Falling Cherries


AUTHOR: FRAZI
SUMMARY: Pre-IWRY. When Angel accidentally hurts Cordelia, he realizes how important she really is.
RATING: PG13
POSTED: 11 May 2004
CATEGORY: Fluff / Humor / Post/Pre-Episode (IWRY) / Challenge Fic
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: Mild language use
FICPIC CREDIT: CALIFI
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) Dedication: To Cali. If I didn’t lurve you as much as I do, 😛 I might just get time to breathe! LOL! Lucky me.
2) Challenge Criteria posted at the end of the story.


ficpic_fallingcherries


Circles in the sand, damned history repeating itself. Hakunamatata indeed! Remind me never to let Cordelia drag me to a Disney movie again. Not only did the damned coddling kitties stir up the demon to whining proportions no one else could comprehend, but sitting in that dark theater; how’s a vampire supposed to ignore the smell of fresh blood and with the added bonus of Cordelia Chase wearing a perfume that smells like a cherry garden. Cherries. Red juicy, succulent cherries. Succulent like…

Shaking my head I glared at my slightly tipped desk surface. Okay. Getting back to the task at hand. My damned desk is crooked. CROOKED dammit. As if the tiny little thing wasn’t annoying with the drawers that always seemed to get stuck and the splinters that caught a vampire unawares.

~Stop being such a cranky bitch Sully. You went, you came, you conquered. Good thing you didn’t see the blonde vampire layer.~

Jumping to my feet I frowned. Where was that damned stake anyway?

Reaching to open a drawer I gave a tug and growled. Stuck again. Today was NOT my day! With a slightly more powerful yank I managed to pull the drawer open enough to allow me to pick up the old windup clock. Okay. Plausibility wise, if I do this Angelus would shut up and I won’t have to daydream about the damned cherry garden. I nodded. Good plan Angel. Placing the clock on the hardwood surface I watched one of its legs standing up from the left. I sighed exasperated. Never letting Cordelia Chase go furniture shopping with Doyle again. Neither of them could see straight, I concluded.

~Plus the bastard is always touchy feely. Want me to rip those spikes out of his face any time soon?~

Pencil. Where’s the damned pencil again? Standing back I placed the pencil on the slightly tilting surface. It’s not THAT tilt-y Angel. I mimicked the soft lilt in my secretary’s voice and rolled my eyes. The damned thing couldn’t even hold my nice old clock and that was an antique. I was still engrossed in wondering where I should put the pencil to figure out the angle when I heard the voices outside my office.

“When did he get back?” I could practically hear the lower lip caught between the woman’s teeth.

~Succulent cherries?~

Shaking my head I glared at the pencil before putting it strategically on one corner.

“Late last night,” Doyle replied with a sigh. Why did everyone seem to sigh when they talked about me?

“And?”

“Ah, he seemed fine.” Poor simple Doyle. He didn’t know where this was going. I sighed. Then frowned. Dammit, now they’ve got me doing it.

“He saw Buffy. He was in Sunnydale for three days, tracking her and that thingymagiggy you saw in your vision.” I nearly glared at my door. Did they NOT know about vampire hearing? The LEAST they could do was whisper dammit! I’m insulted. And she’s doing it. She’s sighing! And I can just feel her sad hazel eyes gazing at me with pity. I let the pencil roll and glared in its wake. It rolled until it hit the edge of the clock and stopped. Pity, I did not want. I mean I DID go back to Sunnydale WITHOUT breaking down and going to see Buffy. Didn’t that redeem some respect!

“Where is the crabby scowl, the morbid gloom? This just means that it cut deeper then usual. Batten down the hatches, here comes Hurricane Buffy.”

I nearly stood up there and turned to stare at her. Buffy? Come here? Then I shrugged. It sounded plausible enough. The slayer did have a nasty temper and I DID strategically avoid her while I was taking care of the vision. Please don’t get me wrong. Buffy is Buffy. She’ll always be special, but somewhere along the year I’ve been away from her. I’ve gotten tired. I’m tired of being dealt the short straw and I know I deserve every bit of misery on my life-plate, but after I left Sunnydale I promised myself I wouldn’t buy pain. No purchase of misery from the moment I stepped into the City of Angel. Egotistical as it sounded; yeah. This is my city. And I’m through with catching the sticky end of the lollypop and being left with a squeezed out tube of toothpaste.

I decided to ignore the conversation in the hallway as I proceeded to check the short leg and calculating how much I would have to lift it.

“You think?”

Cordy’s answer was again a sigh. A rather exasperated one and yes dammit I’m still listening. First there’s the sighing and now there’s exasperation and the damned desk is STILL tilting. Reaching into the open drawer I pulled out the stake. You’re going down; I told the desk silently with narrow eyes.

“Maybe he’s over her.”

“You have so much to learn little Irish man.”

I ran my forefinger over the tip of the stake. I was still wondering if this stake was going to be enough when I heard Cordelia’s gasp.

“Oh, my God!”

