Staking a Claim


AUTHOR: CORDELIA’S DESTINY (aka JULIE)
SUMMARY: Cordy gets bitten by a master vamp, and Angel’s demon doesn’t like it.
RATING: NC17
POSTED: 22 Feb 2004
CATEGORY: Drama / Angst / Romance / Challenge Fic (Impress)
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT:
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) Timeline during “Provider,” “Waiting in the Wings,” “Couplet,” (I borrowed a lot of dialogue from these episodes. It couldn’t be helped; you’ll understand when you read it.)
2) Connor’s a baby. He’s going to stay that way. And the big shortcut: no curse is present in this story. Yes, I know it’s a cop out. Yes, I know I shouldn’t give myself such an easy out. I should come up with a logical, inventive way for Angel to get his freak on without compromising canon. But at this point, I don’t give a crap. 😆 There was too much to deal with already in this idea and I wanted it to be blessedly short, steamy, and sweet. Feel free to cast your aspersions via e-mail if you don’t like it. So there. Nyah!
3) Based on a Challenge by Impress. This challenge has been written before: Helen’s very fun read, “Every Breath She Takes.” I would highly recommend that version as well. I couldn’t help but put my own spin on this one, though. The challenge can be read at the end of the page.


Prologue

“No!!!”

The word ripped from Angel’s throat in a painful roar as he watched another vampire sink his fangs into the delicate skin of Cordelia’s neck. He watched her face, her eyes wide with fear, and felt helpless. He hadn’t been there, hadn’t been fast enough, and she was paying for his mistake. She gasped, a strangled cry that pierced the night, and valiantly struggled against the steely arms of her captor.

Angel plunged his fist into the air in front of him, roaring again when his skin was electrified by the invisible magical field separating him from the pair locked in a death struggle. He could see Cordelia’s terror shining in her eyes, and his own were fiercely golden, his demon straining and demanding that he force himself through the barrier and rip the other demon’s head from his body.

Almost as soon as his fangs had pierced her, the other vampire raised his head and grinned, his mouth obscenely ringed with Cordelia’s blood. He snarled at Angel, dropping Cordelia at his feet, knowing that she was still very much alive but not giving her the mercy of a quick death. He’d paralyzed her with that bite and a bit of magic tied to his security shield. She would die, all right; she would bleed out onto the sidewalk in excruciating pain if he didn’t drop the force field and let Angelus get her to safety.

The attacker smiled evilly to himself as he straightened his impeccable clothing and stepped away from the young woman at his feet. He flicked a nonexistent piece of lint off the pristine landscape of his suit cloth, and licking his lips like a cat after a meal, he cleaned away the evidence of his murderous activity and his face shifted back to his aristocratically handsome human visage.

Walking closer to the invisible barrier between them, the master vampire Sebastian allowed a full expression of satisfaction to settle on his face and watched as Angelus’ control snapped. With glee, Sebastian noted the rage in Angelus’ golden eyes as he watched his young friend helplessly fight a losing battle with death. Her fingers wiggled slightly, as if she were trying to reach for him, her eyes begging him to help her. The arrogant satisfaction within him spread as Angelus tried again to breach the force field that Sebastian had erected, but he couldn’t. The magic wasn’t strong enough with him, no matter how vicious he’d been in his younger days.

Sebastian had him right where he wanted him. He walked right up to the edge of his protective shield, his face mere inches from Angel’s, and raised his chin in a haughty gaze of condescension.

“Angelus,” he began, his voice a deep malevolent melody, “your debt to me has been repaid.”

Angel growled in response, his eyes flashing helplessly over to Cordelia and then back to his enemy.

Sebastian smirked, then walked back to Cordelia, circling her prone body slowly, as if examining a piece of meat. Delicately, he knelt next to her, dragging the backs of his fingers across her still cheek. Only then did he look up and continue.

“So beautiful, this one. No wonder you are so taken with her. She is quite unforgettable, much like my Brianna was.”

He stood again, sauntering back to the edge of his circle as Angel paced frantically outside. “And so tasty, too,” the older vampire continued. “The small bit I sampled was quite delicious, in fact.” His satanic Cheshire smile winked at Angel in the moonlight. “I truly hope you can find a way to save her; beauty like that shouldn’t be wasted in death.”

“Sebastian!” Angel growled, stopping abruptly and placing both palms against the force field, ignoring the searing pain in his hands as the air in front of him lit up. “Drop this! Now!”

Sebastian shook his head. “Such impatience, young one. You have the status of a master, and yet you have no civility.”

“You call what you did civilized?” Angel’s voice was strangled in pain as he looked back at Cordelia, watching the pool of blood beneath her grow steadily.

Sebastian raised his eyebrows in incredulity, clasping his hands behind his back. “Of course! It is what we do, after all, is it not?” he added. “You wronged me some time past, and I sought to balance the scales between us. You destroyed my Brianna, and now I repay in kind.” It was all quite simple, really.

Angel fought against the rage that pushed at him, needing control to defeat the more powerful demon, but the guilt within him poked at his conscience.

Sebastian was right; Angelus had taken someone important from him. Before Angelus had turned Druscilla, he’d been looking for a playmate; Darla was boring him. He’d met Sebastian’s human lover at a party and had immediately been intrigued by the woman’s fiery red hair. He’d never been one for redheads before, but this one had caught his eye. He’d wooed her away from Sebastian in a matter of minutes, and two hours later, the woman lay beneath him, quite thoroughly sated and purring her pleasure. Her pleasure, and herself as well, had been short-lived as Angelus decided he needed a midnight snack. Sebastian had vowed retribution, and here, over 100 years later, he was coming to collect his debt.

With Cordelia.

Sebastian continued his civil conversation, ignoring the distress Angelus was exhibiting at Cordelia’s condition. “You do recognize, of course, that I claimed her before I drank her, just as you did to my Brianna.” His expression dared Angel to avoid answering.

“Yes,” Angel growled, desperate to end this sick conversation and get Cordelia help.

“Very well,” Sebastian nodded. “The balance has been restored in the honored traditions of our kind. Be thankful that I had some mercy in me and did not see her killed. . . yet. That,” he shuddered, “would be quite uncouth.”

He raised his arms with a flourish, and with a flash of light, disappeared.

Angel lunged for Cordelia the moment the light faded, half expecting to find the force field in place. He was relieved to find it wasn’t, and he gathered the young woman into his arms.

“Angel,” she said softly, her fingers curling into his coat sleeve. “I—”

“Shh,” Angel said, “Don’t talk. I’ll get you to the hospital.”

No one was more surprised than Angel to see her wrinkle her nose up in irritation and sink her nails into his arm. “Angel! You’re pushing on my leg and it hurts!”

Immediately loosening his grip, he helped her to her feet. “Geez,” he heard her mutter, but knew she wasn’t really mad at him. She was frightened, and she was taking that out on him.

“Let me see your neck,” he said, keeping his arm firmly around her.

“No!” she said, trying to pull away from him. “It’s nothing; just a little bite. That’s all, okay?” She gave him one of her huge smiles, meant to reassure him, but he wasn’t buying it.

He frowned at her. “It’s not a little bite, Cordy, it’s a claiming bite. Those are serious. I need to look.”

She sighed with irritation but gave in, turning her head to the side and exposing the twin puncture wounds on her neck. They were neat, the small river running from them already drying, the wounds clotted, but red and angry looking. Angel growled deep within his chest as he smelled Sebastian’s scent all over her; it was killing him to know that someone else had claimed her. Someone not him.

If Angel’s soul could be characterized as angry, his demon was ten county lines past furious. It took everything ounce of willpower to keep himself in check. Angelus wanted to find that bastard and rip his head from his skull. After he dismembered him and chopped the pieces up into tiny bits, only leaving the heart and head untouched so that he could prolong the pain. Only that would satisfy him after seeing Cordelia—

“Geez, Angel!” she was yanking on his coat sleeve. “Obsessive, much? the guy’s gone. I’m fine. Get over it!”

Okay, maybe fine was stretching it a little bit, but the gold rimmed edges of Angel’s eyes didn’t spell out anything good.

“But he hurt you, Cordy! Nobody does that and gets away with it. Nobody!” He growled the words out through his teeth, his forehead rippling as he struggled to keep from changing.

She raised her eyebrows at him and guided him away from the scent of her blood on the sidewalk, steadfastly ignoring the throbbing in her neck. “Okay, Angel, now you’re scaring me. I think you’ve watched The Godfather movies too many times.”

He frowned, but let her drag him away. “This isn’t over, Cordelia,” he vowed. “Sebastian’s going to pay for what he did to you.”

“Enough with the overkill already! Forget about it, Angel! I’ve been bitten before, remember? With Darla? It healed really fast, so no worries.” All she wanted to do was get out of there, and she’d had enough with Angel’s vendetta. She was feeling really weird, kinda weak and tingly, and she just wanted to go home.

But Angel knew better. Sebastian hadn’t been kidding. He’d claimed Cordelia, and he’d be back to finish the bond, if only to make Angelus suffer further.

There was no way in hell that Angel was going to let that happen.

Part 1

Three days later

“Wesley!”

Angel’s voice was a hushed whisper as he cradled Connor in his arms and fed him his afternoon bottle. He was standing at the doorway to Wesley’s office as the other man researched some documents about Connor and his future. Cordelia was just feet away, answering the telephone and in full view.

Wesley was apparently in full research mode, because he didn’t acknowledge Angel’s words. Damn the man! Angel had been trying to catch him alone and unoccupied for nearly three days now. The former watcher was most definitely a workaholic, and right now, it was irritating as hell.

“Wes!”

Wesley’s head shot up finally, frowning at Angel for interrupting him.

“What?” he said back in a normal voice. Cordelia looked over at them, her eyebrows raised in question. Angel grinned a false, cheesy smile at her, trying to divert her attention somewhere else, when the phone rang again and she was distracted. His shoulders dropped as he sighed in relief. He’d been trying to avoid her directly for the last two days. He didn’t want her to figure out what he was up to. she’d only talk him out of it, and that was the last thing he wanted.

He whipped back to Wesley and glared at him. “Shhh! She’ll hear you.” He bounced the baby lightly in his arms, and Connor looked up at him, a puzzled expression on his little face.

“Cordelia?” Wesley said, obviously confused.

Angel snuck into the office, satisfied that Cordelia hadn’t noticed his escape.

“Yes!” he whispered again, looking back over his shoulder to make sure. “I need you to look up something for me. Quick!”

Wesley sat back in his chair, removed his glasses, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Something urgent, I take it?”

Angel nearly growled. “Yes, damn it! And I need you to hurry, okay?”

Holding back his amusement, Wesley dragged out his answer. “What is it, Angel?”

“I need you to check on anything about a master vampire named Sebastian.”

“He’s the one that attacked Cordelia?” Wesley said, bolting upright as his amusement was forgotten.

Angel nodded. “Yep. And I’m going to rip his head from his shoulders. Nobody touches Cordelia like that. Nobody.”

Wesley blinked at him. “Been watching The Godfather lately, Angel?”

The vampire glared at him. “Just do it, Wes.”

“Yes, yes of course. No problems.” He stopped, then frowned. “Why can’t Cordelia know about this, again?”

Angel frowned again. “Because she’ll make a fuss over it, okay? She called me obsessive when I talked about killing him. I’m not obsessive over him. I know obsessive. I’ve been there, done that, bought the postcard. Not obsessive.”

“Yes, well. . .” Wesley trailed off, a nervous laugh at the end. “I’ll get right on it.”

Angel nodded with satisfaction, and snuck back out into the main room.

Cordelia looked up at him, the phone receiver in hand, and smiled.

“Well,” she said, setting the phone back into its cradle. “Looks like the run on business from your little advertising venture last week has finally trickled down to a manageable pace.”

Angel smiled tightly at that. Okay, so he’d gotten carried away in trying to provide for Connor. So what? A father has to be responsible, right?

She wasn’t done. “After Fred nearly got decapitated, I guess word got around that we weren’t quite as great as we thought. Good thing we got all that cash out of it, though.”

Taking a deep breath, he let his negative feelings go and concentrated on the miracle in his arms. He rocked the sleepy baby gently, taking the now-empty bottle from him and settling it on the counter. Cordy turned away and started filing some loose paperwork, and Angel took the moment’s peace to study her for a moment. She worked steadily, quietly, something he rarely saw from her. Not only were they usually busy with work, constantly being pulled away from the office to fight the evils of the world, but Cordelia herself was so rarely still that Angel found these small moments as rare gems.

Thinking back to a few nights ago when they’d cuddled in his bed, Connor between them, Angel couldn’t help but grin. He’d felt so at home with her, so comfortable, that he’d nearly lost himself in it. She was such a fantastic friend. Always so close to him, so in tune with him. They thought on the same wavelength, practically finishing each other’s sentences. He knew he could count on her for anything, and the way she was with Connor made him feel so good inside.

It was too bad that his demon kept butting his head in and ruining everything.

Angelus was being such a prick lately. He was whispering tasty, thrilling little things in Angel’s ear about Cordelia every time she was in his sight, and Angel had had about enough. He didn’t think he could take it if he heard his demon’s raunchy laugh inside his head as Angelus commented on the fantastic way her sweater hugged her breasts, or the tantalizing view of her legs as they stretched out from the miniskirt she wore.

Usually, Angel was able to quash his demon’s baser instincts without any residual problems, but as time passed, Angelus got more and more difficult to control. In his sleep, Angelus took control of Angel’s mind at a time when he was most vulnerable to the influences of the darker side of his psyche. His demon dreamed of owning her, claiming her, possessing her, of driving her insane with lust and then slaking his own in her for hours. Strangely, there wasn’t any torture or mutilation involved; Angelus only wanted to sate himself with her. He only wanted to prolong their pleasure and come back to it again and again.

The more he thought about it, the more it seemed that the impossible was possible: Angel’s demon was in love with Cordelia.

The only problem was that the man in him thought it would be better to just be friends.

He’d been over this a million times in his head, especially when he woke up hard and aching from a particularly vivid dream. He’d have to talk himself down from it, convincing himself that making a move on Cordelia would only jeopardize the closest friendship he’d ever had with a woman. It wasn’t like with Buffy, all romance and heartache; it was real. It was down to earth, no-holds-barred, I’d-do-anything-for-you best friendship. There was no way in the world he’d go and ruin that with sex. No way.

But all the pep talks in the world couldn’t stop the impulses of his demon, the running commentary about the lusciousness of her figure or the smoothness of her skin whenever she was near. It echoed in his brain, eating away at him, until his body couldn’t help but respond and he’d have to find some excuse to hide behind a piece of furniture or go upstairs. Connor’s arrival had helped somewhat, distracting him, but after they settled into a routine with the baby, it had come back in full force.

He continued watching as Cordelia filed the last of the paperwork and walked back over to the counter, picking up the bottle and putting it into the refrigerator without saying anything. Then she looked across at him and smiled softly, her eyes warm as they took in the beauty of father and son. Silently, she walked around to the other side and stood next to them, her hand coming up to stroke Connor’s fuzzy head.

“He’s so beautiful,” she whispered, smiling down at him.

“He is,” Angel agreed, then frowned as he watched her fingers come up and scratch at the white bandage on her neck.

That was the other problem. This new claiming bite by Sebastian, besides ticking him the hell off, chafed at his demon’s pride. Cordelia was his, claimed or not, and she was off limits to other vampires. No matter how he thought of her, friend or lover, she still belonged to him. She’d hate to hear that, he knew, but it didn’t changed its truth.

For once, Angel’s soul and demon were in agreement on something. Sebastian was dead meat.

Cordy’s voice kept the growl in his chest from escaping.

“Jeez!” she grimaced, picking at the tape on the bandage. “This thing itches!” She started to peel it away, the stopped when the growl escaped.

“Leave it on, Cordy,” he said, knowing that if he could see the wound, he’d be driven mad by it. It was bad enough that he could detect the other vamp’s scent from here; seeing it would only make him crazy.

“No!” she said, frowning at him. “It’s bugging me. And it’ll heal soon. Air’s good for it, right? Besides, this bandage is totally tacky looking.” And with that, she ripped it off.

Angel suppressed another growl, gritting his teeth. Damn, he’d love to sink his fangs into her neck and obliterate that mark, fusing his own scent into her until she was his. Forever.

God, he had to get a hold of himself. He shook off the possessive thoughts and handed the baby to Cordelia.

“Angel!” Wesley called from the office.

He followed him into the small room. “Did you find out anything?” Lately, it seemed like Wesley’s contacts could get him great info in a hurry. It was really convenient.

Wes nodded. “I contacted one of the regulars. Said that Sebastian, for all of his magician’s tricks, was actually living in a mansion over in Bel Air. His security is minimal, and he feels safe there, like you won’t be able to find him.”

Angel grinned, flashing a bit of fang. “Perfect!”

“Be careful, Angel; you never know what he might have up his sleeves.” Wesley had his serious admonishing face on.

“Yeah, no problem,” Angel shrugged it off, racing out into the lobby to grab some stakes and his favorite broadsword, his smile nearly stretching off his face. Killing things was fun. Killing things that hurt your best girl? Well, that was right up there with seeing Sammy Davis, Jr. in concert.

“You’ll have to destroy his center of power or you won’t be able to stake him,” Wesley reminded him.

“Stake who?” Cordelia said, perking up. She was bouncing a now fussy Connor, trying to hear their conversation over the noise.

“Nobody,” Angel and Wesley said at the same time. “I’ve gotta go out for awhile,” Angel added to her, his smile tight.

“Yeah, sure,” Cordy said, distracted again by the baby.

Angel charged out of the hotel, his demon salivating at the chance to dust the vamp who’d dared touch what was his.

