Fine Tuning


AUTHOR: NICKLE (aka BRENDA)
SUMMARY: Follow up fig to ‘In The Dark’. Ya got some getting to know you, a little Darla, some crankiness, a baby
RATING: NC17
POSTED: 19 May 2004
CATEGORY: KINDA SMUTTY, HUMOROUS ANGST
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: Explicit Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES: None
STATUS: Complete


CHAPTER 1

“MmmmHmmmm….” Cordy tried to pay attention as Wesley droned on about their latest case. It was arguable that trying to pretend interest while cool, insistent fingers stroked at the v of your clenched legs, teasing them to open, was pretty damn good acting. Cordy shifted away from Angel slightly, her legs gripped tightly together. Under the cover of the table cloth, His hand had begun by trailing over her thighs, gently teasing patterns on her skin. Cordy had casually reached down and pried his hand away and had tried to cover by dropping her fork and leaning down to pick it up, punching Angel in the leg and mouthing ‘cut it out’ when he looked down at her.

But…Angel didn’t take orders. Nope. Cordelia found herself getting warm. He gave them. Even without speaking a word. His hand, for instance, was demanding that she part her thighs just a little bit….just enough….to slide under her skirt…..tug aside the damp thong…..

“God!” Cordelia leapt up, startling Gunn. Wesley stopped speaking, looking at her askance. Angel regarded her with a solemn expression.

“What is it, Cordy….vision?” He was all tender concern and caring. She was going to kill him.

“No! I mean…no, no vision. Just….God, Wesley. You work so hard…..it’s just so….Wesley of you.” Her eyes closed a moment then she sighed. “Headache. Be right back.” And she shuffled off to the bathroom, trying to ignore the wet slickness between her legs as she walked.

Wesley watched her go, a resigned look on his face. He turned to face Angel, who looked back at him with a determinedly blank expression. Gunn rolled his eyes and looked over at Angel.

“Dawg. All for the makin’ of the happy, but damn. Do we have to watch it?”

“Yes.” Wesely added. “While my cable package doesn’t include cinemax and you both fill that void nicely with your daily show of hormones gone wild, would you please attempt to rein in your….”

“Gropin’ of the Barbie.” Gunn finished.

“Yes.” Wesley sighed. “Exactly. Please do your…Barbie groping….in a more conducive setting.”

Angel grinned and tried to look shamefaced. “Allrighty. I get it. No more public displays. I’m tryin’ here, guys. Really. But…”

“It’s new and fun, and….hey, no evilness. End of a loonngggg dry spell for you, man. I totally get that one.” Gunn nodded. “But, it’s..ya know. Cordy. Don’t know whether to congratulate you or whack you upside the head.”

Angel laughed. “Being with Cordy is like a little daily dose of both.” He and Gunn laughed together and quickly shut up as the door to the bathroom opened and Cordelia walked out, smoothing her skirt down. Casually, she walked back to them and past the table, sitting down on a sofa nearby instead. Carefully avoiding Angel’s gaze she looked at Wesley. “So…where were we?” Wesley shot a warning glance at Angel and picked up his notebook, continuing.

Later that evening, Angel stopped by Cordy’s desk and looked down at her, hands in his pockets. She bit her lip and looked up at him. His gaze was level. “Stored some boxes in the attic. Think I packed a claymore away….wanna help me look?”

“Of couse.” She rose, walking ahead as he motioned her to. She climbed the stairs, up past the second floor…up past the third….feeling his gaze on her…

“You’re looking at my ass.”

“I’m always appreciative of fine art.”

She grinned to herself and kept climbing. She was a little sweaty by the time they reached the attic and opened the door to the musty room. She turned to look at him. “OK….where’s the box?”

He yanked her close to him, grinning down in to her face with a leer. “I got your broadsword right here, baby…”

Cordy groaned. “Oh god, please don’t tell me you worked on that one all the way up the stairs.”

“Nah….that was a gimme. All the way up the stairs, I was thinking of fucking you till you passed out.”

Cordelia felt her body tense at the rough words. Seven days of being with Angel, and one thing she had learned….her ‘on’ switch was pretty easily tripped with him. He could get her with crude words…with rough hands…with soft whispers….with soundless touch. Two nights ago, over at Wesley’s, she had been sitting at the table trying to balance her checkbook while he played Gunn at the playstation, and he had looked up and caught her eyes licked his lip, once, slightly. She had sucked in a sharp breath and had to cover it with a cough. He had casually risen, finally, and said he had to be getting home, and she had followed suit 5 minutes later. He had met her out in the dark street and had taken her, right there, against her car.