I blinked as my Seer and Secretary ran into the office, her hazel eyes wide and trained on the stake and Doyle paler than usual.

“Don’t do it, Angel!” Cordy nearly vaulted over my desk to reach me and I raised an eyebrow. Okay, maybe I wasn’t the only one mentally imbalanced in this office.

~You know what they say sully. Class attracts class.~

Doyle was shaking his head as I watched them, cautiously confused. “Listen to me, man, it’s not worth it.”

And again I’m wondering what the hell they talk about. More now than usual. “It’s not?”

Cordy was beside herself, hands clasped together, brow creased worriedly as she looked me straight in the eyes. “No! You can’t let her get to you like this. You’ll meet someone else. Just give it some time.”

Doyle held out his hand. “Why don’t you let me have that?”

And that was when it hit me. My funny-man Seer and Hyper secretary thought I was going to stake myself.

~BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA! Are they fucking daft! You need balls for that Sully!~

Ignoring the need to make good on their suspicion, I held back the fast approaching grin. “Because I need it to level my desk. “ Lifting the edge of the desk with one hand I stuck the end of the stake under the leg and stood back dusting my hands. “The floor is uneven.” And then I couldn’t help smirk at them. “You two thought…”

Instantly, Cordelia’s mouth widened into a bright innocent smile as she pointed to her associate. “Doyle did. You know how he jumps to conclusions, – ’cause you saw
Buffy.”

Of course, it is Doyle whose pulse goes flying every time the slayer is mentioned and prospect of visiting Sunnydale is brought up. I eyed the woman for a second then decided to let it slide. She’d never admit it and I’m not the bastard to throw people’s insecurities in their face.

~That would be me.~

“It wasn’t a social call. I was there to protect her. I stayed out of sight. She didn’t even know I was there.” Maybe I was trying to reassure her, but I also wanted her to know that I hadn’t caved. I had conquered. Albeit, I’d been tempted, but self-preservation caught up with me just in time. Yeah I’m a vampire who wants to live it up happily a little longer. Big surprise.

My secretary frowned as if not entirely convinced I was telling the truth. Actually, she looked down right shocked. What WAS it with people dammit? Did they not know I have some remnant of control over myself still? “Really?”

~Well you LOOK like a wuss, what do you expect?~

I met her eyes candidly before nodding.

“So you avoided her.”

I glared at her. What; was it written in bright blue letters on my forehead? How the hell did this young woman always know what I was all about? Of all the people I’d wanted to figure me out, Cordelia Chase was not one of them. That’s like giving a damned bazooka to a four year old. Too much ammunition in the hands of… of…

~Succulent Cherries?~

So I took the coward’s way out. I hedged and tried to make it as if I hadn’t been dying to come back home to my little family. Yeah family. I’m only a vampire dammit and we’re all about ownership. This was my family. My seer. My secretary. My friends. My office. My purpose and my city. My. My. My! Address the concern on Doyle’s face and the suspicion on Cordelia’s I offered the first explanation that I figured they’d buy. “Look, Buffy is always going to be a part of me, and that’s never going to change. But she’s human and I’m…”

~Looking at cherries? Switching diets? Bored with bleach?~

I frowned and pulled my eyes away from hers. She always seems to catch the lies there so I watched the curves of my boots instead. “And I’m not. And that’s also never going to change. We said our good-byes, no need to stir any of this up again.” And when had Buffy ever not reminded me my little shortcoming. Vampire. Bloodsucker. Demon.

“You don’t want to ‘stir’, but if my ex came to town and was all stalking me in the shadows and then left and then didn’t even say ‘hello’ I’d be…”

“A little upset.”

My head snapped up and met green eyes a tad more antagonized than upset.

“Wouldn’t you?” She leaned there in the doorway and I waited. Waited for the gut-wrenching feeling of longing ache. Waited for the sinking feeling in my chest, the tingling in my limbs and the twitching of my fingers.

And I waited.

And waited a little more.

Waited still and I guess I was still waiting before Cordelia looked between us too with a forced smile before fixing it on the slayer. “Buffy! – Buffy’s here – in town.” She looked at me pointedly as if asking me to say something and still I waited. I saw hazel eyes widen emphatically before she turned to Buffy. I was still waiting. “What brings you to..”

“I came to see my father.” I supposed everyone though I only had eyes for the slayer, but I was waiting dammit and the silly elation didn’t come. The only feeling in my still veins was uneasiness and weariness. “Thought I’d stop by,” she finished before pushing away from the doorframe to stand straighter.

My secretary let out a fake laugh and I almost wanted to reach out and wrap her in my arms. Yeah baby, I know how uneasy this is, but that wouldn’t have gone well. Not just yet. So I let Cordy beam with false bravado. “What a surprise!”

And Buffy didn’t even look at the ex-cheerleader. For some reason it seemed to irk, me but I was frowning at the lack of empathy on my part and blaming my demon before Buffy finally looked at the brunette rolling on the heels of her feet, apparently antsy. “Cordelia how are you?”