***

Cordelia looked at her reflection in the mirror of the hotel’s downstairs bathroom, her frown set so firmly in place that the casual onlooker might think it was frozen that way. She craned her head to one side, pulling back her hair and collar, peering as best she could at the twin puncture wounds still lodged in neck. They were just as open, just as angry and red as they had been when Sebastian had sank his teeth into her skin. You’d think they’d have healed a little bit by now. It had nearly been three days, for Pete’s sake.

As it was, she shivered with the memory.

Never having been one to keep her opinions to herself, Cordelia was hard put to keep silent about the effects of this bite. The problem was, though, that her thoughts about this bite were not fit for anyone’s ears, especially Angel’s. Cordy knew that in the moment that Sebastian had bit down, Angel had thought he’d seen terror and pain in her eyes. He had, at first, but Cordelia had quickly slid her eyes shut when she experienced the most unbelievable arousal of her entire life as Sebastian pulled her blood right out of her body.

It had swept over her, the sexual euphoria, until she thought she’d splinter into a million pieces right there on the spot, just from the feel of his fangs in her. He’d stopped so quickly, though, leaving her aching, nearly begging him to finish the job. He’d also left her unable to move, her nerves in a giant tangle, her mind racing, until he’d left and the fog had finally cleared.

Then Angel had knelt next to her, a whiff of his clean scent passing over her, and she’d nearly swooned. The after-effects of the bite combined with the enticing scent of Angel made her nearly lose control. Puncture wounds or not, she’d been about to push Angel back onto the blacktop and ravage him right there. Her senses had returned, thankfully enough, and those crazy feelings had receded enough to be manageable. Amazingly, Angel hadn’t even noticed the scent of her arousal, causing her to breath heavily in a sigh of relief. She figured that his concern, combined with the strong scent of her blood, had masked the other enough to keep him from saying anything.

One thing worried her more than anything else, though: the residual high from this bite was amazing. She kept downplaying it around Angel, knowing that seeing it bothered him. She was wary around him, not wanting to provoke him into doing anything about the mark. But every time she was near him, her body came alive. It didn’t seem to matter that Angel wasn’t the one that bit her; no, it seemed as though her body understood that it belonged to a vampire, and it knew that Angel was the perfect candidate to finish the job, whatever the hell that meant.

And the damn thing wouldn’t go away. If anything, it seemed to get worse. At night, her dreams in the last two nights had been filled with everything she’d have to pay for on cable TV. Things she’d never even considered before, let alone seen. Her own dreams embarrassed her, especially considering that they weren’t faceless. They all wore the face of herself and Angel, intertwined in a passion that she knew damn well should never exist. They were best friends; they shouldn’t ruin their relationship for sex.

They shouldn’t, she knew. But if Cordy didn’t get some action soon, she might just be a candidate for spontaneous combustion. Cornering Angel and demanding that he ravish her until she screamed with the pleasure of it seemed more and more like the best idea she’d ever had.

Part 2

Whistling, Angel skipped down the steps into the lobby, the glass doors clicking shut behind him. He grinned as he polished his sword, wiping the dust from it, and placing it carefully back into the case.

“Back already?”

Cordelia’s voice behind him made him jump. He frowned, knowing that she’d caught him off guard when that rarely, if ever, happened.

“Uh, yeah!” he said, shrugging off the discomfort, then trying to downplay his enthusiasm as he remembered the satisfaction of watching the stake disappear into Sebastian’s chest, his body then splintering into a million pieces of dust.

She frowned, looking at him askance. “Okay, Angel, what did you do?”

“Who, me?” he said, innocently. Crossing his arms and standing nonchalantly in front of her.

“Yeah, you,” she shot back, her no-nonsense tone firmly in place.

“What?”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing much,” he said, trying to go past her.

She placed a hand on his forearm, and the light touch stopped him. She shivered from the tingle that shot up her arm, but repressed the feelings.

“Nuh-uh, bubba, you’re going to talk. Spill it. What did you do? Who did you kill?”

“Who said anything about killing?” he said, the innocent expression still cemented on his handsome face.

“Not a know-it-all for nothin’, Angel. I do have eyes. You come in with weapons, cleaning them as you go, and you have that silly grin that you only have when you’ve killed something really vile. I say again, what did you do?”

“Ah, well,” he hedged, his smile slipping. “You don’t want to hear about it. It’s boring. Just run-of-the-mill vampire dusting stuff.”

“Vampire dusting?” she asked, the light dawning. “As in master vampire who bit me dusting?”

“Well, maybe that,” he said, a quick smile followed by a nervous laugh.

For a moment, Cordelia panicked. The wound in her neck suddenly throbbed, and her heart cried out that the bond wouldn’t be finished. It wasn’t like Angel was going to take over and help her out, no matter what her sicko fantasies were. Somehow, she knew deep down that she was in for some big trouble if she didn’t get something done about this, and quick.

Resolutely, she schooled her features and narrowed her eyes at him. Crossing her arms, she shook her head. “God, you’re such a freak, Angel. Like I said the other day: obsessive. One track mind, anyone?”

“What, I shouldn’t have killed him?” he asked indignantly, suddenly on the defensive.

“Oh, I’m not saying that. I’m all for the dusty ending. It’s just that you shouldn’t have taken it so seriously. It was just a bite. We could’ve found him later.”

“I don’t think you understand the seriousness of this, Cordy.” Gently, he grasped her shoulders in his big hands and squeezed. “He claimed you. Don’t you know what that means?”

She rolled her eyes and pfft’d. It wouldn’t be good if he knew that she was totally freaking out already. Better to downplay it so he didn’t go all crazy on her. “Oh, claimed schmaimed, Angel. Big whoop! He’s dead, for Pete’s sake. Can’t exactly keep a claim if you’re dead.” She hoped.

Angel wanted to argue, knowing that claims were often kept after a vampire met the end of a stake. Particularly strong claims even caused the death of the mate who wasn’t killed, eventually. It was a good thing that Sebastian hadn’t had time to strengthen his bond with Cordelia before Angel killed him. Eventually, it would wear off.

At least he thought so.

She kept talking. “Besides, it’s not like it means anything, not really,” she added, hiding the waver in her voice.

He released her, ignoring the screaming of his demon to set her straight. She obviously had no idea how significant this entire incident was.

***

As far as big piles of dust go, this one had no outward characteristics that would set it apart from any others. It had no shine to it, no strange formation, no glittery sheen that would make someone stop and take notice. In the house in Bel Air, it sat inconspicuously on the marble floor of the foyer, a harmless mockery of what it had once been: a Master Vampire with skill and cunning that was difficult to be matched.

The pile of dust sat there for a few hours after every particle settled into place, the weak beams of the half-moon filtering in through the leaded windows and casting strange shadows across the powdery surface. It wasn’t until the moon sank behind the trees, in the darkest part of the night before dawn, that something changed.

At first, it was undetectable. Then, slowly, a slight breeze, seemingly from nowhere, ruffled the pile and stirred the particles, whirling them up into the air, around and around, until a delicate funnel-shaped cloud was formed. It grew, rising, increasing in power and speed, whipping into such a frenzy that the doors and windows rattled, any insubstantial item in the room in danger of being toppled or blown away.

Suddenly, the shape changed from a funnel to something more recognizable. The particles whirled here and there until they fused together. First a torso began to form, then legs and feet, arms, hands, and finally, a head. The features emerged, a strong, aristocratically beautiful set of angles and planes that enthralled with their very presence.

The figure solidified, standing, statue-like, in the dark house, dark power swirling around it, drawing to it like a magnet. Finally, the features twisted, forming into a vicious, snarling expression, the eyes glowing a golden yellow, accompanied by a deep feral growl.

He stalked over to the window, staring out into the blackness of the night. In his mind, a picture of his victim formed: round, lush curves, a wide smile, thick, shiny brown hair. And most importantly, a long, delicate neck, the pulse throbbing deliciously beneath the surface of the smooth supple skin.

Sebastian’s expression softened, his eyes changing back to their brilliant blue, only a tinge of gold marring the sky-like color. His mouth curved up into a smile.

After a moment, his deep, cultured voice reverberated in the narrow room. “She will be mine, and there’s nothing Angelus can do about it.”

The mere thought flooded him with triumph. He would be successful. There was no possible way that Angelus could interfere with his magic and stop him. He’d tried all ready; thinking he was successful. The fool!

Brianna deserved to be avenged, and Sebastian would see to it that she got the tribute that she deserved. Only Angelus suffering in them most intense way possible would suffice.
Part 3

Cordelia sighed, a slight ruffling of the air that fluttered stray ends of her hair and moved the quiet stillness of the room. Her neck throbbed in a rhythmic cadence that threatened to drive her nuts. She steadfastly ignored it, and sighed again.

It was getting worse.

It had been a week since Angel dusted Sebastian, and the bite hadn’t diminished at all in size. What was worse, it hadn’t healed at all, either. She still had two gaping wounds in her neck that seemed determined to drive her insane. Every sense was heightened. Every smell seemed stronger, every color seemed richer, every sound seemed louder. It was as if she’d always gone through life with veil over her head, and suddenly it had been removed.

Not only that, but her hormones were crazy. She’d gone to wearing soft cotton all the time now because anything rougher against her skin drove her crazy. She stayed away from any rough surface, because all she wanted to do was rub up against it. She stayed away from her coworkers, especially Angel, because all she wanted to do was throw herself in their arms, anyone’s arms, and rub her skin against theirs in the hopes that it would ease some of the painful ache inside.

Nothing worked, and she’d tried just about everything. Well, almost everything. She wouldn’t let herself consider the possibility of letting Angel. . . no, she couldn’t go there. Not even in her own thoughts.

Tearing herself away from her thoughts, Cordelia forced herself to focus her eyes on the man in front of her. Wesley was talking; she should probably listen. He’d found the demon from her vision this morning: A six-breasted, scary looking monster called Sorealus the Ravager.

She straightened her shoulders and shook away the frustration-induced cobwebs in her brain.

Thankfully, Wesley was too preoccupied with his fascination with Fred to notice the decline in Cordelia’s behavior of late. Glad for the diversion from her jumbled emotions, Cordy sat down across from him and smiled.

Wesley hedged a bit about his obvious feelings for Fred, and Cordy thought a taste of reality would be good for him, a reminder of the past they’d shared to set things in perspective.

“You know, there was a time when you thought I was the loveliest thing in the world,” she told him, a teasingly wry smile on her face.

Wesley had the grace to look embarrassed. “Well, I—“ he stopped, obviously trying to find the most tactful way to say that he wasn’t slavering over her anymore. “You’re an extraordinary woman.”

He paused, and Cordy looked at him like she didn’t believe him. As he tried to find more to say to make her feel better, she decided to take pity on him.

“At ease, soldier. I just like to hear it every now and then.” Her tone was wry, the implication obvious that she felt unnoticed lately.

“I was the ditziest bitch in Sunnydale, could’ve had any man I wanted, and now here I am, all superhero-y and the best action I can get is an invisible ghost whose good with a loofah.” Whoops, she didn’t mean to say that part. Inwardly, she sighed. It figured. She was so freakin’ hot all the time lately, with this bite buzzing in her neck. She got relief where she could, even if it was with Dennis and a bath accessory. Any other option for getting this bite taken care of was not on the menu, and a girl had to make some compromises for the sake of sanity.

She apologized to Wesley for her slip with her chagrined expression.

He smiled, then turned away and lifted his chin the air. “I’m sorry, I missed that last part.”

“You are a gentleman,” she said with a thankful smile.

“Who’s doing what with the loofah?” Angel’s voice behind her startled her into turning around.

Cordy tried not to think of Angel as a substitute for Dennis in that situation. She tried really, really hard, but she couldn’t get the image out of her mind. She was lucky that Wesley saved her hide by coming up with some lame excuse, but she interrupted him before he could finish. Turning to Angel, she tried to act nonchalant.

“So, you went with the dark colors today,” she joked, touching his shirt, craving some form of touch between them.

Angel ignored her question, unaware of the struggle inside her. “Ask me why I’m smiling.”

She had to hold back her own smile at his excitement. “I will, because you’re scaring me.”

“We,” he said, pulling an envelope from his back pocket, his grin stretching off his face, “are stepping out.”

***

“Is it going to be all right?” Angel’s tone conveyed his worry. “Is there a stain?” He peered behind him, as if he could see over his own shoulder to the back of his tux jacket.

Behind him, Lorne scrubbed furiously. “Relax, Crumbcake. I’ve got this soda water working overtime.”

Angel looked less than convinced, as if his nerves were frayed beyond measure and this last-minute kafuffle only served to pulverize them.

Lorne continued his frantic cleaning. “Little Connor burps like a champ,” he praised lightly.

“At least he’s asleep,” Angel said, glad for some small measure of good fortune. With the way Cordelia was acting lately, he didn’t need any further complications.

“Well who wouldn’t?” Lorne answered. “That sweet Irish lullaby you crooned. Just a hair flat on the bridge though.” He laughed to soften the complaint.

He stopped scrubbing long enough to come around and catch Angel’s gaze. “More to the point: Cordelia?”

Angel looked at him in question. “What about her?” He tried to sound innocent, but he knew he wasn’t fooling anyone. It was all about her. Especially lately. Angelus’s damn obsession was becoming intrusive.

Lorne laughed dryly. “I read you while you were singing, you big corn muffin. And uh, I can’t say as I blame, I mean, what a woman she’s become.”

Angel tried to hide the irritation that rose up within him at Lorne’s observation. He couldn’t just be friends with Cordelia when his demon was even ruining his aura for Lorne to read. Time to change the subject.

“You’re not supposed to be reading me,” he challenged. “Anyway, you read me wrong.” Damn straight. No way was Angel actually in love with Cordy. This was his demon. Not the soul.

Definitely not the soul.

“Sorry, Strudel,” Lorne broke it to him. “It’s not just when you’re singing. We’ve got a term back in Pylea. Kyreumption?”

Angel frowned at him, sitting down to put on his shoes. “I know it,” he snapped. God, this was getting out of control. First Fred, now Lorne? His friends really needed to learn how to mind their own business.

“Okay!” Lorne said defensively, then continued to explain. “When two great heroes come together—”

Angel interrupted him vehemently. “There will be no ‘coming together,’ okay? Everything we’ve been through and all everybody wants to talk about is—”

“Can’t fight kyreumption, Cinnamon Buns.” Lorne shook his head as it was his turn to interrupt. “It’s fate. It’s the stars! Kyreumption is—”

“Stop!” Angel had had enough. It was bad enough that he had to put up with his demon’s gushing over Cordelia day and night; he shouldn’t have to take this from his friends, too. It was a pure case of lust, that was it. Nothing more. Really.

It was his demon that was being lured by the siren’s song that Cordelia was broadcasting this last week. The way she moved, fluid grace personified, tilting her head just so, at an angle that made those two damn bite marks stand out like twin spotlights beckoning him. It was his demon, damn it. Not his soul.

“Stop saying that,” Angel continued. “And stop calling me pastries.”

He walked away from Lorne and strode across the room, rubbing the back of his neck. Okay, so maybe Lorne had a point. This friendship with Cordelia had deepened, and it was only sheer willpower that was keeping him from crossing the line into agreement with his demon’s fantasies about her.

And he did love her. He loved her a lot. He just wasn’t in love with her.

At least he didn’t think so.

Lorne wasn’t helping very much. “You’re a man of many limitations, Angel, but you’re a man,” he reminded him. “You’ve got a heart. And Cordelia’s a helluva lady. I mean, if I thought she’d like to wear green I’d be elbowing you out of the way,” he laughed. “But she’s out of my league. She’s a champion, Angel. Old school. And besides, we all know you’ve got a thing for ex-cheerleaders,” he ended, then guffawed at his own joke.

Angel ignored the annoying giggle and finally allowed himself to contemplate the truth of Lorne’s words. Did he? Have a thing for her? His soul, too, and not just his demon?

Nawww. . . no way.

Wait.

Oh, god.

It scared him that the thought echoed with a huge boom of truth in his mind as he mulled the possibility. But even if he did. . .

“What have I got to offer her?” he asked the demon despondently.

“Do I even have to answer that?” Lorne scoffed as if Angel was a ditz. “You just have to act, Angel. You’ve gotta let her know what’s brewing inside, because it’s real, and you don’t want to miss that shot.”

Lorne’s words hit an exposed nerve. His life was a succession of missed chances, one right after the other, all because of the circumstances of his existence. Okay, so say, hypothetically, that he was in love with her. What then? It wasn’t like he could give her a good life.

“Lorne,” he began, his voice despondent. “Cordelia, she’s—”

“She’s what?” Cordy’s voice came from behind, and the two men whipped around to see her.

Cordy stood in the doorway, a vision in deep brown evening wear, posing seductively against the frame. Her hair was pulled up, exposing the delicate arch of her neck, and Angel’s eyes were immediately drawn to the exposed bite mark. She wore the marks as if she were proud of them. They weren’t hidden in any way, and Angel couldn’t help but wish again that he could replace them with his own. If she belonged to anyone, she belonged to him.

She held the pose for a moment, then pulled away from the doorframe and walked toward him.

“I was just saying that you’re not much of a ballet fan,” Angel hedged, his eyes traveling over her beautifully appointed figure, the curves flaunted in such a way as to make heat spread through him at the sight of her.

Lorne was just as affected by her beauty, despite his earlier protestations. “Forget everything I just said. I forgot how homely she was,” he deadpanned, laughing.

Angel knew he should pay her a compliment, but no words seemed to do justice to the vision she presented.

“You look like. . .” he trailed off, and she picked up the sentence.

“Like a ballet fan?” She walked closer. “An aficionado? A devotee, in fact?”