“Sound good?” he leaned in close to her ear. His hand raised her short skirt and stroked at her ass while his other hand gently trailed over her face. “You gonna finally open those legs for me?” His hand lightly tapped her asscheek…not a painful swat, but one that teased and hinted at darker things to come. “C’mon Cordy…let me have some fun”

She tilted her head so he could lick at her throat and her legs parted of their own volition. He breathed “good girl” against her skin as his hand worked around to the front of the juncture of her thighs, pulling aside the wet thong with little preliminaries. His fingers glided over wet smooth bare silk of her skin and he stopped, surprised, and raised his head to look at her.

She reddened, and looked away but his fingers pulled her face back to meet his. “You’re full of surprises, Cordy. When did you do this?”

She sucked in a breath as his fingers trailed over the full lips between her legs, stroking the slick puffiness gently. “Umm…..this morning….I…I thought you’d like it….”

His body tightened even more. He shifted, his cock pressing uncomfortably against the confines of his jeans. “Oh, baby, I do. I like it a lot. Smooth….” One finger parted her flesh and glided through the wet petals within…”soft…..” another finger joined the first, and his thumb found and flicked at the hard swollen bud of her clit. “….wet….” and she cried out as he pressed two fingers into her tight channel, spreading her legs wider as he twisted his fingers, pulling them back out in a smooth stroke. He backed her to a wall and yanked her skirt up around her waist, ripping the thong so it fell from between her legs and reaching to unfasten his jeans with a blur of speed. He gripped her and hauled her up onto her toes and kissed her with a wicked heat before spinning her around and bending her over at the waist, leaning around to slap her hands flat on a small stack of boxes. He leaned in close to her ear and whispered, “We’ll do slow and easy later, baby…right now…” his voice was urgent. “I want it just like this. I want it hard..and fast….and now.”

Cordelia looked over her shoulder at him, hair falling across her face like a silken curtain. “Then get it. Now.” Angel reached down and yanked at his belt, unfastening it and unzipping his jeans in one smooth move. Cordelia shifted impatiently, and he looked down at her bare ass, her skirt bunched up around her waist. He groaned as he reached down between her legs and stroked her again before gripping her hips and pulling her up onto her toes, positioning his cock as she parted her legs even wider and tilted her hips so that she was ready for him. “C’mon, Angel….Baby…..c’mon.” Her voice was a husky invitation that made him glad he didn’t breathe, because just the sound of her voice, all heavy with need, was enough to make a man unable to think straight or draw breath. He pushed into her heat a bit and held still, feeling her grip at him with her inner muscles. He leaned into her and wrapped one strong arm around her abdomen to support her, another hand at her back, stroking up and down the taut length as he surged in.

Mother of God. . She was all wet juicy heat, engulfing him as he pushed all the way in. “Take it.” His voice was dark and faintly menacing….shivers raced up her spine. She shifted, parting her thighs even wider and lifting herself higher on his hips, slightly off of his cock. She relaxed and slid back down, feeling him fill her once again. His hips began pounding into her as she rose again, one lonnnnnnggggg slow stroke….another….another……she felt her body tensing…her head tilted back…her mouth open as shallow pants puffed out. His hands held her firm, and she felt him flex with each thrust. Without warning, she came, heat pouring through her as she let the fire grip her from head to toe…her body taut and gushing around his cock. He groaned a guttural sound as his back went rigid and he slammed into her, cumming and cumming as he filled her. God…..even a quickie could go on forever with her.

They remained still, the sound of her heart racing like a freight train pounding in his ears. He groaned, burying his face in the damp curve of her throat. They both stood there, clammy and hot and replete, and a low rumble sounded from his chest. She looked over her shoulder at him, a sated grin on her face, and took in the masculine satisfaction stamped on his face. He laughed, low and sexy, and murmured, “Next time, we find a bed.”

“Hey, all for it, Mr. Hey This Kitchen Counter is Just the Right Height. Believe me, right there with you.” Cordelia managed the words with only a little panting….her heart still thumped and thundered loud enough to wake…well…the dead. Angel kissed the back of her neck gently and pulled out of her, his body replete. Cordelia slowly straightened and arched her back, all feline grace, turning to grin at him as she stroked his lips gently. “In a hurry, were we?”

“Always in a hurry for that.” Cordelia looked at him, steadily. “Somehow, that just didn’t come out right.”

She laughed. “You got the take your time thing down just fine, Big Guy, no worries there.” She leaned in to kiss him gently, stroking his lips with her tongue, her skirt still bunched up around her hips as she cupped his face with her hands.