“Good. I’m good. You?” Yeah baby, say it with a little more feeling, I urged silently, but again decided not to voice my coaxing. Wouldn’t help matters. There was still the issue of one irate ex-girlfriend in my doorway.

“I’ve been better.” And didn’t that just make me feel all happy and welcoming inside. Her green eyes were watching me. Accusing and I was supposed to say what exactly? ‘Hi Buffy, I’m avoiding you and now you’re here making me feel horribly guilty and aggravated that you put me in the spot.’ I mean don’t people realize that when someone’s avoiding them, confronting them won’t make them feel better about having to eventually face you. It only irritates you further.

~Eat her.~

I didn’t trust myself to speak. I was afraid I’d agree with Angelus.

Cordy watched my mute state and looked at my Seer in blind panic before grabbing his arm and dragging him next to her with a grin. “Uh-huh. Well, this is Doyle.” She patted his arm, her worried Hazel eyes watching me for an instant before looking at Buffy. “And he gets visions of people in trouble.”

The Irish demon cleared his throat and tried his brightest smile at the slayer. “Nice to meet you.” Drop it man, you’re coming out even more morbid that I feel right now.

And still I didn’t speak. What the hell was I supposed to say? Sorry? This was the exact fucking reason I hadn’t seen her.

Cordy grabbed my Seer’s arm and proceeded to drag him out of the office. “And this is us leaving you two alone.” And I panicked; opening my mouth to ask her stay. Beg her to not leave me here to deal with Buffy, almost dragging her back bodily.

Buffy closed the door.

The damned smell of cherries was gone.

And I can’t meet her eyes because suddenly the only thought my dead old brain is capable of is finding a way to bring them back. Anyway. Desperate measures even.

~She’s looking at you Sully. And it’s creeping the fuck out of me. Tell her to piss off already, I’m in the mood for fruit.~

Clearing my throat, I moved out from behind the desk, although even instinct inside me told me to stay where I was. Far away from her. Where I wouldn’t have to touch her. Where I wouldn’t have to be given the choice of wanting to touch her. And it scared the hell out of me because it wasn’t for the same reason I’d left Sunnydale. “Well, umm, it’s good to…can I get you anything?”

“How about – an explanation?”

Okay so small talk was out of the question. It took all of my inner strength not to growl or show my weariness. “Buffy…”

“Who do you think you are coming to my town and following me around behind my back?”

My eyes snapped up to meet hers. Why did she always put me at the defensive? It was always me trying to explain myself, my actions, my decisions and my shortcomings. Vampire. Demon. Bloodsucker.

And I’m sucked back into the vicious circle. “I’m sorry.”

“What is this? Some new torment you cooked up just for me?”

Then I’m sighing. Yes I see why they do it. The need to suddenly expel air mimics trying to expel the exhaustion and irritation. And it saddens me that that is all I’m feeling. “No, I don’t want to torment Buffy…”

“What is it? You can see me, but I can’t see you? What are we playing here?” I look up and frown at her. Again with the interrupting dammit. You know all that time away from the love of your life and suddenly having nothing left in the world really gives you a perspective on what you want out of life. The simple things come back without the heartache and blindness that being in love brings. Of course technically the veil lifts when you find that perfect place that calms and sooths and puts all your worries to rest. When you’re with the one you love and think of forever. Not having the liberty of having that with Buffy had given me options. And I’m a fucking vampire dammit. My mind tends to wander. Just as it does while she talks and I’m thinking of sniffing cherries. The whole damned situation seems like such a farce right now because let me tell you, when you’re wandering through dark streets alone without a purpose and a friend in the world you do a hell of a lot of soul searching.

And when you find them all you do the next logical step. We move on with our lives and we leave the pain and hurt behind.

“We’re not playing Buffy. At least, I’m not playing anything. I wrestled with this decision…”

“Which you made without me.”

And this time I did glare at the interruption. “I tried to do what I thought was right. It’s complicated how this all happened, Buffy, you know? It’s kind of a long story.”

“You’re new sidekick had a vision, I was in it, you came to Sunnydale?”

Can I just say the word ‘sidekick’ just bristled all kinds of new little cords inside me? “Okay, maybe not that long.” I ran a hand through my hair hoping to lighten the atmosphere with humor, but it didn’t help. How the hell does Cordy do it anyway?

~Flawlessly you ignorant piece of shit.~

“You didn’t feel that I was important enough to even tell me that you were there.”

I dragged the strength in me to look at her face, to see it twisted into a saddened frown. A part of me felt bad, I admit. It was a lousy, nasty, cowardly thing to do, but we’re already gone over survival instincts remember? There only so much emotional beating a vampire can take. “I’m trying to explain.” I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice, but the look on her face said I didn’t succeed as well as I planned. “It’s because I felt that you’re important that I didn’t tell you.”

“I’m a big girl now, Angel. I’m not in High School anymore. A lot has happened in my life since you left.”

Smug little girl. “I know. Mine too.” I crossed my arms and leaned back against my desk evasively.