She stopped in front of him, reaching up to adjust his bow tie as she spoke, sending bolts of lust through him at her nearness. “Tonight I’ve decided we don’t have to be our incredibly dreary selves. Tonight we’re just a couple of young sophisticates, enjoying an evening of classical dance.”

She flashed him one of her signature smiles, and Angel’s thoughts fled him, save one: Oh, god, I am in love with her. And his life suddenly fell apart and had profound meaning, all in the same instant.

She continued, oblivious to the thoughts in Angel’s brain. “How does that sound?” she glanced over at Lorne, giving Angel enough time to school his features and shove the revelation further within, to process later.

“Sounds just right,” he smiled softly at her.

She smiled back, and he realized he was in deep shit. He’d been blaming this on his demon, and all the while, his soul had been the lovesick puppy.
Part 4

Cordelia held nervously to Angel’s arm as he escorted her into the beautiful theater where the ballet was being held. She loved getting dressed up, and this particular dress fit like a glove. Being on Angel’s arm just seemed to complete the whole feeling of euphoria. And it didn’t seem to matter tonight that every fiber of her being cried out to be near him. It just seemed right tonight, somehow.

It didn’t change the fact that the pull toward Angel was getting stronger. Not only that, but her hormones, or something anyway, was making her all hot and flustered all the time now, not just around Angel, but it was the worst around him. She was getting more and more desperate to find some escape from this, and tackling Angel seemed like the most appealing option. Even though she was salivating at the idea, her body trembling even at the thought, she pushed it aside. Angel would never agree to do that, no matter how she felt about it. Cordelia guessed she should go talk to Wesley, but it just seemed so awkward. Going up to one of your closest friends and telling them how horny you are just seemed a little, well, vulgar.

Seeing Angel tonight in his suite before they left, in all his salty goodness, had tested the limits of her control. She’d sought little ways to take the edge off her raging libido, reaching up to adjust his tie, catching his gaze with hers. She’d kept her voice and conversation light, standing close but not too close. It hadn’t helped, not really. He’d been reserved, like always, but it had been obvious from the look in his eyes when he saw her that he was floored by her appearance.

It was heady, the thought that Angel found her physically attractive. Cordelia had wondered at times, thinking that maybe her beauty was fading, that maybe, a non-blonde in a line of platinum beauties, that Angel wouldn’t ever think of her that way. She hadn’t ever wanted him to, except for the principle of the thing, until very recently. But now, the knowledge of his attraction to her did nothing to bank the flames stirring in her gut, only stoke them. The only thing that saved her was the hesitation in his features, the uncertainty in his gaze. Part of him may want to ravish her, but something was holding him back. That knowledge was the only thing that kept her from throwing herself into his arms and begging him to stay at home with her, in bed and inside her.

As they took their seats, Cordelia fought the urge to snuggle up to Angel, using that as an excuse to touch him. She was nonchalant about it, first feigning sleep of to one side, then slowly shifting over until she was snuggled up to Angel’s shoulder. She was sure she looked kind of silly, but just the feel of his tuxedo jacket’s fabric on her cheek was barely enough to soothe the roaring within her.

She only hoped she could hold it together for the next couple of hours until she could escape him again.

***

An hour later found her wondering if she really could keep it together. She was trapped backstage, in the enchanted halls of the ballet, sleuthing with Angel. Alone. Together. In a place where magic was rampant. That never spelled anything good.

Cautiously, she followed him as the pathway twisted and turned, until they found themselves in a room that felt different from the rest. A room that made her body tingle and the wound in her neck throb in anticipation of something. Something groiny.

Angel swallowed heavily as the mystical, sexual energy flooded him when they entered. The last place he wanted to be with Cordelia was somewhere that his demon’s fetishes were encouraged. But they had no choice. This entire backstage area was controlled by something mystical, and to escape, they had to solve the mystery. He shoved his raging sex drive aside and tried to focus on the matter at hand.

“This is her dressing room,” he commented as they entered the dark room, lush-colored costumes draped on the ornate furniture.

“Prima ballerina,” Cordelia added as Angel shut the door behind them.

“It’s unchanged,” Angel added, his eyes roving the room, taking in the antique furnishings that looked brand new.

She walked over to the dressing table, sinking down into the chair and perusing the items on the tray. Picking up a small golden cross encrusted with diamonds, she held it up so that it sparkled in the light as it dangled from her fingers.

“She would wait for him here,” she said, the story beginning to flow through her.

Angel felt the mystical surge, too. “It’s warm,” he said, his voice not without concern, a hint of caution flavoring the tone. “It’s very warm.”

Cordy turned and faced him. “I feel it,” she said, nodding, intoxicated by the rush of energy. With it, the wound in her neck seemed to burst into flames, pulsating, arousing feelings inside that she was desperately trying to ignore. God, she wanted him to come over to her, undress her, kiss her, bite her—

She stood rapidly in an effort to gain control of herself.

“Something happened here,” he was saying.

“Angel?” Cordy said, her voice questioning, the urge to be near him suddenly overpowering her. She felt the presence of another in her mind, a desperate, feminine presence not her own. It magnified her already crazy emotions, the “other” wanting Angel just as desperately.

“Yeah?” he said, distracted, as his eyes searched the room for clues.

“I want you to undress me,” she said, the voice of the “other” echoing her own thoughts so clearly that she was startled by it.

“You what?” Angel said, surprised.

Cordelia’s psyche screamed for her to close her mouth, to stop talking, but the other was too strong. Its words continued to flow, a speech that followed her own desperate desires, cloaked in the circumstances of the other woman’s illicit affair. The circumstances were different, but the frantic yearning was so much the same.

“It’s just another costume,” she said, running her hands over her body, needing the touch to soothe the flames rising inside her. “I want you to see who I really am. You’re the only one who can.”

No, no!! her own thoughts screamed, I’m not ready for this! I can’t let this thing get to me. Angel would totally freak if. . . But even as her mind screamed those words, her body betrayed her, tingling, dampening, coiling in a tight spring ready to burst.

Angel’s common sense was struggling with the straining of his soul and his demon, both wanting him to grab Cordelia and ravish her. Everything within him begged him to take her, to find solace in her, to fulfill the desires throbbing in him, but his common sense held him back. His eyes darted quickly to the bite in her neck, lingering there as saliva pooled in his mouth at the anticipation of tasting her, then he forced himself to look away.

“I—” he said, then stopped, at a loss for words. “This isn’t us,” he said, recognizing the presence of another desperate being pushing at his mind. Maybe these urgent feelings weren’t his doing. Maybe this was mystically inspired lust. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, one of his multiple personalities scoffed.

“Cordelia, we’re acting this out. Someone is—”

“Whoa,” Cordelia breathed, interrupting him, as her own psyche took control again, the other presence receding into the corner of her mind. “Did I actually just ask you to undress me?” she said in a light tone, hoping she’d just imagined it. Boy howdy, had she asked it, and it wasn’t just the ballerina mind-snatching that had made her feel that way.

Angel heard her, but felt the presence of the other man rush into his mind, taking over the control of his voice. He saw her there, the lover in his mind overcome with lust for his ballerina. That desire mixed and swirled with the longing of his own for Cordelia, and it was an intoxicating blend, causing his eyes to heat and his body to ready itself for joining with her.

“Is that what you want?” he said, drawing closer to her.

At the look in his eyes, the other woman’s psyche responded to her lover and took control of her again. Cordelia stepped closer to him, her mind filled with a longing for Angel that echoed the ballerina’s desire for her lover. “Please,” she said desperately.

“You want me to make love to you right here?” the other spoke in unison with Angel, his hand coming up to stroke the soft skin of her cheek.

“You know I do,” Cordelia and the ballerina answered together.

“But you’re afraid,” he whispered, their mouths brushing.

“What if he finds us?” the fear of the dancer swamped her, overpowering the yearning for a moment.

“I’m not afraid,” her lover vowed. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

She looked into his eyes, wanting to believe him, to feel safe with him, but in the end, it was the only the lust that drew their lips back together again, brushing, teasing, but never actually connecting.

“I’m only alive when you’re inside me,” the ballerina whispered through Cordelia’s lips, and Cordelia herself gasped at the thought. Angel, inside her. . . wow, brain overload right there. She didn’t have time to process it as Angel’s lips finally fused with hers, their mouths frantic, four people in two bodies with the lust among all magnified to a nearly impossible level. They kissed, a fiery passion of pain, need, desperation, and love, tongues searching, lips melding, hands roving as they desperately tried to cool the flames inside.

And suddenly, it was only them, only Angel and Cordelia, and everything else faded away.

The firestorm of Angel’s kiss devoured her. It was heat and passion, desperation in a physical manifestation. All she could think about was getting closer, getting nearer, getting further into him, under his skin until they were meshed into one person and couldn’t ever be separated. His lips pressed against hers, moving gently one moment and fiercely the next, tasting her as if she were a delicacy that could only be experienced once in a lifetime.

In his arms, she felt cherished and desired. She felt as if she were the substance he needed to survive, the nourishment that replenished his soul. All with the touch of his mouth to hers, he made her feel like she was the only thing that kept him falling apart.

They lost themselves in the kiss breathlessly until Cordelia’s hand came up to run through his hair and the cross necklace brushed his cheek. His skin sizzled and they jumped apart, Angel tenderly touching the burned skin.

“Cordelia,” he said hoarsely, trying to regain some of his composure.

“Yes,” she said, equally flustered, her eyes darting away from his.

“I’m sorry,” he said, feeling the need to apologize. God, his demon had almost come out. He’d nearly bitten her. His face had even shifted slightly as his demon fought for supremacy, the scent of the other vampire’s mark so close and begging to be obliterated by his own.

“No,” she answered, “We so need to be out of here,” she said, desperate to escape the feelings that threatened to consume her. She wanted him to claim her, right here, right now. She wanted it so badly that she ached with it. It was all she could do not to beg him to take over and erase Sebastian’s mark and replace it with his own.

“Yes,” he agreed, feeling the other pushing at his mind again, knowing that if he allowed it access again, Cordelia and he wouldn’t escape unscathed.

Unable to help themselves, they reached for each other again, touching and pulling away intermittently, Cordelia turning in his arms as she pulled him toward the door.

“This isn’t out of here,” she said breathlessly, trying to fight the pull of her lips toward his.

“I know,” he breathed back, not able to help the urge to reach up and stroke her hair, rubbing their hips against each other as they moved toward the exit. “All right.”

He turned her in his arms again, her mouth reaching for his, then turning her away and stopping just before the door. She leaned back into him, reaching her hand up to run behind his neck.

“Open the damn door,” she whispered, feeling the very thin edge of her control slipping.

“Kinda hard,” Angel groaned, reaching for the handle.

“Kinda noticed,” Cordy said, trying not to gasp at the delicious feel of his hard body pressed up against her backside as they escaped in to the hallway.

The moment they exited, they jumped apart like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

“Whoa,” Cordy said, feeling the presence leave her abruptly and some of her own control return. But not enough control, damn it. Much of that straining passion had been her own. Too much of it.

“That’s fair assessment,” Angel agreed, feeling somewhat more in control himself.

“What the hell is that place!” Cordelia said, wanting to blame all the heat of the last few moments on the enchantment of the room. Inside, she knew she was partly responsible. Even now, the wound on her neck throbbed, and she clenched her fists in an attempt to keep from reaching for him again. It was getting worse. She wanted him so badly that she was nearly insane with it. She had to control herself, or they would never get out of here in one piece.

“Spirits in there,” Angel explained, wanting to blame the lust on anything but his own feelings. It was true, but only partially. “Energy, trapped in time. It took us over.”

“Eee, scary!” Cordy breathed, knowing that with her own strained willpower, the lust of a horny ghost wasn’t going to help her at all. “Well, it’s a good thing it wears off right away,” she said, steadfastly ignoring the throbbing in her body and the dampness in places she didn’t want to think about right now.

Angel looked down at himself, then hastily removed his coat and held it in front of him, hiding the obvious response of his body to her nearness. “Yeah,” he said nonchalantly. “It’s a good thing.”

She looked back at him, noting the strategic placement of his coat, but wisely held back the comment she would’ve made if she hadn’t been so flustered herself.

“Let’s try to find a way out of here.” Her voice was determined as she turned away, and Angel strode past her and walked down the seemingly endless corridor.

As she followed him down the hallway, an amazing, crazy thought struck Cordelia: maybe, just maybe, if he did actually claim her, she could start to feel normal again.

Because really, if he did, then all this lust would be relieved. If she just slept with him once, the novelty would wear off, and she’d be free. The wound would heal and she’d be able to get on with her life. She’d get him out of her system, once and for all.

But how could she convince him to go back in there when it was so obviously a bad idea? She walked behind him silently, now absolutely convinced that this was the best solution to her problem. She thought over the scene they’d just played in the dressing room, until genius struck her again and she stopped him.

“Damn it,” she said, trying to put on a convincing spontaneous tone. “I said something. Back in that room. Something important. Do you remember?” She pointed behind her, looking at him with a question in her eyes, every inch the determined detective, the lusty hormones firmly hidden.

“Ah,” Angel looked uncomfortable. “You’re only alive when I’m. . .”

She quickly interrupted him. “Not that!” It wouldn’t do for him to get too worked up about the craziness of it all. She had to convince him they were going back for the case. Only then could she get him to unleash his demon and give her what she wanted, what she craved.

“No,” he hastily agreed. “Of course not. I was just, ah, Oh! Hey! I said you were afraid!”

“And I said, ‘what if he finds us?’”

“She had a secret lover,” Angel deduced, now firmly back in detective mode, just where she wanted him. Now was the time to reel him in.

“They were afraid of someone. And I’ll bet you anything that someone is the reason why were stuck here. We left too soon.”

Immediately, she could see the caution spring up in his eyes. “We. . . who? The room?” he said, obviously caught off guard.

“It’s a clue!” she said convincingly. “Those spirits, or energy, or whatever, are still in there so we can figure out what happened! We have to go back in!” God, she was good!

Angel wasn’t buying it quickly enough for her liking. “I’m marveling at the wrongness of that idea.”

Why couldn’t he just follow her like a little lost puppy? That would make this so much easier. Fine. Time for some prodding in the right direction. “Wanna wander around backstage like Spinal Tap for the next . . . Ever?” she said, making his denial sound ludicrous.

“I’m sure there are other rooms that. . .” Angel tried to divert her attention, but she was more determined than ever.

“All we have to do is play this scene,” she said, her face earnest. “Get in, get out, no one gets happy.”

“What if there is no more talking in this scene?” he said, and she smiled inwardly. There wouldn’t be if she could help it. But he wasn’t done. “Look, I’ve been possessed by the spirits of old lovers before. It never goes well.”

“Well, I’ve got my little cross if things get out of hand.” Not that she ever intended to use it. She nearly rolled her eyes as he continued to hesitate. God, what did it take? She sighed inaudibly. Looked like she was going to have to break out the big guns.

“Hey, it’s awkward, but it’s not us. As long as nothing gets removed or inserted, its all forgotten.” Okay, so now she was lying through her teeth, but she had to get him back in there. it was the only way she could see to relieve this burning that just wouldn’t go away. She had to have him, and if it meant lying and manipulation, so be it.

“It is us, Cordelia,” Angel said, his eyes serious. “You and me. Kissing you, its. . .” he trailed off.

Oh, no. This wasn’t going to work at all. The last thing she needed was for him to be emotionally attached to her right now. He couldn’t fall in love with her. He couldn’t. Because if he did, it wouldn’t stop with the claiming. No, it was better to let him think that she wasn’t interested, didn’t need him desperately. It would make the clean-up later on so much easier.

She ignored the screaming of her heart about the insanity of that line of thinking.

He wasn’t done. “It’s not something I can just—”

“Oh come on,” she said scathingly. “It’s not that horrible.” rolling her eyes, she turned away and walked back down the hall, muttering. “Up to his ass in demon gore, fine! But ask him to mack on a hottie and he wigs. My champion, ladies and gentlemen,” she said, gesturing back at him.

The rush of mystical energy as they entered the room gave them both a buzz.

Angel was nervous beyond belief to be back here. Being near Cordelia the first time in here had nearly shredded his control, and he wasn’t relishing a repeat performance. Not that he didn’t want to make love to her; he did, it was just that he feared that under the influence of the ballerina’s lover, he might not be able to control his demon. He’d barely held it together just minutes ago. Something told him that coming back in here was a big, bad mistake.

Beside him, Cordelia tried to calm her racing emotions. All she wanted to do was jump Angel and force him to bite her, but somehow, she didn’t think that would work out like she wanted. She had to go with the whole mystical energy bodysnatching thing, and then he’d take the bait. He had to. Because if he didn’t, she didn’t think she could go on like this much longer. Something had to alleviate this pressure, and she desperately wanted it to be Angel.

Angel’s question interrupted her thoughts. “Anything coming?”

She breathed deeply, trying to quell the nervousness, and paced a little bit. “Um. . . okay. Let’s take it from the middle. ‘I want you. Undress me.’” she said hastily, purposefully putting no romantic inflection in her voice. Best to keep him off balance. Thinking she was just annoyed.

Angel sounded equally unenthusiastic as he parroted his lines. “You want me to have sex now, with you, here.”

“Yeah,” she continued. “But I’m scared.”

“But you’re afraid,” he added.

“And afraid,” she agreed, and he nodded. “What if we—he—finds us.”

Angel grabbed her shoulders awkwardly and pulled her toward him. “I’m not afraid of anything,” he said, echoing the lover’s lines.

Oh, god, here was the best part. Maybe if she rushed through it, he wouldn’t see through her. “Only good inside, blah blah blah,” she said, rolling her eyes, and they kissed, a quick peck on the lips that was awkward and uncomfortable.

