slower and more sensual than they others they’d shared. He licked her lips, delving into her mouth to explore her, marveling again at the sweetness of her taste. She tried to increase the pace but he wouldn’t stand for it, pushing her back and controlling the kiss, keeping it at a pace that both frustrated and enticed her.

After some intense minutes of mouths sliding against each other, Angel moved down her body like he’d promised earlier, tasting every inch of her skin, stopping to suck and nibble in places that she never knew were so sensitive. When he reached her breasts, she collapsed onto her back, pushing her head into the pillow and moaning. The things he was doing to her with his mouth sent waves of pleasure coursing through her body, each one ending in a slowly growing pool at her core.

Tired of being the only one receiving, Cordelia began an assault of her own. She wrapped one leg around his back, bringing her wet heat into contact with his hard stomach, rubbing herself against him. Her hands threaded through his hair, pulling the short strands and scratching his scalp lightly. She scorched the skin of his back with her palms, her hot skin branding him in a million places.

Her offensive strategy came to an abrupt halt when Angel’s journey down her body reached the juncture of her thighs. He paused, his gaze lingering on her flushed face as he burned her with a smoldering, passionate stare. Then his head descended, and Cordelia experienced sensations that seemed to flood her, filling every square centimeter of her body with pleasure. Every nerve ending was on fire, an overwhelming pressure building so that she felt like she’d explode. His tongue bathed her, its cool surface inciting a riot of feelings that threatened to consume her in their force.

He was relentless. The pace of his ministrations increased in sync with the intensity of sensations, his fingers sliding inside of her and heightening the experience. Cordelia had no time or desire to hold back. Her climax overcame her in a matter of minutes, the power of it leaving her trembling and incoherent.

His body screaming for release, Angel inched his way back up her torso, bringing himself in line with her opening, the tip of his shaft just brushing her, teasing her.

“Please, Angel. Don’t make me wait any more,” Cordelia begged, finally able to speak again.

“I love you, Cordelia,” Angel rasped, the strength of his desire making speech difficult.

She wrapped her legs around his waist, pushing him inside inch by excruciating inch.

Breathless at the incredible feeling, Cordelia met Angel’s gaze. “I love you, Angel,” she said, a tear escaping her eyes as the power of the moment overwhelmed her.

At her declaration, Angel buried his lips in her neck, beginning to move inside of her, the rhythm speeding up as they got closer to the peak of their desire. Without breaking the rhythm, Angel moved Cordelia’s legs from around his waist and pulled them up over his shoulders.

The new position adjusted his angle inside of her, and Cordelia gasped at the new, more exhilarating sensations. She couldn’t keep from exploding again when Angel reached his hand down and his thumb brushed her clit, just once. As the vibrations of her orgasm squeezed him, Angel couldn’t hold back his own release, and he shouted as he buried himself deep, coming apart inside of her.

Several minutes later, Cordelia’s heartbeat and breathing had regulated at a manageable level. Angel was still on top of her, buried inside of her, but significantly less impressive than he’d been a few moments earlier. She stirred underneath him, and was pleasantly surprised to feel him responding to her, hardening once again.

She kissed his ear, as his face was buried into the pillow next to her. “Hey, there, big guy,” she said, sensual promise in her voice.

He pulled his face from the pillow and looked at her, a satisfied smile brightening his features. “Hey, baby,” he answered. “So did the test drive meet your expectations?”

“Maybe,” she said coyly, winking at him. “Although I think I want to take him for a spin again. Adjust the seat a little; try out a different position. Sometimes that can make all the difference.”

Angel pulled out of her, turned her away from him, and thrust into her from behind in barely the time it took her to blink.

“What about this position?” he purred, his lips nuzzling her nape. “Would that convince you to buy?”

“Oh, yeah,” she managed to say, her eyes crossing as his hand came around and down, his fingers stroking her. “Is there a lifetime guarantee with this model?” she said breathily.

“Of course. We aim to please,” he answered, his hips beginning to rock gently against her, the friction making her breath hitch.

“Okay, you’ve sold me. I’ll pay anything,” she said, her eyes sliding shut as his cool length glided inside of her, then retreated, only to begin the torture again.

“Just say it, Cordelia. That’s payment enough,” he begged, both of them nearing release.

“I love you, Angel,” Cordelia moaned as her pleasure peaked and she shuddered.

“You’re mine, Cordy. Forever. And I love you,” Angel vowed, his own climax reducing the words to a hoarse whisper.

Resting in the glow of their love, Angel finally let himself be happy.

Tightening his arms around his lover, best friend, and soul mate, Angel was more content than he’d ever thought possible. He could truthfully say that happiness was worth all the pain it took to obtain.

His heart swelled nearly to bursting with the emotion he’d only felt once before since becoming a vampire.

Only this time, the feeling was here to stay.


…THE END….


 

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