“And I don’t need you skulking around, trying to protect me.” I wondered if I should remind her it was the vision, but she looked all self-primping, so I chose my patented silence as she continued her little tirade. “Unless, of course, I’m in some gigantic fight to the death, which – I was last night. That was you, helping me, wasn’t it?”

~She really is dumber than she looks isn’t she?~

Afraid I might admit the state of my annoyance and her ignorance of the fact that when my Seer had visions I had no choice BUT to go to PTB bidding; I tried my usual. I hedged some more. “I was in the neighborhood – skulking.”

When she didn’t seem to entertain my deadpan humor I rubbed my throbbing temple and clamped down the sudden need to run out of the office. Wouldn’t that have been all brave and warrior-like? The PTB would be disgraced for their immortal lives. “I’m sorry if I handled this wrong. I mean, what else was I supposed to do?” And again I wondered why all I did to this woman was apologizing. For things that happened. Things I did. Things I was. Vampire. Bloodsucker. Demon.

“I don’t know Angel.” She ran a hand through her hair and seemed to match my weariness for an instant before her green eyes clouded with empathy that froze me in my spot.

~Oh for the love of Hades; here it comes.~

“I just know that when you’re around, whether I see you or not, – I feel you – inside – and it throws me.”

I took a deep steadying breath. Yes goddammit; even we need it at times like his. Still male you know. “Throws me too.” Just not for the same reason anymore.

I hadn’t realized or seen the softening in the young woman because I was still merrily hyperventilating inside my head. The breathing didn’t tip you off? There are only two things vampires breath during. Being interrogated is one of them.

~Angel the Shagless vampire.~

I growled softly under my breath.

“So let’s just stick to the plan. We keep our distance until a lot of time has passed. Given enough time we should be able to…” She stumbled over her words, green eyes misty and asking me for things I didn’t have any more. She was standing there asking me to sweep her into my arms share forbidden kisses but those damned forbidden kisses had been my undoing. I was sick and tired of forbidden things. They hurt and stole you from yourself in a way you could never find back. And I’d just barely found myself again.

When she still looked at me, hoping, expecting, I provided the word that eluded her. “Forget?’

Soft disappointment streaked across her pretty features before she nodded. “Yeah. – So, I’m gonna go – start forgetting.”

I nodded.

And then her green eyes narrowed. “I’m going.”

I nodded again.

Green eyes darkened and she stood there. “Start the forgetting you know.”

And I raised my eyebrows, unsure of why she was still in my office, and I admit I must had looked slightly condescending, but this was my office dammit and there’s also only so much emotional melodrama a demon can take. I wanted her to go so I could wallow in misery that usually followed her wake. I didn’t need to anticipate the brooding session I knew I was going to have after this. The sooner she left, the sooner I could get back to may life.

“Leaving?”

I blinked. “Aren’t you?”

Green fire licked at her eyes. “Excuse you! Weren’t you the one who came after me?”

“The vision Buffy. It was the vision. I wouldn’t have come back to Sunnydale otherwise. I promised myself and you.” I really hadn’t wanted to point out the reason I’d dragged myself back to my past, but she wasn’t leaving and I had a feeling things were about to get a lot hotter that my male taste allowed.

And she stood there, one hand on her mouth as if physically struck by my words and instantly I felt the guilt building in my chest. Guilt that hadn’t visited me in a while. Guilt that had been replaced with grins and smirks and laughs.

~And Cherries.~

“Buffy don’t. Don’t make this harder than it already is.”

“Is it?” Suddenly she’s not hurt or the same love-struck woman standing in my doorway or the one I left in Sunnydale. Suddenly she’s angry and she’s the slayer and it stirs all kinds of wrong instincts in me. No. Will not eat her. Will not eat her.

“Yes it’s hard for me to do this again and again.”

“What leaving me?”

I couldn’t help the growl of frustration. “No. Picking up the damned pieces every time you blow through my life.”

“YOU were the one who left.”

“I had no choice Buffy! We were making each other miserable. Wasn’t that indication enough that it wasn’t meant to be?”

“Meant to be!” She stared at me incredulously. “Before you left, WE were meant to be!”

“Well this is now.” I raked my hand through my hair and shook my head. “It’s not like I’ve forgotten Buffy. Those are memories I wouldn’t part with for anything.”

“I’m not a fucking memory – I’m standing in front of you!” She snapped.

I met her eyes, tired of hiding behind false facades of calm. “What do you want Buffy?”

The young woman’s face twisted with confused fury before she started the pacing, her hands clenching and writhing against each other. “I don’t know.” She threw up her hands as she wore a path in my office floor. “Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been trying to make sense of what I felt for you. I’ve been trying to get past the insane need to be near you. But it’s been hard Angel.” She looked up at me and I saw her for what she was, a young girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders. But we all have our fights. I’d come to understand ours wasn’t the same. It looked like she didn’t. Yet.

“It gets easier down the road,” I shrugged, my hands sliding into the pockets of my pants. The damned smell of Cherries had nothing to do with it. Nope.