Cordelia sighed in frustration as the spirits left them alone, not feeling anything more than residual tingling from the touch of their lips together. Damn it. This might be harder than she’d thought.

Angel looked thoughtfully around the room. “Maybe it only works the one time, you know, when the energy—”

The ghosts had other ideas, the ballerina swamping Cordelia’s consciousness and she lunged for Angel, grabbing the back of his neck and fusing their lips together in a passionate kiss.

Geez, finally!

This time, the cross didn’t stop anything. It slipped from Cordelia’s fingertips mere moments after she and Angel pressed their lips together in a kiss that shattered them both. Against his mouth, Cordelia sighed with relief and melted into him. Now that she’d finally settled on what she was going to do about this bite that wouldn’t go away, all she could think about was how good it would feel to finally be back to normal. Angel’s tongue tangled with hers, and she whimpered at the taste of him, the sensation of kissing him making her want to melt into a puddle right onto the floor. But only after he claimed her.

Angel was struggling to keep control of the situation, but he could feel it slipping away like rope through a sweaty palm. Not only did he have to fight Angelus, something that was difficult enough under regular circumstances, but he also had to fight this Stephan, the ballerina’s lover who was invading his mind. Stephan fought for control, his lust overwhelming Angel and mixing with his own until he couldn’t figure out what were his own feelings and what weren’t.

Moments later found them on the chaise, Cordelia underneath Angel, her eyes closed in ecstasy as their bodies rubbed together in all the right places.

“Can he do this?” the lover inside Angel said, referring to their enemy, but it was the pressure of his hips against Cordelia’s that made her eyes cross and her breath catch in her throat. God, that felt so good!

Groaning, she couldn’t help but thrust back up against him, her head tilting back, her neck arching as she gasped for air. Angel eyed the long, smooth expanse of her throat, the twin puncture wounds staring up at him, beckoning him. Angelus was pressuring him to go for it, to sink his teeth into her supple skin and taste the blood that was sure to be intoxicating. His soul was silent, the lack of protest an acquiescence in and of itself. But still, part of him held back, even as he plundered her. Even as he lost himself in the taste of her mouth.

Cordelia pulled back, gasping, feeling the ballerina’s essence leave her as she looked up at Angel. As she became herself again, she was amazed to discover that the arousal within her increased, multiplied, magnified until she could barely look at Angel without exploding. He loomed above her, his eyes dark, flashes of gold in the onyx depths, his face strained with the pressure of maintaining control.

“Cordy—” he said, but she brought a finger up to his lips and stopped him.

“Shhh, Angel, we haven’t figured it out yet. Just go with it. Please,” she begged, needing him back, needing him inside her.

After a moment of brief struggle with himself, Angel complied, bringing his lips to her jaw, then skipping her neck and going to her chest, moving down her body and pulling the dress away from her, exposing her to his view. He lingered near her navel, tasting, touching, stroking, until she panted with the heat he was generating inside of her. He steadfastly ignored the places that screamed for his touch, focusing only on the zones that were normally not hypersensitive.

But right now, everything was sensitive to him. Frustrated that Angel wasn’t speeding things up, Cordelia took matters into her own hands. Literally. She reached her palm down his torso, pulling open his shirt, shoving the jacket from his shoulders and baring his chest to her hungry eyes. She barely had his upper half uncovered before one hand delved beneath the waistband of his pants to stroke the hard length of him, earning a growl that vibrated against her and brought goosebumps to her skin.

She watched the struggle play on his face, watched as his irises flashed little gold flecks, as his jaw tensed and flexed. She could see that he was struggling against his demon, that it was taking every ounce of his willpower not to turn before her eyes. In that moment, she knew exactly what to do to push him over the edge, to push him to give in to his demon and claim her.

She smiled up at him, a soft, seductive expression that taunted him in its blatant invitation. Slowly, she reached both hands up and clasped them behind his head, gripping the soft spikiness of his hair and pulling his mouth back down to hers. She kissed him slowly, languidly, as if he were a gourmet piece of chocolate that she wanted to savor until it melted away on her tongue. He growled and thrust against her, making her jaw slacken and her mouth still for a moment, only to resume with greater fervor.

Angel lost himself in Cordelia as he allowed her complete control over their kiss. If he’d been able to form a coherent thought, he would’ve been struck by the revelation that he’d been an idiot for delaying this moment. Having her in his arms was the closest to bliss he’d ever gotten, and that was saying something. His life was full of disappointments and disillusionment. But here, with Cordelia, he found the kind of happiness that only comes along once in a century. He had the sudden urge to grab a hold of her and never let go, never let her escape. His arms tightened around her, working under her back until she lay arched across his forearms, her head tilted back so that he had to reach to keep their lips in contact.

Cordelia let him get comfortable with the unhurried pace of the kiss until he let down his guard and relaxed. Only then did she play her trump card. She stroked the tip of her tongue against the line of his gums where his sharp teeth were hidden from view. The response was instantaneous: a low growl rumbled through his chest, almost a purr, and he tightened his grip around her. She smiled slightly against his mouth and kept up her gentle assault. Only when he reached his tongue into her mouth to do the same did she act: she bit his tongue. Hard.

This time, the growl was louder. He pulled back from her sharply, his now golden eyes staring down into her hazel ones. He panted with breath he didn’t need, and the demon in him screamed for release. The soul struggled to hold him back, but Angelus felt the weakness, and came out to play, knowing that the soul wasn’t in any situation to stop him.

“Baby likes it rough, huh?” he grinned wickedly, his golden eyes sparkling at her, his face rippling, then changing, his forehead wrinkling as the ridges slid into prominence, his teeth elongating and enhancing his smile.

Cordy gasped as she watched the transformation. He was beautiful this way, and it took her breath away. It was like watching day turn into night; no less beautiful, but so different. So dark and deadly, so powerful, but gorgeous enough to be sinful.

She smiled smugly up at him and arched her back, rubbing her pelvis against his, feeling the satisfaction spread through her as his eyes nearly crossed with the increase in pressure.

“You bet baby likes it rough,” she whispered back. “I need you, Angel. I need you to take me. All of me.”

He growled low in his chest, a thunderous rumble that sent shivers of delight up her spine. He dipped his head, his mouth running down her cheek, her jaw, and along the slope of her neck until he was hovering over Sebastian’s mark, lightly tasting it, grazing his teeth over it, but still hesitating.

Cordelia rolled her eyes in abject frustration. God, what did it TAKE? She’d thrown herself at him in every way possible, and still, he hesitated before biting her. He WAS a vampire, right? Geez, the things girls have to do on their own these days.

Time to take matters into her own hands. She tilted her head slightly, finding the edge of his shoulder, and opened her mouth. With no warning, she bit down. Hard.

The roar that Angel let loose as he felt her teeth sink into his skin was enough to wake the dead. As almost a reflex action, his head snapped up and he snarled at her, thrusting his hips roughly against hers. He grabbed her hands, pulling them high above her head and keeping them there, securing both wrists with one big palm so that his other hand was free. He reached down between them, yanking her skirt up to her waist and freeing himself from the confines of his pants in one quick, jerky movement.

In the space of a heartbeat, Angel thrust and slid inside, deeper and deeper until she felt as though he was going to tear her in two. He was so big.

But god, it felt good. Her eyes rolled back into her head as a thousand tiny stars burst behind her eyelids, and she knew she wasn’t done yet. He started a rhythm, hitting all the right places until her body was quivering mass of nerves.

Moments later, she burst, her orgasm shattering her until a million pieces. She cried out, arching against him, panting, as she came down off a high that was unlike any other she’d experienced.

After the haze cleared, she opened her eyes, focusing on the strain that was still present on his features. He hadn’t come yet, and she knew it wasn’t over. He was nuzzling her neck, growling as he rocked against her, licking at the wounds even as his body invaded hers. She felt him throbbing inside of her, the reality of her decision suddenly dousing her like ice water. Her eyes widened as she realized just what she’d orchestrated, and she panicked. God, Angel was inside of her. Angel was going to BITE her.

What kind of looney was she?

There was no time to back out now. Angel’s teeth scraped her, lightly scoring her skin, bringing blood to the surface that tantalized his demon’s picky tastebuds. He took a swipe of the barely-there fluid, his eyes nearly crossing at the ambrosia of it on his tongue. Angelus was giddy, drunk on the sexual high mixed with bloodlust.

He pierced her skin, just faintly, not noticing Cordelia’s gasp, then sliding the fangs deep into her skin like pins sliding through satin. Immediately, her rich, thick blood poured over his tongue, bathing him in her spicy taste. He fought back the urge to gulp greedily, lapping up every drop as though it were priceless. He took just enough, carefully extricating his fangs until he was free, and swallowed convulsively. He darted his tongue out, preparing to seal the wounds with his scent, sealing his claim on her for all time.

He didn’t get the chance.

Two inhumanly strong hand grasped the waistband of his pants and yanked him off and away from Cordelia. The last thing he saw before a fist met his face was the creepily white, contorted face of Tragedy dressed in a tuxedo.
Part 5

Having Angel yanked away from her made Cordelia feel as though she’d been doused with a bucket of ice-cold water. The fog of lust and desire that had plagued all night seemed to slip away as quickly as her dress seemed to have done. Quickly, she sat up, looked around the room, and watched, mouth open, as Angel battled the creepy white-faced guys.

“Oh, thank god!” she breathed, her mind swimming with the absolute lunacy she’d just committed. Almost committed, she amended in her mind. Almost. Even now, the wound in her neck throbbed, a hard, steady pulse that screamed for some kind of closure. Whatever she’d felt before she’d lost her mind and practically begged Angel to bite her had increased exponentially. It was as if Angel’s close proximity to her, not to mention his emotional hold on her, had made his half-claim a hundred times worse than Sebastian’s attempt had been.

She tried to stay calm while Angel battled the count’s henchmen. “Okay, so good!” she said, hastily yanking up the straps on her dress. “They were probably interrupted by this Count Kirskov or his lackeys, right, so we’re done with—”

Her voice faltered as she saw Angel stand up with a purposeful gleam in his eye and start toward her. Oh, god, he’d beaten the guy down and now he was going to come and finish his claim.

Every pore in her screamed for him to do just that, but her mind was frantically shouting, “NO!”

Just then, Angel took a nose-dive right in her direction.

“We’re done!” she shrieked, and fell back on to the chaise lounge as he sailed over her and tackled their assailant.

Stunned, Cordelia lay there as Angel finished the fight. Every moment of the past hour flittered through her mind and she traced the downward spiral of her mental stability. If she hadn’t been possessed by these spirits, she probably would’ve been able to hold back. She would have been able to maintain control.

Grimacing, Cordy rolled her eyes at herself. Who was she kidding? She could’ve spent the afternoon in the lobby of the hotel reading Cosmo and she probably would’ve come to the same hair-brained conclusion that Angel was the only answer to her problems. That he was the only way she could get rid of the deep need inside her.

Now, though, as reality reared its ugly head, she contemplated just what a horrible ending that would be. If Angel claimed her, she would be his mate, and she knew it wouldn’t be in name only. She knew that the demon in him wouldn’t let her get away. She’d be tied to Angel for the rest of her life. Okay, so she loved him, like a best buddy, but not as the man-pire she wanted to spend the rest of her earthly existence with. Angel just came with too much baggage.

She adjusted slightly on the chaise and turned to watch Angel battle Tragedy on the other side of the room. Even now, her breath caught as she watched the muscles ripple in his chest, visible through the half-opened front of his tuxedo shirt. Her fingers itched to slide over him, to kiss him, to hold him as he. . .

Her eyes widened as she remembered the most passionate of their moments tonight. She shifted again in mortification, and the movement brought a twinge in secret places that added to her misery. She’d let Angel make love to her. He’d been inside her, a perfect fit, cool and hard and hitting all the right places that made her body sing with the rightness of it all. For just a moment, she let her eyes close as she remembered the bliss of that moment.

It didn’t last long as her shame washed over her again. Okay, so having Angel make love to her had been the best sexual experience of her young life, probably the best she’d ever have if she were honest with herself. And they hadn’t even had time to make it last. But it hadn’t been real. Angel hadn’t been the one to initiate it. It had been the crazy mixed-up ballet lovers that had started everything. And then they’d fled and left Angel and Cordy to finish what their repressed libidos had ignited.

Not that either of them had complained. No. She wasn’t going to go there again.

But to be tied to Angel? To let him claim her? What lunatic had she been channeling to think that was anywhere close to a good idea? The vamp was insanely overprotective as it was now. She shuddered to think how he’d be if he had some type of mystical hold on her. No, it was better to see if the claim could be removed somehow. If, now that Sebastian was dead, Wesley could find some way to mojo it out of her. THAT was the responsible way to get rid of this gnawing emptiness in her soul, not by throwing herself at Angel.

Geez, sometimes she was such a moron. Sighing, she thanked her lucky stars that they’d been interrupted before her unpredictable sex drive got the better of her.

A shadow blocked her light and she looked up into the confused face of Angel.

“Cordy—,” he began, but she bolted upright darted off the chaise as if it had bitten her.

“Boy, we’d better find the others. What if there are more of these guys?” she said, looking everywhere but at his face. Quickly, she hurried out the door and all Angel could do was follow behind her.

Lord, did she have a mess to clean up now.

***

Nervously, Angel paced the lobby of the hotel. His jaw throbbed from the multiple hits he’d received from those creepy comedy & tragedy twins. But the wounds were secondary to the bruising of his heart.

He’d taken advantage of Cordelia, and she was obviously not responding well to it. His mind argued with itself that he hadn’t actually done anything wrong; that Stephan had been the one in the driver’s seat and he’d just been along for the ride. But, no. Angel knew the truth of the matter. Stephan and his lover had left Angel and Cordelia in the middle of their heated encounter, and it was no one’s fault but his own that they didn’t stop the moment he realized they were alone.

He couldn’t seem to help himself, though. She’d been underneath him, her body so close, and she’d been flushed with the strength of her passion. He’d seen in her eyes, her own, clear, un-possessed eyes, that she’d wanted him as desperately as he’d wanted her. He hadn’t been able to help it when he’d drawn up her skirt and found her, wet and ready for him. He’d been so hard it was painful. Looking deep into her eyes, he’d seen that the only thing they both needed was to be joined. To make love and be connected on an intensely physical level.

Sliding inside her had been the defining moment in his long existence. It had felt like all the pieces of his splintered self had aligned and locked into a perfect fit. Like she was the lock to his key, the lock he’d been searching for his entire life. What had followed hadn’t exactly been making love, though. She’d been so damn aggressive that it shocked him to his core. Touching him, thrusting up against him, and biting him.

His eyes slid shut at the memory. Oh, god, the biting. Hadn’t she known what she was doing to him? How close she was bringing his demon to the surface? He’d bitten her. Sank his teeth into her satiny flesh and drank her blood as if it were vital to his existence. At the time, it had seemed as though being denied her blood would be the death of him. He’d been drawn to those two damn marks on her neck, the possessive demon within him straining at the leash and making him do things he otherwise would keep shoved way down deep inside himself. But the possession by Stephan, combined with his own strong feelings for her and her aggressive behavior had practically given him no choice.

No choice. He frowned fiercely and laughed derisively at himself. Yeah, right. There was always a choice. He’d just gone and thought with his fangs and his cock rather than his brain. He loved Cordelia. LOVED her. How could he let her see his demon like that, up close and personal?

She obviously hadn’t fared well after that. He frowned as he remembered her hasty words while Tragedy tried to kill him, her obvious embarrassment and discomfort. He’d tried to apologize, mortified to his toes that he’d taken advantage of her like that, but she’d only brushed him off. On the way home, she’d stayed as far away from him as possible.

Maybe if she knew that he loved her, she wouldn’t be so freaked out about this. She’d know that he wouldn’t have taken advantage of her like that if he hadn’t been so overcome by the depth of his feeling for her. He had to find her and explain.

Just then, Angel’s pacing brought him to an abrupt halt outside the office and he heard Wesley, Fred, and Gunn inside. Wes was patching up the other man’s wounds, and it was obvious with little more than a glance that Gunn and Fred had finally found some common ground.

“Do you want something for the pain?” Wesley was asking Gunn as he prepared to clean his wounds.

Gunn was almost not listening, he was so focused on Fred’s concerned face. “What pain?” he asked, his question obviously rhetorical. The answer was right there in front of him.

Watching Gunn and Fred’s burgeoning love gave Angel the strength he needed to find Cordelia.

It didn’t take long before he saw her standing near the counter, brushing at the stains on her evening gown. He must’ve been so deep in thought that he hadn’t heard her come in.

Cordelia saw Angel coming over and that made her swipe even more nervously at her dress. She knew what he was coming over to say. He was going to apologize, and right now she couldn’t bear that. Either that or he was going to say that he cared about her, but not like that, and while it shouldn’t matter, she knew it would hurt. It didn’t matter that she didn’t love him or that she knew, too, that what they’d done had been a monumental mistake. it was just that she’d already been over all this in her head and hearing it from him would only make her misery increase.

No, it was better to make sure that Angel’s apology train got derailed.

She began talking as he moved closer, trying to change the subject before the conversation even started. “Do you think I can still return it?” she said, her tone wry. “Cause, otherwise, we’re going to have to take on a lot more cases.”

Angel acted as if he hadn’t heard her. “Cordy?”

Her mind raced in panic. How could she distract him? “You know, maybe we should just not talk about our little adventure,” she laughed nervously. “Anything that might have been seen. . . Anything that might have been, oh, perky.” She looked shyly away before adding, “Any tasting either one of us might have done.”

He gulped at that statement. God, she couldn’t even look at him. What she must think of him. . . it almost wore down his resolve, but somehow, he knew that declaring his love for her was the only way for her to forgive him for his animalistic behavior.

“I just want to pretend it never happened,” he said honestly, and she frowned at that, but thought it was good that he was letting go.

“Exactly!” she agreed.

He continued, “I want to wipe it from my memory.”

The shock and hurt that flooded her after that statement took her by surprise. “What?” she said breathlessly, staring at him with wide eyes. “Was it like, disgusting?”

He looked immediately contrite, and that soothed her somewhat. “No!” he reassured her. “I, uh,” he stumbled. “I would just want—if we were to—”

She tried to follow his disjointed words, but her mind was too cluttered with her own crazy hormones.

“I would just want it to be . . . new,” he finished. “To start at the beginning.”

She shook her head in confusion. “Lost me in the middle.”

He sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Cordy, you and I, we’ve been working together for a long time.”

“Pfft,” she said, even as her mind groaned. God, he was going for the ‘just friends’ speech. Why did that spark such misery in her heart? She shook it off. She could take this.

“What I mean is, you’ve become a truly. . . extraordinary woman.”

Her heart sank, but she smiled at his compliment. Just get it over with! her mind screamed. It shouldn’t matter to her. It shouldn’t! Being with Angel was a bad thing. They didn’t belong together, despite the physical pull. She needed something to distract her. Something to keep the hurt from rising to the surface where it would choke her.

He continued, oblivious to her inner struggle. “You, you know we—”

Something behind him distracted her. “Groo?” she said, not believing her eyes.

“Yes!” Angel nodded, mistaking what she said for an end to his sentence. “We grew closer together and I think that—”

All of a sudden, she couldn’t take it anymore. Her mind and soul rebelled at his attempt to back out of their little affaire de Coeur gracefully, and she took the avenue of least resistance.

Quickly, she raced past Angel, shoving her wounded feelings deep inside as she sprinted towards the one man who had loved her so unconditionally. The one relationship that had been so uncomplicated in its purity. The one love she knew would always be there, even if it wasn’t deep, wasn’t all-consuming.

“Groo!” she squealed, throwing her arms around him. “I can’t believe you’re here!” She let him pick her up and whirl her around, hiding her confusion with joyous laughter.

He set her down, and she looked breathlessly into his handsome face, remembering all the love that he’d had for her back in Pylea, and how good that had made her feel. She’d felt loved, cherished, desired, in a way that she’d never felt before. He’d given her confidence again when she’d been losing it, and that had been addictive.

For the second time in one night, it seemed as if genius had struck her. Groo was who she needed, not Angel. Groo could distract her from her crazy feelings for Angel. Groo could distract her from the bite mark long enough for her to find some way to get it removed. And Groo could help her put her emotional life back together. Groo loved her.

But most importantly, Groo was safe.

She tried to block out the voice in her head that told her Angel was still the better choice, even if it was risky to pursue a relationship with him. Love with Groo was a warm, cozy fire. Love with Angel would no doubt be a firestorm of passion. But that didn’t matter now. Angel didn’t love her. Groo did. And she needed him, needed that love right now.

“I feared you’d forget who I was,” Groo said, searching her face intently.

“Remind me,” she said, jumping in head first. Their lips met in a kiss that made her want to cry. It was so sweet, so touching, but down in the very depths of her soul, she knew it wasn’t right. She didn’t belong with him. She belonged with. . .

No! She wouldn’t back out now! Kissing him more fiercely, Cordelia determined that she would get back on track. She would take care of this. She would let Groo love her and she’d learn to love him back because they were right for each other. They were.

A few feet away, Angel felt his heart shatter into a million pieces as he watched Cordelia’s lips lock with a man who grated on every nerve in Angel’s body. Next to him, Lorne was talking, explaining something about how Groo came to be there, but Angel didn’t care. He was in the midst of a monumental heartbreak here, and he didn’t have time for small talk.

As the kiss continued, Angel’s countenance grew darker. First, Sebastian had tried to take her away from him. Now, just when he was so close to claiming her, Cordelia herself went and betrayed him with someone else. His soul was battered, and his demon was furious. Cordelia belonged to him! And him only! This . . . this THING that called himself a champion dared to come in here and usurp Angel’s rightful place at Cordelia’s side, in Cordelia’s bed?

Because as sure as he was standing there, that’s where Groo would be headed tonight. Angelus bristled inside him, locked away in the steel cage in the corner of Angel’s mind, and never, in his entire soul-having existence, had Angel ever wanted to unlock the key to that cage more than he did right now. All he wanted to do was unleash his demon and tear Groo apart for taking what was his.

“He came looking for his true love.” Lorne’s words echoed in Angel’s mind, ripping him back to the here and now. True love? Was there such a thing? his mind scoffed.

“Good for her,” he said dejectedly, the pain too fresh to allow him to say anything else. “I’m going to check on Connor,” he said, desperate to get away. He raced up the stairs, attempting to force the raging demon inside him to quiet.

The soul was the only thing that was keeping him in check. The soul reminded him that it was his own fault that things were happening this way. If he hadn’t bitten her, she wouldn’t have shied away from him. If he hadn’t made love to her, he wouldn’t have scared her off. And if he hadn’t done those things, his heart wouldn’t be so hurt right now. He wouldn’t have as much invested in this, and at least, then, he could’ve convinced himself that his feelings were unjustified.

But now that he’d tasted her, been inside of her, he could think of nothing else. While he would like nothing more than to tear Groo’s limbs from his body, he knew that there had to be a better way to get through to her. There had to be a better way to get Cordelia to come back to him. She wanted him. He knew she did. He’d seen it in her eyes. She was just scared, and it was up to him to take that fear away.

As Angel gained the top step and strode purposefully toward his sleeping son, his eyes narrowed with determination. He was going to get Cordelia back, and he knew just the right technique for success.

He was going to seduce her.
Part 6

In a dark corner of the Hyperion Hotel’s lobby, a shadow lurked. It was ethereal, less even than the faintest mist, its presence seemingly undetected by the occupants of the hotel. He hovered, watching, his excitement growing as the people he observed went about their lives.

The little scene Sebastian had just witnessed had been by far the most precious, the most entertaining. The look of pain on Angelus’ face had had Sebastian, in his misty form, rubbing his non-corporeal hands together in glee. Everything was falling into a perfect pattern, almost as if he’d orchestrated it himself.

As his lovely young prey dragged the beefy new young man out the door, Sebastian let himself sigh with satisfaction. This young warrior was no threat. No real threat, anyway. Not like Angelus.

His satisfaction was short-lived as he remembered the menace the younger vampire had been over the past week. Angelus had been within hearing or seeing distance of Cordelia practically every hour of that time. And when she’d been alone, at night, in her apartment, her resident ghost had prevented any breach of her threshold. Sebastian had had quite a nasty run-in with the young ghost. Even now, he squirmed at the memory. That route had definitely proven to be more trouble than it was worth.

No, his best course was to wait patiently until Cordelia was separated from Angel for a period long enough for Sebastian to make his move. None of them knew that he’d survived Angelus’ assassination attempt, so no one was even looking out for him.

Soon, he would strike. Cordelia would feel secure in the arms of her simple-minded young man. Angel would believe her safe, if not happy, at the young man’s side. It was obvious that the new man was a warrior, adept at protecting Cordelia from simpler demons. But he was no match for Sebastian.

Sebastian needed just a little more time for them to get comfortable, for Cordelia and Angel’s estrangement to be at its most painful. He needed to wait for Cordelia’s vulnerability to peak. It would happen soon, in a matter of days, no doubt.

Soon, Angelus would finally pay the ultimate price for destroying his lovely Brianna. Then Cordelia would be his. Forever.

***

“It’s strange,” Angel said, staring down into Connor’s crib absentmindedly.

Lorne walked up next to him. “Hmmm?” he said, looking down at the baby as well.

“I remember him being taller.” Angel said.

“It’s a trick of the light,” Lorne answered. “They don’t actually get taller until they’re very, very old.”

Angel frowned. That wasn’t exactly what he’d meant. “I didn’t mean the baby.”

“I know you didn’t,” Lorne said quickly.

“I meant the Groosalugg.”

“I know you did.”

Silence reigned for a moment as Angel tried to tamp down the rage inside him. Right now, at this very second, Cordelia was dragging that big beefy lump of brainlessness off to her apartment. To her bed, probably. His demon was not a happy camper. Being here in the soothing presence of his son was the only thing keeping him from running downstairs and dragging her, caveman style, back to his side.

He also realized that it was important to maintain appearances for Lorne. Wouldn’t do for the anagogic demon to want to read him, or anything. One angry glitter from Angel’s aura would send Lorne into a nervous tailspin, and that wasn’t at all what he had in mind. Lorne might want to play matchmaker, but Angel knew he wanted it to happen naturally. He wouldn’t like Angel’s plans. And he’d tell Wesley, and that would be really, really bad. Low-key was definitely the order of the day.

“Did he seem, uh, I don’t know, short?” Angel said casually.

“Oh, absolutely,” Lorne reassured him. “Clearly the guy shrank. All over, probably,” he added, helping Angel off with his coat. “Why, he’s nothing but a muscley midget. I’m sure once Cordelia gets him home, she’ll pop him in a smallish drawer and that’ll be that.”

Angel bristled as Lorne confirmed his worst fears. “She took him home,” he said bitterly. “Well. That’s good. At least we won’t have to put him up here. The place was starting to turn into a hotel.”

His sarcasm seemed to be lost on Lorne.

“So you don’t have a problem with that then.” It was a statement, not a question.

A problem with that? Yeah, his demon scoffed sarcastically inside his head. No problems here. So few problems that I’m going to rip that cow-eyed Ken doll’s arms off and beat him with them! Patiently, Angel soothed his demon with a promise of retribution later. Groo wouldn’t win. Angel felt confident of that. And as much as it bothered him right now to let Cordelia take him home, he knew she wouldn’t go that far with him. Not yet.

At least he hoped she wouldn’t.

“Of course not,” he said in answer to Lorne’s question. “Why would I?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Lorne said, sniffing Angel’s tuxedo jacket. “Maybe because I don’t remember you wearing this perfume when you left this evening.”

Damned nosy demon, Angelus groused. Lorne was always too observant for his own good.

“Okay, there may have been some magic,” Angel answered.

“There, you see?” Lorne said.

“Actual magic, Lorne,” Angel said. “Whatever happened was a spell. It’s worn off now. There’s nothing between Cordelia and me.” At least nothing he was willing to let Lorne know about yet. Not until he’d finished his claim on Cordy. Thank god no one had noticed the fresh bite marks on her tonight.

“Sure there is,” Lorne said. “And it’s got arms like steel cables and a deeply ironic sense of timing.”

Angel turned away and tried to figure out a way to get Lorne off his back. If he wanted no interference on this, Lorne had to be completely clueless.

“No, it’s good that the Groosalugg showed up when he did,” he said, Angelus growling in his mind as he spun the lie. “You were right. Cordelia deserves a champion, and now she’s got one.”

“Well, what about you?” Lorne asked.

“I’m fine,” Angel said, hanging up his jacket. “I’ve been a solo act most of my 240 plus years and when I wasn’t, it never turned out well. I like being alone.”

“Fine, Miss Garbo,” Lorne said patronizingly. “Have it your way. Be alone.”

Finally, Angel sighed, closing the closet door as Lorne walked away. Free at last. Free to set his plan in motion.

Free to get Cordelia back.

He stopped abruptly, and turned back toward the closet. Opening the door, he brought out his jacket again, bringing it up to his nose and inhaling deeply. His senses were assaulted with the scent of Cordelia, and it strengthened his resolve.

Cordelia was his, and no one was going to stand in the way of his claim on her.

***

Cordelia opened the door to her closet, trying to find the hanger for her expensive ballet dress. Groo was waiting patiently out in the living room, the gentlemen that he was, so she tried to find something to talk about to keep him occupied.

“So, um, you got deposed, huh?” She started taking off her dress.

“Yes,” he said.

“That sucks,” she answered, frowning.

“The people turned against me,” he said, pacing her living room.

“Yeah, well, they’ll do that,” she called from the bedroom, removing the last of her elegant eveningwear and finding a comfy pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

Groo was explaining the evolution of his downfall. “Endless committees were formed. Committees splintered into factions. The factions into coalitions. The coalitions turned into subcommittees, until finally the more radical elements, spurred by a charismatic leader, did the dance of revolution.”

By that point, she was walking out into the living room. She looked at him, leaning against a pillar, and pondered the mess that was her life. Tonight, she’d been possessed, bitten, and loved until every cell in her body sang, all by her vampire best friend. And here she was, planning to get it on with another man. She tamped down the squickiness of her abrupt turnabout and forced herself to feel pleasure at Groo’s presence. Groo loved her. That had to count for something.

She put on a soft smile for him. “And here you are.”

“Yes,” he answered, smiling back at her.

“So…you don’t miss it?” she asked, looking at him questioningly. Maybe if he didn’t want to be here, she wouldn’t feel so guilty about using him like this.

He looked at her, a question in his blue eyes, and she explained. “You know, the power, the castle, the concubines, and the royal chippies.”

The naked worship in his eyes drew her to him like a magnet. God, there was something so sexy about a man who was so in love with her. The way he worshiped her with his eyes. Almost like Angel had done tonight when—

Oh, god, not going there! Get your mind back to the here and now, Cor! she yelled at herself silently. Not going to think about Angel. Not going to think about Angel! I’m not. I’m not!!

“There was never anyone else,” Groo reassured her, unaware of the tug-of-war going on in her brain.

“Oh.” Well, at least she wouldn’t have to deal with any blonde bimbos in his past.

“I welcomed the overthrow. The tedium of government was too much to bear after life on the battlefield.” He drew closer, looking down into her face, the longing in it clearly displayed for her.

In that moment, she wanted to love him. She wanted to give him what he needed. She needed to give him that. It was the only course of action that made sense. So she offered him the opening that he’d been looking for.

“But your heart wasn’t really in it.”

He smiled briefly at her. “No. That left when you did.”

She stared up into his eyes and came to a crossroads. It would be so easy to reach up, cup his face in her hands, and tell him gently that while she cared for him, she didn’t love him and would never love him. He would smile sadly but he would understand. Then she could turn tail and run right back into Angel’s arms and pick up where they’d left off tonight.

She could, but she wouldn’t. Doing so would mean admitting something to herself that was too painful. It would mean admitting that she was in love with her best friend, and she just couldn’t do that.

So, in the heat of the moment, Cordelia took the easy way out. She took the wide, well-travelled path and reached up for Groo’s face, cupping his jaw in her hand, and drawing his mouth down to hers. He took over the kiss, gently possessing her, trailing his tongue inside of her mouth, in a kiss that was so, so sweet. It was pure, and good, and almost innocent.

But that was all it was.

There was no fire, no passion, no desperation. There was nothing in it that made her cry with undisguised need. There was nothing in it that made her feel like she’d die if he didn’t touch her, didn’t hold her closer, didn’t come inside her.

It felt like goodbye, rather than hello.

She pulled away reluctantly, filled with frustration at the lack of fire. Opening her eyes, she looked up at him, only to gasp and stagger away from him, her mouth open in shock.

Groo was no longer standing in front of her. Instead, she was faced with strong, aristocratically cold features, and a piercing blue gaze. His mouth turned up into a cruel smile, his hand reaching out for her.

“Sebastian!” she breathed, her eyes wide. He closed the distance between them, her panic growing as she realized her feet were planted to the ground in her paralyzing fear.

Just as his cold fingers encircled her upper arm, she found her voice, a bloodcurdling scream that echoed out the opened window and reverberated against the stillness of the night.

Part 7

Cordelia felt as though she’d swallowed ten gallons of water and was unable to throw it back up. She was completely panicked, every sense, every emotion, stalled and sputtering. Her lungs burned from lack of oxygen and her eyes and throat were dry. All she could do was stare at the evil, cold face of her enemy. Sebastian’s blue eyes seemed to burn into her soul like lasers, turning her into ash.

He opened his mouth, and she swallowed, jerking back another step.

“Princess?”

Air rushed into her lungs again and she gasped, swaying, as she heard Groo’s troubled voice coming from Sebastian’s well-shaped mouth.

“Groo?” she asked, breathless. She blinked rapidly in succession, and on the third blink, Sebastian was gone, Groo standing in his place, looking puzzled and concerned.

He closed the distance between them and raised a hand to her shoulder. “What troubles you, Princess? Were my kisses not satisfying to you?”

She was taken aback by his question. Funny how that had been her biggest concern about two minutes ago, and now it was all she could do to keep her heart from beating right out of her chest.

“I—” she closed her mouth abruptly, frowned, and huffed. “You were—then he was—and I was—” She stopped abruptly, a fierce frown wrinkling her brow.

Damn it, one little vision was turning her into Rain Man.

“Princess, you are not well,” Groo said, putting his remaining hand on her other shoulder, then pulling her against his chest and wrapping his strong arms around her. He brought a palm up to stroke her hair, and she sighed into his chest.

“Will you tell me what has made your smile go away? What I have done to cause you such distress?”

She closed her eyes and let the steady rhythm of his heart calm her ruffled nerves. After a brief moment, she pulled back, looking up into his face.

“You didn’t do anything, Groo. I had a vision.”

“A vision?” he looked perplexed. “But are they not painful?”

“They used to be,” she said honestly. “But then there was this demon, Skip, who came and—” She stopped when she saw the confusion in his expression grow. She was fond of him, that much was not in question, but sometimes it irritated her that he couldn’t hold on to a complex sentence if his life depended on it.