~Keep tellin’ yourself that wussy.~

And I realized that Buffy was not a fool. “Is there someone else?”

My head jerked up and I stared, my mouth opening then closing as I stood there struck dumb by her question.

And she seemed to suddenly go cold. “Oh.”

But there wasn’t. Not yet. I tried to find the right words, but with me that’s never easy. My foot likes to lodge itself firmly in my throat. Panic welled in my belly. And I pushed the maddening urge to reach out and shake the woman firmly. Anything to get the confusing thought out of her head and mine. Talk about putting ideas into someone’s head.

~As if Sully. Cherries haven’t been on your fucking mind.~

The firm line of her features as not as confident as she probably means it to be. “Who?”

“There’s no one…”

“Don’t lie to me!”

“Buffy there isn’t…”

“Are you denying it?”

“All I’m saying is…”

“Are you denying it dammit, it’s not a multiple choice!”

And for a second I wonder if I should even bother with this verbal sparing its only grating on my already tender nerves. “Will you listen…”

“WHO!”

“Buffy!”

“WHO!” And then she was stepping closer and the demon was snarling, the ripples skating precariously under my face.

“Ahem? Angel, sorry to interrupt, I know you’re all cozy and in the moment, but this invoice…”

Turning to the door like a whiplash, and gold-rimmed eyes I nearly snarled at the mahogany head sticking in through the slightly ajar door. “Don’t you ever think to knock?” I was livid and antagonized and unable to see the widening of her hazel eyes as I shot at her. “You forget what you’re here for.”

As soon as the words had left my lips and I saw the instant flash of pure hurt on her fine-boned features, I cringed.

~Fucking hell Sully! You have LOUSY aim! THAT is the secretary! The vapid slayer is behind you!~

The fangs and ridges instantly melted. “Cordelia…” I took a step toward her, but froze at the blank, icy expression on her face.

“And now I’m going to lunch.” Without another word or even a glace in my direction the door clicked shut.

Like an idiot I stood there, torn between running after her and leaving Buffy upset and still angry. Looking up into her disturbed features I cursed silently. Leave it to me to find some way to suck the happiness out of everything. “Buffy…”

“It’s her.”

And I was slapped.

But I didn’t know if I should be angry or if I should be shocked of I should just admit the damned scent of cherries branding my senses. Taking the last vestiges of the honesty left in the situation, I met her gaze. “There’s nothing going on between myself and Cordelia. There hasn’t been anyone since you Buffy. But I don’t forget that you’re not mine and I don’t forget that I’m a vampire and you’re a slayer.” There was a flash of regret and denial in her eyes before she averted her gaze, but I had to tell her the truth. I owed her that much. “Cordelia’s my friend. One of my best.”

“Bitchy little Cordy is suddenly Angel’s best friend?” She snorted softly. “Alert the presses.”

I frowned. “Don’t.”

Looking up, I saw guilt chase shame across her pretty features, her lower lip pouting as she thought. Finally with a ragged sigh, she raised her gaze back to mine and the conflict of emotions had calmed considerably. “Not fair Angel. Your forgetting is no way near mine.”

“Really?” I watched her carefully. “Admit it Buffy, it’s not fun wallowing in misery. After a while even that gets old. And then you don’t have a choice but to go forward.”

Fearful she voiced her question. “Why her?”

“Why not?” I shrugged. “She’s tactless and inexperienced, but she’s also compassionate and fiercely loyal.” I couldn’t’ help the exasperated throwing up of my hands. “I mean for god’s sake; You put up with Xander don’t you?” Although no way was I comparing Cordelia to that annoying pain in the butt.

Her nose wrinkled. “Touché.”

I shook my head at the stung look on her face. “That wasn’t a point. Just stating a fact.”

She was silent for a moment then looked up with a deep breath and most resolve than she’d shown the past few minutes. “So this is it. We’re moving on.”

Suddenly the prospect was as frightening for me as it seemed to her and for a moment I wondered if I was right, but the flashing pain in those hazel eyes kept haunting me. “Yes – this is it.”

In the silence that followed, my office door was thrust open. “Angel?” Looking up I regarded the alarm on my Seer’s face as he stood there. “What did you do?”

I winced. “As Cordelia puts it Doyle. I’m the king of bad timing.”

He glared. “What did you say to her?”

I shook my head before grabbing my coat. “Something I didn’t mean. Which isn’t all that new. Where’d she go?”

“Don’t bother going after her Angel. She quit.”

I froze. “She what?”

The Irish demon stood there with his arms crossed and his blue eyes flashing with anger. “Yes bossman; she quit.”

“She can’t quit!” I snapped, the unwarranted fury mingled with the budding fear as the prospect of Cordelia Chase leaving finally sank in.

~YOU, you pansy assed prick! You did this! YOU! YOU! YOU!~

“That woman always does what she wants and what she wants is to never see you again.” Doyle crossed his arms. “What did you say to her?”