“Never mind,” she said, sighing. “I didn’t want to lose the visions. Trust me in that total badness would’ve happened if I’d lost them. But to keep them from killing me, I had to become part demon.”

He frowned. “Part demon? But you are pure. The one chosen to be blessed with the visions. ”

“No, Groo,” she said, exasperated. “I didn’t get the visions because I was ‘chosen’. It was a fluke.”

“What is a fluke?” He said the word with the hint of a Norwegian accent, heavy on the “u.”

“An accident,” she explained, trying to be patient. “Doyle, a half-demon, was Angel’s first seer. He died saving the helpless, and just before he did, he passed the visions on to me. He had to give them to someone, and I was the closest one. But humans can’t survive the visions, so I had to be made half demon.”

“But your purity,” he said, and Cordelia caught the unhappy bent to his tone.

“Oh, purity schmurity,” she said lightly, waving her hand breezily. “Get over it, Groo! I’m half demon now. There’s no going back on that. And right now, other things are more important. Like this vision, for one.”

Groo frowned, tamping down his self-righteous feelings to help Cordelia. He knew that he should leave, immediately, but he still had feelings for this woman, despite her unworthiness.

“What was in your vision, Princess?” he asked resignedly.

She forged on, relieved that she’d safely detoured the purity parade. “Awhile back, there was a master vampire who bit me, tried to claim me. He’s messing with Angel’s head. But Angel dusted him. I’m sure of it. Why would the PTB’s send me this vision unless—”

“—he isn’t really dead.” Groo said, finishing her sentence for her.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, god. That’s bad, bad news. A vampire who can’t be staked? How the hell are we supposed to kill him? And this guy is totally psycho. He wants to make Angel suffer by claiming me as his own, stealing me away from Angel.”

“This vampire, he believes that you belong to Angel,” Groo said.

“Well, yeah, he does. But he’s got it all wrong. I mean, I guess I belong to Angel, like family, sorta, but I don’t belong belong. You know?”

Groo frowned, remembering how attached she was to the vampire. It was true that Angel was a champion in his own right, but he was not worthy of his Princess. Now, though, now that Groo couldn’t have her, maybe—

But, no. Despite her impurity, he still burned for her. Ached for her. She was his Princess, after all. And he needed to help her in whatever way he could.

“We must go to him,” he said, taking her arm and heading for the door.

“Sebastian?” she gasped. “You can’t fight him! He’s too dangerous. He’ll kill you! He—”

“Princess,” he said, his tone soothing. “I meant Angel. We must go to him and tell him of your vision. The vampire’s wrath is turned on him, yes?”

“Yes,” she agreed, sighing. “We have to tell Angel. Sebastian is going to come after us.”

Groo stopped, seeing the fear reflected in the deep hazel of her eyes as she continued. “He’s going to come after me.”

***

Angel, his coat billowing purposefully behind him, stormed down the stairs into the lobby. Striding over to the weapons cabinet, he yanked the doors open and began to arm himself, sticking two stakes up his sleeves, fastening his favorite broadsword to his waist, and grabbing a crossbow and a quiver full of arrows to sling on his shouders.

What little conversation there’d been when he’d descended had dried up quickly, all eyes turning curiously to the dark vampire.

Finally, when he was armed to the teeth, he turned, resolutely meeting Wesley’s eyes.

“I’m going out,” he said resolutely.

“I can see that,” Wesley said, dryly.

“You need back-up, Angel?” Gunn offered, cradling Fred’s hand in his own, reluctant to leave her but knowing that he might not have a choice.

“No,” Angel answered tersely. “Cordelia’s in trouble, and I need to go alone.”

They gaped at him, Wesley finding his voice first. “What? How do you know?”

“it’s the connection,” Lorne offered, coming in from the kitchen with a stiff drink in his hand. “The claim. He bit her tonight, you know,” he said conversationally.

“You claimed Cordelia?” Wesley stammered, stunned.

“Not exactly,” Angel said, frowning. “It was those damned spirits that possessed us. Kinda brought out the worst in me. Sebastian’s marks were too much of a temptation and I—” He stopped.

Turning abruptly, he strode toward the door. “I don’t have time for this. Cordy needs me. She’s worried, upset. She needs help. I can feel it.”

“Does it really work that way?” Fred asked in a stage whisper to Lorne.

He didn’t have time to answer because just as Angel reached the door, Cordelia and Groo came bursting through it, out of breath and wide-eyed.

“Angel!” Cordelia gasped. “Sebastian! He’s not dead!”

Everyone gaped at her as she ran straight to Angel, then stopped abruptly just before she touched him. Every fiber of her being ached to jump into his arms, but her pride was holding her back. She needed him, really badly right now, but the thought of what they’d done together tonight had her ashamed. Ashamed and scared. Scared that Angel would shove her away and pretend like nothing had happened, when her whole world felt like it had been turned upside down.

Her fears were short-lived as Angel dropped the weapons he was holding and reached out, gathering her into his arms and cradling her to his chest. He kissed the top of her head, rubbing her back gently. “It’s okay, Cor, I won’t let him get to you.”

Angel’s mind was racing. Somehow, her news hadn’t been a surprise. It had just made sense. It was as if he’d already known about it, just not consciously. The bond between them must be stronger than he’d thought. Even now, it was hard for him to keep from burying his mouth in her neck and tasting her, finishing his claim and his bond to her. He steeled himself, and focused on comforting her.

Across the room, the rest of the staff watched as the vampire and seer comforted each other. Wesley looked apprehensive, and Gunn and Lorne were grinning as they witnessed the obvious bond between them. Fred felt happy, too, until she noticed the forlorn look on Groo’s face as he watched his Princess being comforted by another man.

“I know you won’t let him hurt me,” Cordelia said, sniffling. “But he’s so determined. I could feel it. He’s so evil, Angel,” she said, pulling back, her teary eyes searching his. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to stop him. We can’t even stake him.”

“We will.” Angel’s voice was determined.

“You had a vision, Cordelia?” Wesley’s voice broke into the haze surrounding Angel and Cordelia.

She nodded. “As usual, the PTB were high on the visual, low on the important details. I got nothing except his face in front of me, his hands reaching out for me, and a totally wiggy sense of the ultimate evil. It gave me the heeby jeebies.”

Angel rubbed her upper arms as she shivered again. “You didn’t get any more details?” he asked, disappointed.

“No,” she said, disgusted. “Of course, when my life is at stake, they have to go big with the cryptic. Geez, don’t I get an employee privilege, or something? I have no idea when he’ll strike, just that he will. He’s alive, Angel, and that’s what’s so scary. You tried to kill him once already.”

Angel looked deeply, meaningfully into her eyes, and peace stole over her. It was funny how she could feel him, feel his determination, his concern, and most of all, his love for her. It was that last one that both floored her and gave her peace. She didn’t have time to contemplate it, though.

Whirling around to face his crack staff, Angel began to fire off orders.

“Wesley, look in your books and see if there’s any way we can kill a vampire who can’t be staked, a vampire who has the magicks to defeat regular tactics. Find some way to neutralize his power or to trap him. I don’t want him coming back again.”

Wesley nodded. “Of course. I’ll get right on it.” Immediately, he disappeared into his office.

“Fred,” Angel addressed her, “You help Wesley. Work on the trapping end of it. Try to figure out a way to contain an incorporeal vampire.”

“You got it, Angel,” she said, jumping from her perch beside Gunn on the counter and disappearing into the office with Wesley.

“Gunn, go canvass Sebastian’s mansion. Look for any signs of activity. Look through the windows to see if there are any objects that look mystical, look like they could be connected to his power.”

“You got it. I’m flyin’ solo?” he asked.

Angel turned to Groo. “Would you go with him?” he asked reluctantly. He didn’t want Groo’s help at all, but the man was a decent fighter. “If something happens, I don’t want Gunn to fight alone.”

With a longing glance at Cordelia, Groo sighed and nodded. “Of course, Angel. I will do anything to help the Princess.”

“Thanks, Groo,” Cordy said, her eyes tired but thankful as she half-smiled at him. He looked searchingly into her eyes for a long moment, then turned back to follow Gunn out of the room.

Cordy watched as he disappeared, feeling only relief at Groo’s departure. She didn’t belong with him, despite his love for her. She didn’t know where she belonged, but it wasn’t with him.

Finally, she turned back to Angel, who stood staring at her.

“What now, big guy?” she asked, a small smile turning up the corners of her mouth.

“Now,” he said, walking over to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “We finish what we started.”

“Finish what?” she asked, puzzled.

“This,” he said, then grabbed her, covering her lips with his own.
Part 8

The moment Angel’s lips touched hers, Cordelia nearly blacked out from the surge of lust that overtook her. She moaned, the sound swallowed by Angel’s mouth, and arched her body into his. Curling her hands around his biceps, she stood up on her tiptoes and angled her mouth against his, meeting him full force, kiss for kiss.

Angel had gambled on this, thinking that tasting her would be enough to quench his thirst for her, but it only made him want her more desperately. He’d lost something of himself when he’d seen her tears, when he’d gathered her into his arms and comforted her and soothed her fears of Sebastian. It hadn’t mattered that Groo was standing there. All he knew was that she belonged in his arms, and he was going to make sure she knew it.

Now, standing with her wrapped in his arms, his lips frantically moving against hers, he lost all coherent thought. Sensation ruled him now, and he went with it. His big hands spread wide on her back then closed into fists and gathered the soft fabric into his hands. He pulled, drawing the hem of her shirt upwards, and moved his hands down to the warm skin he’d exposed. He moved his fingers gently, whisper-like against her skin, marveling in its softness, even while his mouth ravaged hers.

Desperately needing breath, Cordelia finally pulled her mouth away and looked up at him with lust-glazed eyes. Her body throbbed and tingled and she felt hot, extremely hot. Her face was flushed, her mouth parted as she panted in an attempt to catch her breath.

In that moment, Angel knew she was going to say something, going to protest and the moment would be lost. He knew that if any words escaped her mouth, she’d talk herself, and him, out of this, and that was the last thing he wanted. So, before she could say anything, he turned, grabbing her hand, and pulling her toward the basement. She questioned him, but he didn’t listen.

Quickly, he pulled her down the stairs, not bothering to turn on the light. With his enhanced night vision, he could see the lust on her face, lightly mixed with wariness. It was that lust that he was counting on. Right now, all he could think about was being back inside her, back where he belonged. He needed her. He needed her so badly he thought he might explode.

Cordelia didn’t know why she followed him, why she let him take her downstairs, but she did. In that moment, something inside her snapped. It was as if the logical part of her brain was suddenly off-limits, and her libido was the only thing that was working. Something within her was demanding that she take him, that she throw him to the ground and ride him until her lust was sated. That force within her kept her mouth shut and her body hot, her mind unfocused thought. She wanted him with an animalistic urgency. She knew that she needed him, that she would die if she didn’t have him again. The wounds in her neck throbbed with every heartbeat, underscoring her need.

Still, something compelled her to speak. She opened her mouth to say something, what, she didn’t know, when Angel rested his forefinger against her closed lips. The feeling of his rough skin against her made all thoughts of speaking flee. Parting her lips, she drew his finger into her mouth and closed her lips around it. She sucked on it, rubbing her tongue against the roughness of his skin until he closed his eyes and groaned. Slowly, she pulled back, drawing his finger out of her mouth until the wet digit was released, the tip of her tongue flicking the end of his finger one last time.

After that, everything was a blur. They were both touching and fumbling, each unbuttoning and pulling at clothing until they were both free of the confines between them. Cordy sighed with relief as soon as her breasts were bare, her nipples hardening painfully as they touched the cool firmness of his chest.

The darkness of the basement only added to their frenzy. They couldn’t see each other’s faces, at least Cordelia couldn’t see Angel’s, and it only heightened her lust. All that seemed to matter was being together, being joined, and suddenly, their feelings for each other had nothing to do with this. It was lust, pure and simple.

He growled, reaching his hands down to grab her ass and pull her against his hardness. She brought her legs up around his waist, her back resting against the brick wall. Angel ground his hips into hers, feeling the hot wetness of her arousal seep through the fabric of her pants and soak his own. Their breaths mingled in the stillness, the only sound in the quiet room seeming harsh and rough.

Breathing heavily, Cordelia leaned forward, avoiding his mouth. She nipped at his chin, then ran her tongue along the smooth angle of his jaw, ending her quick exploration at the shell of his ear. She sucked the lobe into her mouth, then bit down, earning a growl from the vampire between her legs.

Angel answered Cordelia’s bite with one of his own. His blunt teeth scored her shoulder, sinking into the golden flesh, his tongue laving the area before he began to suck on her skin, bringing blood near the surface. The pull of his mouth on her skin made Cordelia shudder, and she ground herself more fully against him. His hands reached up to cup her breasts, squeezing the nipples briefly between his fingertips until they ached unbearably. She whimpered, the sound soft against his ear, and suddenly, he’d had enough play. He needed her. Now.

Reaching behind him, Angel grasped Cordy’s legs and unwrapped them from him, setting her roughly onto her feet. He unbuttoned and unzipped her pants, shoving them and her panties to the ground in one swift motion. She stepped out of them as he discarded his own pants, then pressed herself against him again.

Angel didn’t give her any time for more foreplay. Forcefully, he cupped her ass in his hands and shoved her hard against the wall, her back abraded by the roughness of the brick against her skin. Then, sliding his hands down to the backs of her knees, he pulled her legs up around his hips again, bringing the tip of his erection against her entrance. She whimpered at the contact, closing her eyes and biting her lip as arousal brought a flood of wetness to her core. He pressed against her, a momentary resistance, then sheathed himself fully within her.

They both groaned as they joined into one. Cordy gripped his shoulders, her fingernails digging into his skin, and squeezed her heels against his ass, pulling him deeper within her. Angel growled, burying his head in the crook of her neck, and began to thrust deep. The rhythm became frantic, desperate, as they both took their pleasure with an urgency that overcame everything else. Cordy’s whimpers echoed off the stone walls as their skin slapped against each other, her swollen clit rubbing against him and making her whole body tighten.

Feeling her muscles clamp down on him, Angel’s jaw tensed and he growled. He thrust against her more forcefully, shifting into the face of his demon, his mouth watering at the sight of her throat, arched so delicately before him. Leaning down, he nuzzled her, fangs scraping her skin lightly as she gasped. He paused, hesitating, wanting to bite but feeling guilty. Even in this haze of lust, his soul admonished him for wanting to claim her so badly. And in the end, his conscience won. He pulled back, his human features sliding back on, but he pushed the guilt down, shoving it away.

Instead, he concentrated on bringing himself as much pleasure as possible. He grabbed her thighs from around his hips, hooking an elbow under each leg and bringing her higher up, angling her hips against him. The angle sent him even deeper within her, rubbing against her g-spot and causing her to cry out, then whimper.

In the midst of their frenzy, neither of them heard the click of the door opening, or saw the shaft of light that suddenly bathed the stairs, stopping just feet from where they were locked together. Their eyes were closed, mouths open in breathy ecstasy, and their visitor didn’t stay long. One look at the goings-on downstairs made him stop, gaping, then close his mouth and the door, leaving them to their frenetic coupling.

In time with the click of the door closing, Cordy gasped, tightening around Angel’s shaft, stars exploding behind her eyes as she climaxed. Angel stilled as he felt her convulse around him, shifting again to his demon’s face, unable to help the transformation. With two more heavy thrusts, he spilled himself inside her, groaning. His fangs pierced his lip, drawing blood before he could force himself to change back into his human features.

After a few moments, their breathing slowed, and Cordy reached her hands up to cup Angel’s face in the dark. Her thumbs traced his cheekbones, and it was only then that she realized what they’d done. One kiss from Angel, and she’d been swept away. One kiss, and one kiss only. Down here, in the dankness of the basement, their lips hadn’t met once. It was as if it wasn’t important, as if fucking was the only thing that had mattered. That one thought was enough to make her throat close in shame.

In the same instance, Angel felt the guilt of his actions overwhelm him. He’d wanted to taste her, just briefly, in order to soothe his demon and help him sort out his feelings for her. He loved her, damn it, and he’d just used her as if she were nothing more than a whore. There had been no whispered declarations of love, no gentleness, no consideration for her pleasure. He’d only sought to slake his lust, and she’d met him, thrust for thrust. God, he’d nearly bitten her. Nearly let his demon come out again and claim her.

Choking back a sob, Cordy pushed at him. He lowered her legs, sliding out of her and backing away. Not saying anything, they both gathered their clothing, shoving things back on and avoiding looking at each other. Every detail of the past few minutes flashed in her brain like evidence convicting her, and yet her eyes remained dry. She didn’t cry, didn’t even feel much of anything, really, except numbness.

It didn’t take long for them to right themselves. They both paused as the last button was fastened, looking everywhere but at each other. They both seemed to want to say something, but neither of them had the courage to do it, and the moment passed. Not knowing what else to do, Cordy turned toward the stairs and climbed them, Angel behind her. And at the top, they opened the door, and escaped into the hotel, each separating, without a look back. It was only as Cordelia walked away from him that she realized what had changed.

The lust she’d felt so constantly since Sebastian’s bite was nearly gone.

***

“Princess, I must speak with you.”

Two hours had passed since the unmentionable incident in the basement. Cordy was at her desk, trying to keep her mind occupied in files. All she’d wanted to do was escape to her apartment, but she knew that she wouldn’t be safe there. She wasn’t ready to face Angel yet, though, so she’d buried herself in a backlog of filing.

She hadn’t counted on Groo wanting her attention though.

Sighing, she looked up at him with tired eyes. “What is it, Groo?”

“Can I speak with you alone?” His eyes looked sad, and she felt guilty. Immeasurably guilty as she remembered that technically, she’d led him on.