I sighed, rolling my shoulders to adjust the coat as I looked at Buffy, who was silent. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to apologize to her. I’ll bribe her dammit. She can’t quit! I won’t let her!” I glared at him. “Where’d she go?”

Doyle let out a sigh. There. He’s doing it again and he’s looking at me like I’m a clueless little school boy. But then I figure I might as well be. Cordelia Chase does not woo easy. “Home Angel. She told me she was going to buy Rocky-Road, go home for a bubble bath, and sue you for harassment in the work place tomorrow morning when she sends for her paycheck.”

I raised an eyebrow. “She figures she’d get a paycheck AND a lawsuit?”

“It’s Cordelia,” Buffy pointed out with a roll of her eyes.

~Slutty’s got a point.~

I’d have to take the sewers. The lengths I went to. “Well first she’ll have to deal with quitting without notice.” Meeting Buffy’s eyes I took one last look at the woman who’d taught me to love unconditionally and walked out of my office. Over my shoulder I called out, “Doyle, give Buffy a tour!”

Buffy Summers looked up at the Irish man staring after Angel as if he’d been given a death sentence. “Well don’t start jumping for joy yet.”

Blushing slightly Doyle turned to the blond slayer and gave her his most winning smile. “Francis Doyle at your service madam.”

A snicker shot out of the woman.

He smirked. “Me mother had a wicked sense of humor.”

Buffy smiled back. “So did mine.”

*

I’m an idiot.

~With you there Sully.~

I can’t believe I snapped at Cordy that way. And what frightened me the most was that she hadn’t snapped back. She’d looked like I’d slapped her and instead of screaming at me and calling me an ingrate or a dork, she’d left. It was indication enough that she was hurt. First Buffy, now Cordy. I was a regular asshole with women these days.

~With you there too.~

I stood in front of the door to her apartment and scratched my temple. All through the underground walk to her apartment I’d been thinking of all the things I’d say to her to make her forgive me. Falling on my knees was a desperate option. Hell I was ready to grovel, but now as I stood there in front of the door I only felt like the bigger fool Angelus was always calling me.

~About time.~

She should know I’d never hurt her. But I had. She should know she’s not just my secretary, but that’s exactly what I’d called her. I was still contemplating my options and feeling like the heel I must look like slumped there in front of her door, when the soft cold breeze drifted around me. “Dennis? Open the door.”

Instantly the breeze was gone.

Rolling my eyes I grabbed the door handle and tried to push open the door, but it slammed back in place. I glared at the wood. “Dennis. Open the damned door. I’m sorry I was an asshole to her, but I’m here to make it better. Now let me in.” When neither the door nor the ghost budged I sighed. “Look Dennis, do you want her to keep feeling bad about this, because I know she is? Let me get in there and make it better. I’ll make it better; promise.”

What the hell was that? A word of a vampire, but the ghost must have believed me because the door slid open with a soft creak and I smiled slightly before ducking inside. “Thanks.” I looked around the small apartment and frowned. Hurricane Cordy had really been in a bad mood. A trail of clothes lead straight to the bathroom door that was slightly ajar. Following the path I scooped up, first the knee length gray skirt, the stockings, the blouse, the bra and then the panties.

Of course by the time I’d reached the last article of clothing I had forgotten why I was there. Instead I stood there like a blithering idiot staring down at the emerald green lace. Lace. Cordelia Chase wears lace. Of course Cordelia Chase wouldn’t be caught dead in anything besides the best, but what’s a vampire to do holding his best friends frillies when they smell like cherries? Oh shit.

My feet had carried me to the bathroom, my thumb tracing over the soft material and my eyes peeked through the slightly ajar door to spot my seer.

And if I’d been alive and kicking, I’d have died. Again.

Because there she sat, immersed in bubbles up to her neck, a tub of ice-cream and a spoon dangling in her hands, and black tears running down her soft coppery cheeks.

The clothes slid from my fingers, the insane need to protect, sooth and coddle filling every pore in my dead body and for once my demon didn’t scream at me or call me a wuss. As chatty as Cordelia was and behind the brave sunny exterior, she was still a young woman. A woman who’d lost enough in her life already. She didn’t need this kind of shit from a man like me.

She deserved better and for once I wondered if she as better off. If I should just leave her, she’d find her way without me. Only I knew she wouldn’t. Young and inexperienced that she was, the day I’d found her had been the day I’d found purpose. And though I believed in karma and the entire PTB shit, I knew there was a reason she’d fallen into my arms that day. And I’d be damned if I let her get away from me.

Before she could notice the prying eyes or the sound of clothes hitting floor, I had pushed the door open and crouched by the side of the bathtub.

Liquid eyes snapped up from the ice-cream tub and stared up at me in alarm, the hazel sparking like glittering amber in the candle lit bathroom. “Angel?”

I almost smiled at the incredulous tone in her voice. “Who else?”

Then the amber caught fire and the line of her jaw hardened. “Get out.”

I blinked a little startled at the sharp crack of her words. “No.” I shook my head as I sat back on my heels and watched her.

“Get the hell out Angel.” She leaned over and placed the tub of ice-cream on the floor and fixed the icy fire of her eyes on me with venom. “I had a very sexy image of Jude Law in my head. I don’t want to see you right now.”

“No, I’m not leaving until I’m done Cordy.” I reached out to try and wipe the black wake of her tears a part of me wrenching with guilt for putting them there.

Jerking away from my touch like it burnt, she sent a wave of water out of the tub, soaking the soles of my boots and coattails. “Done!” She snapped, almost rising out of the tub before she realized she was stark naked under the bubbles and settled back against the ceramic, as far away from me as she could.

“YOU have done enough you egotistical little eunuch! What more do you want! Your ex wandering into the office, unannounced mind you; and I try, no, I STRIVE to make it easier for all of us. Giving you privacy and understanding and YOU! You berate me in front of Buffy! I can SO hear her going off to her little posse and telling them, ‘oh look, Cordy’s finally where she deserves to be, a maid in waiting to a love-struck selfish vampire!’ HER love-struck selfish vampire.”

I flinched at the well-placed, honest hurt flashing in her eyes and fought for words. “I didn’t mean it. I’m apologizing.”

“Well tough noogie Angel!” There was a slosh of water and her arms crossed across her chest, covered with foamy bubbled as she glared up at me. “Tomorrow I suggest you look for a new secretary while you make my final paycheck, because I’m so out of there. I’m through with fetching for you buddy.”

“Christ Cordelia, I’m sorry! You’re not just my secretary and you’re not there to just handle invoices and fetch for me or Doyle. You know that. You caught me at a bad time.”

“Life is FILLED with bad times Angel.”

“I was angry with Buffy, not you!”

“Well then your aim is slightly off bigman. I’m not whiny, blonde or intellectually sterile.”

~HAH! SEE!~

Why the hell doesn’t anyone ever believed me the first time around dammit? How many times do I have to apologize! “I won’t do it again.”

She stared at me. “What are you; five?”

“I promise Cordelia.” I looked her straight in the face. “You’re never going to have to question your importance in my life. Ever.”

Her arms slid away from her chest and she sunk lower into the bubbles with a frown.

“I’ll make this better.”

“You can’t.”

“I will Cordy.”

“Conceited bastard.”

I watched the fading tears and reached out a hand to try again. This time the pads of my thumbs smoothed the smoky lines and she didn’t pull away. “You want groveling?”

“No.” She shook her head slowly, not meeting my eyes still. It unsettled me. “You know how they do it right?”

“What, groveling?” I smiled slightly.

She glared at me. “No. Apologizing. I don’t care whose fault this was; even though it’s rather obvious.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re the man. Be the man. I’m just going to sit here like a woman and act all difficult and weepy.”

I hid a smile. “I thought you were all for equality with men.”

“That was before I met you.” She stared into the depth of my eyes and the emotion there shook me to my bones. “Ever since you’ve made me believe that I don’t need to do everything, I haven’t stopped being a woman.” I could feel the softening of my muscles, and every instinct told me to crawl inside the damned bath tub and wrap my arms around her and never let her go.

“You know what you did?” I shook my head and she continued. “You made me weak.” I raised a hand to touch her and I she batted it away. I winced slightly. “YOU made me a woman. YOU made me soft and feminine and YOU told me it is okay to let you take care of me; that I don’t have to be the Rock of Gibraltar. YOU said you’d be my Rock of Gibraltar.”

“Yes, I did.” How the hell did she do that? Go from snaky to soft and feminine in the same minute?

“Then how the hell could you do that to me? In front of her! You know she doesn’t think very highly of me considering I’m employed and she’s getting quality education.” She looked away and I couldn’t hold it this time. Leaning closer I ran a hand over the crown of her head and she glared up at me through watery eyes. “You were the only one who never made me cry Angel. Until now.”

“I feel like pond scum.”

She looked up with resolve. “Lower.”

I grinned slightly and this time she didn’t pull away as my fingers grazed her jaw tenderly. “How about I be your little kick puppy until you forgive me?”

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and frowned. “Yeah I suppose having you be my kick puppy for two or three years ought to be enough for considering forgiving you.”

And right there with the smell of cherries wafting out of the scented water and the telltale smile on my secretary’s face I realize where I am.

After months of aggravation and insecurities I’m right back where I started. I told myself after Buffy, I would never put myself up for the fall. Never again. I thought I could fool myself into being impersonal. It makes it so much easier without the farce of trying to love and express love when no one believes you’re really capable of it. Vampire with soul is only the beginning. I felt so damned ironic. I know it’s not really a state of being, but I felt it. Like my last cigarette and one damned match left in the matchbox. And let me tell you, it feels nauseating to fall short of something you promised you’d never do again.

But here I was, watching her smile up at me with a mix of timid little girl and brazen young woman. And I realized I’d done the unspeakable.

I’d admitted it to myself that I could fall for this beautiful, young, fiercely stubborn woman.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not misplaced or a fucking rebound. Cordelia’s not Buffy or anything like her. It’s just a fact. And I’ve accepted it.