After a moment, she nodded reluctantly. “We can go into Wesley’s office,” she said, knowing that the ex-watcher had gone out to get some books. Fred and Gunn had left for food, and Angel was upstairs, she thought.

Once the door to the office had closed, she turned to Groo, her weary eyes questioning.

“What did you have to tell me.”

“I am leaving, princess,” he said quietly.

She was momentarily mystified. Hadn’t he just arrived? Tonight, in fact?

“But you just got here.”

“Yes,” he said, then paused. “But I did not find what I was looking for.”

“And what was that?” she asked.

“I had hoped that you still loved me. But I can see now that you love the vampire.”

She had nothing to say to that, only a tired sigh. “You’re leaving tonight?”

He nodded. “I believe it would be best.”

Crossing over to him, she raised a hand to his face. “I never meant to hurt you, Groo,” she said softly. “I really do care about you. I just can’t—”

“I understand,” he said, smiling sadly. “I hope you are happy, Princess.”

Her eyes filled with tears as the hopelessness of her situation struck her. “Thank you,” she said, the words barely a whisper.

Groo leaned forward, brushing his lips against her forehead, squeezing her in a quick hug. Her eyes slid closed and she swallowed at the lump in her throat.

Her eyes still closed, she heard Groo softly leave the room, and the stillness pressed at her from all sides.

***

From the shadows, he watched, a smile in his mind. The young dumb one hadn’t mattered after all. True, he was no longer in place to distract his prey, but she was miserable enough without the help. Soon, her despair would be enough to destroy her. Then, he would be ready.

He’d watched as she and Angelus had writhed against the basement wall. At first, his anger had consumed him, knowing that all it would take was one well-placed bite from Angelus and she would no longer be within his reach. But as he watched, his anger had abated. Angelus had had plenty of opportunities to claim her, but he’d taken none of them. A smile had crept onto Sebastian’s face as he realized that Angelus’s soul prevented him from completing the claiming. That his soul made him feel guilty for wanting her.

It was his soul that would cost him her life.

Sebastian must be patient, but only for a small while longer. Her lust would overtake her soon, driving her insane. Then he would come to her, offering her salvation from the pain. Only then would his revenge be complete.
Part 9

Cordelia had turned into a stalker.

The thought flitted through her lust-fogged mind as she stood in the open doorway of Angel’s suite. It was very early morning, just before sunrise, and the vampire in question was out cold on his bed. He lay there, still as death, and she stared at him, wide-eyed and salivating.

Finally, she blinked, the rational part of her brain scolding her for her crazy behavior. Closing her mouth and swallowing, she placed a hand on the doorframe, half for support, half to keep herself from running into the room and jumping Angel. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to tamp down the urge as it swept over her. God, she had turned into such a freak.

It had been one week since she and Angel had first slept together. One week since they’d been possessed at the ballet and had let things go too far. The second time had been later that night in the basement, and after that, she’d sworn that she would stay away from him, no matter how sexy he looked or how horny she felt. She’d finally gone home in the wee hours of the morning, locked herself in her apartment, determined to stay strong.

Her resolve had lasted less than 24 hours.

The next day, she’d come into work feeling somewhat normal. But as soon as Angel had walked into the room, her desire for him had swamped every portion of her brain and body, and it was all she could do to keep herself planted on her chair. Angel had sensed it, drawn to her like a moth to a flame, but he, too, had attempted to stay away. They’d been successful for nearly an hour, but somehow, they’d both passed the bathroom at the same time, their arms brushing each other, and it was as if a fire had been lit. Their eyes met each other, his gaze liquid heat, and they’d stumbled into the bathroom, screwing in a frenzy that scared them both.

They’d been together ever since then at least once, sometimes two or three times, every day. Cordelia would go home at night, determined to get through a day without attacking him, but it seemed impossible. The lust would overwhelm her, making her clumsy, almost feeling as though she’d been drugged. Her eyes would focus on him, her gaze hot, heavy, and he’d respond to it, his own eyes darkening with an answering desire. They’d both have enough mental capacity to make excuses for leaving, then find the nearest dark corner or closet and take each other wildly.

It was almost violent, the way she needed him. There hadn’t been a time since the ballet that they weren’t rough with each other; she had the bruises and scrapes to prove it. There was no doubt in her mind that Angel had claw marks and bruises as well. It was just that she felt on fire until his cool body connected with hers. And then, when he entered her, it was like throwing a bucket of ice water on the lust that threatened to consume her from the inside out. Her mind instantly cleared as she climaxed, every single time, and remorse inevitably followed.

Always, they had sex in the dark. Always. If there was some light present, she’d stare over his shoulder at some random object and go through the motions without looking at him. She couldn’t look at him. She was too ashamed of herself. Every time they parted, she’d wonder why he never said anything, why he let her use him like this. She was taking advantage of Angel and she hated herself for it.

On top of that, she’d had dreams of Sebastian nearly every night. Dreams where he touched her as Angel had, but she didn’t like to think about it. The dreams left her aching, desperate for the evil vampire, and it scared her.

Opening her eyes, Cordelia once again felt drawn to the still figure on the bed. Angel hadn’t moved an inch while she’d been recalling the events of the last week, and as far as she knew, he hadn’t realized she was even in the doorway.

Cordy let her mind open, just for a moment, to the possibility of walking across the room to him, and she swayed with the surge of lust that followed. Closing her eyes and groaning, she reached her other hand up and gripped the opposite side of the door frame, squeezing her legs together tightly and gripping the wood until her knuckles were white and her fingers were numb. God, if she could just resist, just once . . .

But, like the passage of time, it was inevitable. Slowly, her mind fogged with the urgency of her need, and she felt herself moving, her feet bringing her, unwillingly, to the side of the bed. Pale moonlight streamed in a crack between the drapes, illuminating Angel’s face and the upper portion of his chest.

She stood near him, panting. Holding one hand out, she reached for him, hovering just above his upper arm, her fingers shaking. Clenching her teeth, she determinedly curled her fingers into a fist, and quickly brought it back to herself. She tried, one last time, to control her urges, stuffing her fist against her lips, tears welling up.

But again, she couldn’t help it. She reached for the hem of her shirt, pulling it over her head, the rest of her clothing following quickly.

Angel woke just as her panties fell to the floor. Slowly, he opened his eyes, seeing her there, naked, tears glittering against her cheeks. One hand was covering her mouth, as if to control the tears, and his heart broke at her despair. Her eyes met his in the dim light, and they held the gaze for a moment.

Then he sat up, the sheet pooling around his hips, and he leaned against the headboard. She stood there, hesitating, her body screaming for release, but her mind’s shame was preventing her from following through. Angel, having seen her go through this every time they’d slept together in the past week, decided to spare her the torment. He raised his arms to her, holding them out in blatant invitation, waiting.

Cordy’s breath hitched in a sob and she hesitated a fraction of a second before throwing herself into his arms. The moment her skin touched his, her tears were forgotten. She straddled his thighs, yanking the sheet violently out of the way, grasping him in her hand. He was ready for her in seconds, his heavy breathing underscoring his desire, and she quickly pulled herself up, guiding him into her. She groaned, burying her face in his neck as his cool length began to soothe the burning inside.

It was difficult for Angel, more so than it had been all the times before, to have her in his arms. The tenuous bond they’d had since he’d bitten her had given him some link to her feelings, but only the strongest ones, like fear, lust, and despair. He hated not knowing what she felt right now. What she felt besides the lust.

This time, the hopelessness was even greater than usual. He’d been dreaming about her, dreaming that she loved him, only to wake up and find her there, the reality of his situation mocking him. His own eyes welled with tears, the depth of his despair eating away at him like acid etching metal. His hands grasped her hips, setting her rhythm, and he closed his eyes as the lust washed over him, shoving away the pain for baser pleasures.

Being inside her was like touching heaven and hell at the same time. Heaven because he wanted her so badly, because he loved her so much. Hell because he couldn’t have her. Hell because she’d never said she loved him. Since the ballet, not once had he looked into her eyes as he stroked her from the inside out, and suddenly, that’s what he wanted more than anything else.

One hand left her hip and reached for the lamp on the bedside table, flipping it on. Cordy’s eyes flew open, the look in them panicked.

“No!” she whimpered, stopping her movement long enough to reach for the light. He caught her wrist, not letting her turn it off.

When she opened her mouth to protest again, Angel brought her hand to his lips, drawing her fingertips in his mouth and sucking on them. Her eyes closed as the nerve endings tingled, sending shocks throughout her body, and she forgot about the light, forgot about her self-loathing and began moving atop him again.

Angel focused on her face, releasing her hand and bringing his up to cup her jaw, stroke her cheek, run his fingers across her open mouth. Watching her gain her pleasure was so mesmerizing. He could tell that she was close, the steadiness of her rhythm being broken as the urgency became greater. Suddenly, the love Angel felt for her bubbled up in him and overflowed, spilling from his eyes in tears. She was so beautiful, and he loved her more than he’d ever loved anyone.

Atop him, Cordy kept her eyes squeezed tightly shut, blocking out the light. She felt her body begin to tingle all over as she approached her climax, but still, she couldn’t bring herself to look at him. She knew she would see loathing in his eyes, and she couldn’t bring herself to face it. Not from him. Not from someone she cared about so much. She brought her hands up to his shoulders to give herself more leverage, and Angel took his other free hand, bringing his thumb to her clit and stroking softly in circles. Gasping, she felt the sensation overwhelm her, and she increased her speed.

Within moments, her orgasm overtook her, her jaw going slack as her body convulsed. Her eyes opened against her will as her mind cleared, and in the golden light, her gaze locked with his. What she read there shocked her.

Tenderness poured from his eyes, raw and open. Suddenly, his touches seemed softer, his movements more gentle, and she realized that there was something different here. Something she couldn’t define, but it bathed her with its warmth, reassuring her on the most elemental level. She moved again, stroking him with her body, and watched as his face contorted in pleasure, then morphed into his demon as he came. He rested his head against her shoulder, his mouth nuzzling her neck, his fangs lightly scraping her skin.

In wonder, Cordelia cradled his head to her neck and realized that somehow, this time was different than the basement had been. Watching Angel’s face just before he came made Cordelia realize that this was really making love. They weren’t just having sex, as she’d thought before. The look in his eyes had been so much more than that. It was something deeper. She was afraid to ask what, but knowing that it was more than the lust of his demon was enough to make her feel less miserable.

Pulling his head gently away from her neck, she kissed him, slowly, deeply, for the first time in a week, her fingers running over the ridges on his face.

Coming back to himself, Angel opened his eyes, turning them away from her, his lips set in a grim line. She could almost hear the self-flagellation going on in that head of his.

It was way past time they talked about this.

“Angel,” she said softly, bringing her hand up to trace the now-bumpy eyebrows. Yellow eyes came up to meet with hazel ones, and the pain and despair in them nearly broke her heart. She leaned over and kissed his mouth again, softly, running her tongue along his bottom lip and lingering there.

He let her kiss him for a moment, then pulled back and looked away.

“Angel, listen to me,” Cordelia said softly. His eyes reluctantly came back to meet hers. “I don’t know what’s going on in that head of yours right now, but you need to stop feeling so bad about this.” She took a deep breath. “We both do.”

He shook his head. “Cordy, what we’re doing here, it’s. . .” he trailed off, his face shifting back to the human mask she loved so much.

“Shhh,” she whispered. “Angel, what we’ve been doing is definitely complicated. Crazy, even. But—” she said, when she saw his eyes cloud over even further, “I need it.”

He seemed to think about this for a moment. “How?” he finally said.

She frowned, trying to come up with an answer. “I don’t know, it’s. . . complicated,” she said again. “Ever since Sebastian bit me, its been hard to control myself around you. It’s like I’m drawn to you as a vampire. Like I’ll go insane if I can’t be with you.”

“Then I’m making it worse,” he said, worriedly, remembering all the times that he’d been the one to grab her and drag her off someplace. She hadn’t been the initiator all the time.

“No!” she was quick to counter him. “You’re making it better, Angel. After the basement, I felt better than I had since he bit me. Almost normal. And every time since then, it helps me.”

She stopped, brushing his lips with her thumb. “It just doesn’t last very long. That’s why I keep coming back to you.”

He kissed the palm of her hand, his fingers stroking the soft skin of her lower back. “This isn’t good for us, Cordy,” he said softly. “We can’t keep this up.”

She frowned, not wanting to think about it, about a time when she couldn’t be with him like this anymore. “It’s just until we kill Sebastian.” Her eyes searched his. “I need you until then, Angel. I don’t think I’ll stay sane without you.”

He stayed silent, his love for her warring with his need for self-preservation.

“Please?” she whispered, and he broke inside.

Finally, he nodded, leaning forward to kiss her lightly. “I’ll be here, Cordy, for as long as you need me,” he whispered.

She sighed in relief, sinking against him. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you.”

***

“Finally!”

Wesley’s sigh pierced the quiet tension in the room. Before him, a thick, dusty book sat open, its pages filled with a scrawl that looked more like tangled ivy than a legitimate language.

“You found something?” Fred asked excitedly, rushing up to stand near his elbow. She closed the book she’d been holding, shoving her finger between the pages to hold her place.

“Yes,” Wesley said, nodding, and everyone else in the room gathered near his desk. Cordelia and Angel made certain they were standing very far away from each other. Being distracted right now was not a good idea.

They’d gathered to do their research in the brightest part of the day, knowing that Sebastian couldn’t stream through the sunlight even in his incorporeal form. Wesley had done enough research to find out that he had to recorporealize on a regular basis if he didn’t want lasting side-effects. That meant they could assume, somewhat safely, that the middle of the day would be Sebastian-free.

“I think this will work,” Wesley said, continuing. He pointed his finger at an engraving on the book’s page. “This urn is what we need. We can trap Sebastian’s essence in it and then destroy him inside it.”

“Good,” Angel said, crossing his arms and leaning back against the wall. “How do we get him in there?”

“I discovered that yesterday,” Fred said excitedly. “We have to catch him in the middle of his tricks. When he’s between solid and incorporeal, his power is weak.”

“Then we can use an incantation to direct the particles of his essence to the container,” Wesley finished for her.

Gunn shook his head, frowning. “Sounds kinda weak to me,” he complained. “Won’t he be prepared for this?”

Their boss sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Probably, under normal circumstances. But I would imagine that by now, he’s worked himself into a frenzy because he’s waited so long. He probably won’t be focused on anything but getting to Cordelia.”

A wave of fear passed through Cordelia, but she swallowed, then breathed deeply to calm herself. “It sounds like a good plan to me, Wes,” she said quietly.

“Did you ever figure out how he’s able to do all of this?” Angel asked. He’d heard rumors of vampires with special powers, but he’d never encountered one before Sebastian. Gunn and Groo’s reconnaissance of Sebastian’s mansion had turned up nothing helpful.

Shrugging, Wesley pushed back in his chair. “I called Giles earlier this week. He told me that Dracula had contacted Buffy sometime last year, and he’d had similar powers. It seems that they are some form of Gypsy magic.”

Angel frowned fiercely at this. “Damn Gypsies,” he muttered.

Wes half-smiled. “One good thing is that they always have some sort of antidote for their magicks. They believe in balance.”

“So now we have to go dig up some dusty urn?” Gunn said, his voice tired. He’d been sent on countless errands for rare books in the past week, and it wasn’t lost on him that he’d probably be sent out for this, too.

“No,” Wesley said, shaking his head. “The spell calls for any sort of container with a lid.”

Gunn raised his eyebrows. “So we could use Tupperware and it would be all good?”

Wesley frowned at Gunn’s irreverence. “I suppose,” he admitted reluctantly.

Cordy laughed wryly. “That would be too funny. ‘Vampire Destroyed by plastic container.’ Sebastian’s so upper crust he’d probably be insulted with anything less than a silver urn.”

“I think a clay pot with a lid, or some type of jar would probably be our best option,” Wesley said.

“Get a glass jar,” Fred suggested. “Then we can just set it out in the sun, and . . . poof! Dust bunnies.”

Angel’s smile, a sinister curve of his lips, stretched across his face at the thought. He deserved it, the bastard. Death by sunlight was painful, or so he’d heard. Much worse than staking.

“Let’s do it,” he said, nodding.

“Very good,” Wesley said, closing the book after marking his page with piece of scrap paper. “He’ll make his move soon, I would think.”

Cordelia shivered. Somehow, she knew Wesley was right.

***

That night, Angel sat alone in his suite, staring into the darkness outside and frowning fiercely. A half-empty bottle of Glenfiddich sat near him, a glass in his hand, half-full. Cordelia had just left him, and while the sex this time had been less painful emotionally, he was still confused and heartbroken. She needed him, but she’d never said she loved him.

He shoved aside the ache in his heart and turned toward the worry beside it. She was getting worse, and it scared him. The haze in her eyes before she came to him got worse each time, her movements clumsier, her need greater. Tonight, she’d stumbled to him, practically falling into his arms, and he’d had to get her started before she was able to take over and get what she needed from him. He’d tried to be gentle, but it seemed to be painful for her, and when he’d quickened his pace and roughened his movements, she’d sighed with relief. He’d brought her off quickly, and her eyes had cleared, finally.

The partial claimings were taking their toll on her. Sebastian’s had been deep, powerful, his intent clear. Angel’s at the ballet had been weak, his soul preventing him from completing it, but it had added to her condition. Every day, she got worse, and every day, he feared he’d lose her.

More than all that, his worst fear was that when Sebastian came, he wouldn’t be able to save her. That she’d go to him, unable to help herself, and he wouldn’t be fast enough to stop him.

Losing Cordelia was not a scenario he was willing to consider.