She makes me feel almost human. Less than a vampire, demon or bloodsucker. Almost like a man begging forgiveness of a woman. No what-ifs or dangling catastrophes or fatal attractions. Just comfortable companionship that could blossom into something a vampire can never be ready for.

Forever.

In that tiny perfumed bathroom, I feel sated and innocent. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in a while. In a century maybe.

She makes me wish I were a child just so I could read the emotion in her eyes. I wish I was a mystic and I could look into her heart. Her endless snarks weren’t enough to convince me anymore. I knew how to play with words. And this time I didn’t know how to tell her that I could definitely fall for her. I could fall so deep.

I guess that’s what scares the living shits out of me. She is exactly what I need. If I stood at the brink of the building waiting and wanting to jump off, she’d take my hand and jump with me. If I wanted to close my eyes and let the darkness swallow me alive she would be there right next to me, her hand holding mine and ready to descend with me in the darkness. If I wanted to make a complete fool of myself in front of hundreds of people she was would be right there next to me while I did it. She’d probably help me.

If I wanted to breathe I know she’d breathe for me.

It was that simple.

All I thought and did somehow affected her suddenly. And I knew it now. Everything she did was mine in the end. She swallowed me whole with her wide smiles and those hands on my arm, and the fingers bandaging my cuts and bruises. I wasn’t used to this closeness. Not the kind of intimacy that stretched and spanned a lifetime. I hadn’t had anyone depend on me for so much. I was used to being the vampire, the muscle. The shadows. And this woman consistently dragged me into the sun; a little at a time – until I was burning from the inside and standing there in the middle of the damned morning grinning up at the sun like a moth to a flame.

And it scared me. The simplicity with which she accepted me was scary and I was becoming edgy. I could fall for her.

I could fall for her and never hit bottom and this time it was deep enough to drown me.

Hazel eyes blinked with confusion when I didn’t speak, but watched her – a torrent of emotions flooding my usually apathetic features and she shifted, instinctively moving closer, to look at me closely. Peering up into my face, I watched the pupils of her eyes dart fitfully over my face and then back to my eyes. “Angel?”

I didn’t trust myself to speak. I might do something stupid. Like tell her.

One soft hand cupped my cheek and I nuzzled into it. “Sweetie are you crying?”

And just like that my shoulders were shaking, my lips pressing into a thin like and I was laughing. Head thrown back, roaring with laughter and hugging her. Wet and squealing, I had her trapped in my arms, the edge of the bathtub digging into my ribs, the bubbles dotting my nice coat and soaking the front of my clothes with cherry scented bath water. Burying my face into her soggy hair I muffled my laughter.

“Christ Cordelia. What the hell would I do without you?”

When she tried to draw away from me, I allowed her enough to peek up into my face, her lips smiling and her eyes happier, even when they were rimmed with leaky mascara. “Oh I don’t know Broody, do something stupid? Like wear stripes. You do know stripes make you look fat?”

I smirked down at her, stifling the urge to kiss her, before I allowed my eyes to drop to the succulent swell of her partially exposed breasts. “Nice Bubbles.” The breasts were definitely nice!

Wrinkling her nose prettily, she looked down at her breasts peeking from the froth and shrieked jerking out of my arms and back into the water, her arms wrapped across her front. “Idiot! Dork! Pervert! Out!”

Leaning over with a leer that would have done my demon proud I held her gaze until she was silently staring up into my eyes the hazel of her eyes melting into sinful toffee. “Finish your bath then come back to work baby. I’m lost without you.”

The soft smile tugging at her lips was melting as was the warmth in her eyes and I felt slightly more secure that I wasn’t the only one falling. “You are?”

I kissed her wet forehead, my tongue unconsciously coming out to lick the Cordelia tasting water on my lips before I stood. “Yeah. Who’s going to misfile my invoices?” I winked at the wide gape of her mouth and walked out of the bathroom.

“ANGEEEEEEEEEEELLL!!!!!!!!! Angel, get back in here so I can kill you! ANGEL?”

I remembered an old song.

‘Remember, when falling; when you’re falling; and someone catches you; then together you might just be able to fly.’


…THE END…


CALIFI’S CHALLENGE:
1. Post IWRY- BUT no UST with Buffy. Angel’s actually moved on.
2. He knows he is attracted/likes Cor, but that’s as far as he’s been willing to think about it
2. Fic opens up where Buffy turns up at the office- but this time, Angel is in the office with C/D and he takes B into his office
3. The spiel comes out, but this time he says he didn’t want to cover old ground with her, and that it was best just to deal with the vision and come back HOME.
5. They start to have words as Buffy sorta gets what he’s saying
6. At the height of angst, Cordelia, clueless barges in and Angel’s misplaced anger gets taken out on her.
7. She quits and Doyle lays into Angel who is feeling guilty anyway
8. Cor goes home and basically has depressing thoughts before Angel turns up there.

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