***

They were nearly ready. Every day, he checked on them, streaming in through the windows at dusk to hover in the corner near Cordelia’s desk, observing her activity. Even in his incorporeal state, he could smell the scent of her arousal, thick around her. Often, as if she could sense his presence, her eyes met Angelus’s and they left, despair and need coming off them in waves. Every time, it got worse. Every time, the ache in Angelus’s eyes grew thicker, his torture more prominent. He loved her, and it was killing him to be with her like this.

Every night, Sebastian followed Cordelia home, having found a way to keep her ghost from attacking him. One brief Gypsy incantation had made him impervious to the over-protective ghost’s actions. Dennis had howled furiously at this, but Sebastian had only smiled in triumph.

Sebastian would meet Cordelia in her living room, his essence brushing the back of her neck and sending shivers up and down her spine. He would watch lasciviously as she bathed, stroking the rough loofah over her soft skin. He would admire her sleek curves as she readied for bed and climbed beneath the covers. He would bask in the glow of her beauty as her eyes fluttered shut, her breathing evening out as she fell into the deepest of sleeps.

Only then would he allow himself to touch her. The particles of his essence would swirl, rearranging themselves into his corporeal form, and he would walk to her bedside, gazing down at her. Another whispered incantation would put her under his thrall, her eyes opening, her mind telling her she was dreaming. He would run his fingers lightly down her arm, then all across her body, teasing her into readiness. Only when she was panting, her body tingling and aching, would he dissolve and remove the thrall, leaving her to her unrequited desire.

Every night, he dutifully resisted the urge to complete his claim, knowing that revenge would be the sweetest when she was at her most vulnerable, Angelus at his most desperate.

He smiled in undisguised glee. Yes, they were nearly ready. Soon, very soon, he would make his move.
Part 11

Fifteen minutes earlier

Angel bolted upright in bed, panicked. Something was terribly wrong, but his brain was too overloaded with anxiousness to grasp the nature of the problem. An echo rang through his mind, an echo of his name, in Cordelia’s voice. Her scream had awoken him, and he wasn’t yet sure if it was a dream or a reality. His breath, although unneeded, came in rapid pants, his eyes darting around his darkened suite wildly.

Throwing back the covers, he darted out of bed and pulled on his clothes in record speed. He had yet to get used to this situation. Ever since he’d bitten her, he’d had a tenuous link to her feelings. Nothing helpful usually came his way, only her strongest emotions. Usually, those emotions were already written all over her face before he felt the answering echo in his mind. But now, when she was obviously more frightened than he’d ever known her to be, he thanked the powers for his ability to share her mind.

He just hoped he could get there quickly enough.

***

The feel of Sebastian’s cold lips on her mouth made Cordelia gag with revulsion. His tongue tried to breech the barrier of her closed mouth, but she steadfastly clamped her jaw shut, even as she pushed against his solid frame. Ruthlessly, his mouth took hers, again and again, in a way that made her certain her teeth would cut through her lips at any moment from the force of his attentions. Finally, after what seemed like minutes of torture, he pulled away, staring triumphantly down into her eyes.

“Do you really think screaming for your vampire will help you?” Sebastian whispered. “He’s far, far away from you. He won’t be able to save you. You are mine little girl. You’d better get used to the idea.”

As if to underscore his threat, he leaned back into her, his fingers gripping her upper arms so hard she feared her bones would snap. In the next instant, she felt his mouth on her neck, his fangs scraped the delicate skin, right over the mark he’d made before.

“No!” she moaned, even as her eyes closed. Her mind screamed in revulsion, but her body, her traitorous body, recognized the owner of those marks and responded. The wounds began to throb, fogging her mind with lust and threatening to push away the fear that gave her strength. She began to relax into his arms, and as she did, she felt his mouth curl into a smile on her neck.

“That’s it, my girl,” he whispered into her skin. “Your body knows me. I am your master. You belong to me, and only me.”

She felt a slight pressure against her skin, then a sharp, extreme pain that made her gasp. Her eyes flew open, widening, her mouth dropping open in a soundless scream as Sebastian drank from her. She could feel the blood flowing out of her body and into his mouth, his greedy suckling drawing more than he could take in. Her warm blood trickled from the wound and down her back.

She knew she should fight, but she was frozen in place. Her body was acting without her, even as her heart was begging for Angel to save her. God, if he didn’t get her quickly, she’d . . .

“Angel,” she whimpered one last time, just as her world began to go black.

***

Angel had always thought Cordelia’s apartment was small, but it had never seemed like a longer journey from her front door to her bedroom than it did tonight. Dennis admitted them at once, shoving a notepad into Wesley’s hand with a hastily scrawled note. Angel paid no attention, making straight for Cordelia’s bedroom door. When he couldn’t open it, he roared in frustration.

Whirling around, Angel grabbed Wesley’s arm so hard that the younger man winced. “Do something, Wesley!” he ground out, his teeth clenched.

“I’m trying, Angel,” the ex-watcher said, opening his notebook and handing Fred a bunch of herbs. She lit them quickly, and Wesley began chanting. As he did, Angel and Gunn pounded at the door, trying to break through the barrier by force. Just as Wesley came to the third line of his incantation, Angel stopped suddenly, then swayed on his feet, clutching his head.

“No,” he moaned, his eyes clouding, then turning to Wesley as he recovered. “He’s draining her. Hurry!”

Wesley just chanted faster.

The edges of Cordelia’s vision had begun to grow fuzzy. She shoved at Sebastian again, but her efforts were even more ineffectual now than they ever had been. Why had she stayed here alone? Why hadn’t she asked Angel to claim her when she’d had the chance? God, she’d been so stupid!

Just as she thought she’d pass out from blood loss, Sebastian pulled away from her neck, perversely drawing out his claim and letting blood ooze from the wound. All he had to do to seal his mark was lick them closed, and she’d be his. Forever.

But he wouldn’t be cheated out of her surrender. He needed her to beg for it. He craved it. Knew it was the only thing that would satisfy his need for vengeance. The only thing that would bring justice for his beloved Brianna.

Cordelia’s eyes darted toward the door as it vibrated with each bang from the other side. Sebastian smirked at her, his hand coming up to cup her face and turn her back towards him.

“Your little friends will not break through,” he said, shaking his head. “We are well protected. I have seen to it.”

She got lost in the blue of his eyes for a moment, frozen in a combination of fear and manufactured desire, and he used that to his advantage, moving to seal the wound on her neck.

The movement at the door argued against his bragging. There was a bright flash, and the door crashed in. Snarling, Sebastian grabbed Cordelia more tightly, then to face Angel and the gang.

Angel froze for the barest of minutes as he took in the scene. Cordelia lay arched over Sebastian’s arm, her pajama top around her waist, her breasts exposed. Her eyes had a glazed look in them, as if she wasn’t quite in control of herself, and her neck sported an angry bite mark, torn and bleeding. The scent of her blood was thick in the air, and at the smell, Angel’s face rippled as it turned to his vampire visage. There was no doubt in his mind as to what would happen next.

Sebastian was going to die. Nobody touched Cordelia and got away with it.

At the look on Angel’s face, Sebastian’s snarl was replaced by an evil smile. His face shifted back to his more civilized features, and he smirked at his enemy.

“Really, Angelus,” he said, shaking his head. “You have no sense of civility. That barrier was there for a reason. She belongs to me.”

“Let go of her!” Angel’s statement was punctuated by a step forward, a wary step, as Sebastian still had a very tight grip on Cordelia.

“NO!” the word was a growl, hardly human. “This is my RIGHT, Angelus. After what you did to me, I deserve reparations.” He turned back to Cordelia, his fingers trailing down to the wound in her neck. “All I have to do is lick these closed, Angelus, and she’s lost to you forever.” He smiled triumphantly.

Then, his eyes almost gentled as he took in her glazed eyes and flushed cheeks. He trailed a finger down her face, ending at the tip of her chin. “So beautiful,” he whispered, almost losing himself. “And so weak. Even now, despite her struggling, she wants this, wants me. Don’t you, little one?”

She whimpered, her eyes drawn to his mouth as hers parted slightly. One hand came up and reached for his face. She was unable to stop herself; the draw was just too intense.

Angel had seen enough. With speed that none of them had ever seen, he lunged for her, grabbing the arm closest to him and yanking her forcefully off the bed. Sebastian, despite his posturing, was surprised, and he screamed his frustration as his prize was stolen from him. Gunn quickly moved between him and Angel.

As she felt Angel’s hands on her, Cordelia’s body began to shake. His cool, clean scent washed over her, and her mind began to change, the strong desire for Sebastian being replaced by an equally forceful need for Angel. With tears in her eyes, she turned to look up at him, shaking her head and trembling.

“I’m so confused, Angel,” she said. “I need it, so badly!”

Sebastian wasn’t about to be thrown aside. He lunged for her, shoving Gunn away so hard that he hit the wall and bounced off, landing hard on the floor. His fingers encircled Cordelia’s upper arm, bringing her toward him, even as Angel maintained his grip on her other arm.

In the moment that she felt both vampires grasping for her, Cordelia’s body and mind went on overload. The lust consumed her, her body wracked with pain as she was physically and mentally pulled in two different directions. She screamed, the pain snaking through her cruelly.

The two vamps stared at each other, neither willing to give an inch. Angel’s heart ached to ease Cordelia’s pain, but letting go of her now was not an option.

“Angel!” Wesley’s voice penetrated the haze of bloodlust in Angel’s mind. “You have to claim her, now! It’s the only way to stop Sebastian’s power over her.”

Angel’s face turned to Wesley, and he snarled at him. “No! I won’t do that to her,” he said, even as he maintained his grip on her arm. “She doesn’t deserve to be tied to me.”

“She’ll die if you don’t!” Angel’s eyes swung back to her, taking in her limp and trembling form. The only thing that was keeping her upright right now was the two vampires holding her arms. Her eyes were half closed, and even through the fury pounding through him, Angel noticed her weakened heartbeat and her shallow breathing.

Nearby, Gunn had picked himself up off the floor, along with his crossbow.

Wesley’s words had made Sebastian’s mouth turn up in another smile. He had won. No matter what happened, he had won! If he didn’t claim her, she’d die from being torn in two both physically and mentally by he and Angelus. And if, by some miracle, Angelus loosened his grip, Sebastian could complete the claim in seconds. A surge of triumph flowed through him, and he leaned his head back, cackling with the glory of his victory.

That momentary lack of focus was all the gang needed to spring into action. Gunn’s crossbow raised, aimed and shot within seconds, a gasp escaping Sebastian as he felt the wood penetrate his chest. His scream of frustration echoed off the walls, even as his body dematerialized to avoid total destruction.

The minute his hand dissolved and released Cordelia’s arm, Angel yanked her to him, holding her in his arms. His breath soothed her skin, a whispered “I’m sorry,” grazing her ear. His mouth found her neck, fangs quickly sliding in to replace the marks made by Sebastian. Immediately, the taste of Cordelia exploded on his tongue and he groaned, gripping her more tightly.

The moment Angel began to drank from her, Cordelia’s lucidity returned. She gasped, her hands coming up to grasp his shoulders and cling for dear life. Her body sang with the pleasure of his touch and through the mist in her mind, she marveled at the lack of pain.

Angel was careful to drink as little as possible, knowing that Sebastian had already taken too much. Barely a minute passed before he retracted his fangs from her, his tongue swooping in to lave the tender flesh and seal the wounds with his scent. Quickly, he jerked open his shirt and sliced his chest open, pressing her mouth to the wound.

Cordelia sighed and curled into him the moment his blood entered her mouth. Angel sighed, too, hearing her heartbeat grow stronger as her mouth moved against his chest, gently sucking from him. Her strength and mental clarity were returning, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

Behind him, sparkly particles of dust began to form and take shape, almost unnoticeable before it was too late. Wesley, having been mesmerized by the sight of a live claiming ritual, jerked himself out of his concentration just in time. He nodded to Fred, who brought the jar out and held it ready. Wesley’s notes gave him the incantation, and he began chanting.

At the sound of the foreign words from Wesley, Angel jumped aside, pulling Cordelia with him, as Sebastian was nearly solid again. But the spell held him in stasis, half formed, half dust. He screamed, his mouth taking on a grotesque appearance, but no sound escaped, his vocal cords not yet formed. His frame shook, the particles quivering as he fought the power being wielded against him.

But slowly, Wesley began to win. As his chanting grew stronger, the particles making up Sebastian’s form began to swirl, beginning at his feet and traveling up the length of his body until he was a tornado, whipping in a frothy circle. Everyone took a hesitant step backwards, wary of being too close to the spinning, glittery mass. Then, Wesley’s words changed, and the particles streamed, as quick as a bolt of lightning, to the jar in Fred’s hands. She staggered backwards at the force, her hands gripping the glass tightly, as the particles shoved themselves inside. They ended with a whoosh, and she frantically screwed the cap on tight.

The ensuing silence in the room was deafening. Fred still clutched the jar, its contents now glowing and swirling, Sebastian’s anger obvious even in his incorporeal form. Slowly, Wesley closed his notebook and straightened his glasses, which had become skewed in the frenzy.

“Good work, all of you,” he said softly. Turning to Cordelia, his eyes softened. “Are you all right?”

Cordy opened her mouth as her eyes flooded with tears. Suddenly, she found it hard to speak, almost harder than when she’d been under Sebastian’s thrall. She settled for nodding, curling more tightly into Angel’s embrace.

“She’s fine,” Angel said determinedly, kissing the top of her head. “She’s fine.”

The rest of the gang knew that arguing would be useless, and it was quite obvious that she really would be okay.

Part 12

“Angel.”

Cordelia’s voice whispered against Angel’s ear, making him shudder. Her warm, naked skin rubbed against his, and he moaned. His eyes came open reluctantly and he stared into sparkling hazel eyes, surprisingly vivacious considering the strenuous activities they’d both engaged in all night long. Pleasurable strenuous activities, at that.

“Up and at ‘em, buddy,” Cordelia said, poking him in the ribs. “Today’s the big day.”

“What big day?” he said, frowning, putting his arm around her waist and rolling on top of her, trapping her to the bed. “No big day.” He argued, then began kissing a trail across her cheek. “We don’t have to go anywhere. Bed sounds good. Great. Fantastic.” Each word was a kiss, a lash of his tongue against her sensitive skin, ending at his mark where he lingered.

“Angel!” she said, her annoyance tempered by the pleasure in her voice. “We really don’t have time. We’ve spent practically all day in bed, and if we don’t get up, there will be no sunny courtyard to make this happen!”

Finally, her words registered. Today was execution day. Execution for Sebastian. His mouth curled into a grin. It hadn’t been more than a week since his nemesis was squished into a jar that had formerly housed a rather disgusting concoction that resembled strawberry jam. A week that had been filled with more love and happiness than Angel had ever thought was possible in his lifetime.

After they’d defeated Sebastian, he and Cordelia had remained at her apartment while the gang took the jar and their supplies back to the hotel. It had taken them awhile, but they’d finally worked through the issues that had plagued them these last few weeks. He’d been bold and declared his love for her, and her immediate tears had worried him until he felt the happiness pouring through their bond into his mind and soul. She loved him. He’d known it then, without even hearing her say it.

They hadn’t dusted Sebastian yet, only because every day since his demise had been cloudy. Miserably cloudy, punctuated by heavy downpours. Great weather for making love, bad weather for dusting vampires by sunlight.

“Fine,” he said, grousing. “We’ll get up.”

“Well,” she said, smiling, arching up against him. “Maybe we could wait a little bit longer. . .”

He groaned as her hand wandered down and encircled him. Just as he was about to lose himself in the rhythm of her stroking, someone pounded on the door.

“What?” Cordelia yelled, obviously frustrated.

“Yo! Sunset is in fifteen minutes, so if you wanna see the show, get a move on!”

Gunn’s voice penetrated the thick wooden door as if it weren’t even there.

Angel smiled down at her as Gunn’s footsteps faded away. “So we’ve got ten minutes.”

“Ten?” Her eyebrow arched. “I’d say we have fourteen. Your window overlooks the courtyard. We can have a bird’s eye view.”

He gazed down at her, all the love in his eyes reflected back in hers. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said, then claimed her lips with his own.

It was over. Finally, she was his. Forever.


…THE END…


THE CHALLENGE CRITERIA:
Challenge by Impress

Angel’s demon side REALLY, REALLY wants Cordy. His souled side wants to remain friends. The man in him, while attracted to her, likes having a female as a friend so sides with the souled side.

One night while out (can be a case or just fun, or whatever) Cordy is attacked by a vampire. The vampire isn’t a run of the mill vamp, he’s actually a master vamp nearly as powerful as Angel(us). Angel rescues her but not before the other vamp has managed to bite her. Angel wants to kill the other vamp but somehow (you decide) the other vamp gets away.

Since the bite was from an older vamp, the wound is deeper then with most vamps. Because of this the wound is taking longer to heal than other bites would. After the first day or so, Cordelia can no longer stand having the bandage on her neck (it’s itchy, it clashes with her outfit, whatever reason you want to give).

Angel is now forced to see the other vamps fang marks on her. This drives the demon in him nuts. The demon wants to ‘erase’ them and replace them with his own permanent mark. The soul/man barely restrains the demon, but with each passing day of being forced to see (and smell a hint of the other vamp) the demon gets harder and harder to control. Eventually, the control snaps and the demon takes control of the body and claims Cordy.

Must includes:

*Angel(us) hunting and killing the other vamp for touching what was his.

*Angel(us)’s claiming of Cordy can’t be non-con.

*The whole scene with Angel(us) claiming Cordelia must be done with him in full vamp face.

*Possesive!Angel(us)

Optional

*The Curse.

*A S/G crossover


 

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