“Angel?” Wesley’s voice sounded down the corridor, coming closer. Angel groaned and leaned his forehead against hers, grimacing at her giggle as she reached to tug her skirt down over her hips back in place. His hands reached down to fumble his jeans back into place, zipping them up just as the door opened.

Wesley poked his head in, looking around. “Angel?” He stopped as he saw them, standing side by side, Cordy smiling and waving a cheery little wave. “Oh for the love of God.” He stared at them both before resting annoyed eyes on Angel, who looked down and shuffled his feet. Ignoring the undercurrents, Cordy spoke up.

“Angel thought he might have left some weapons here, and needed help finding them.” She grinned widely at Angel. “Well, no Box O Weapons here….” The silence finally registered. “Welllll…..gotta go. Someone’s gotta man…woman…the phone….” And she brushed past Wesley and left the room her footsteps fading down the hallway.

“Yeah, we were…um….looking….” Wesley ignored Angel’s muttering as he leaned over to pick up a scrap of torn red silk, holding it out with two pinched fingers.

Looking down at Cordelia’s thong dangling from his fingers Wesely said, “Yes. I see Cordelia at least found your sword.”

Angel glared at him and snatched the silk out of Wesley’s hand. Wesley looked at him steadily and turned to go to the doorway. He paused, and, without turning back to Angel, said casually, “Of course you’ve gone over the ramifications of the claiming with her.”

“Well, yeah. Sure.”

“And by that you of course mean no.” Wesely sighed. “I only bring this up because Gunn and I would certainly like good seats and popcorn to watch the inevitable bloodbath. Yours, not hers.”

“I’ll tell her soon, Wesley.” Angel looked grimly at the underwear in his hand, the afterglow of the quickie all forgotten.

“Yes. Do that. Keeping her ignorant of what exactly she has chosen is…..it’s cruel, Angel.” And he went out the door and disappeared down the hall.

Angel stood a moment, alone, thinking. Wesley was right. This wasn’t fair to Cordelia. It had come time; no, it was past time to….fine tune things.
CHAPTER 2

“Cordelia. Claiming is a sacred and ancient…..no. Ok. Cordelia. A bond forged in the passion of two hearts…..no. That sucked. Ok, ok, ok. Cordelia. Some, a lucky few, are among those who find something that….um…..rises above….transcends….climbs….ascends…..”

“Increases. Augments. Grows. Escalates.” Angel closed his eyes at Wesley’s amused voice. “Really, Angel, we can break out the thesaurus, if you think it would help.”

“Don’t you have someplace to be?” Angel looked at him, his gaze narrowed, as Wesley lounged in the doorway, arms folded across his chest. “Someone to annoy, or just plain piss off?”

“No, no, no. There’s no place I could be that would be nearly so…entertaining.” Wesley grinned. “Practicing to tell Cordelia?”

“Practicing what?” Angel groaned as Gunn strolled into the lobby. Perfect. Now, if only Lorne came in, his misery would be….

“Angelkins. Got a little job….” Lorne breezed in, his canary yellow suit momentarily blinding the three men. Angel often wondered if one day, merely the brightness of one of Lorne’s suits would be enough to dust him. Lorne stopped, his gaze bouncing between Wesley and Gunn. “Am I interrupting some kind of confab?”

“Nope. Just watching Angel practice. He’s going to tell Cordelia all about what she’s signed on for tonight. Got any advice for him?”

Lorne looked over at Angel. “Yeah. Wear a cup.” Gunn and Wesley both laughed out loud and stopped as Angel glowered at them all and stalked over to sit on the sofa, resting his head against the back and closing his eyes.

“I am so screwed.”

Wesley nodded his head. “I believe I did warn you that you should be upfront…”

“Yeah. Got it. You told me so. Shut up.”

Wesley glanced at Gunn and leaned against the corner of the desk. “Angel, all you need to do is to be gentle and tactful. Cordelia is…resilient. This life has given her a certain, well, perspective that automatically precludes acceptance of certain…”

Gunn leaned over and smacked Wesley’s head. “What the dictionary is trying to say, Angel, is that Cordy’s going to be ok. She hangs with demons and all that, and this is going to be kinda a surprise, because you have no spine when it comes to her, but I think she’ll be cool.” Angel’s eyes opened and he glared at Gunn.

“I have plenty of spine. I’m the scourge of Europe. I’ve had six of you for breakfast and then took a break from that to quip at the Master before going out and leveling whole families before it was even noon, so don’t go there.”

Wesely looked at him blankly. “As resumes go, Angel, I’d leave all that off.”

Angel stared at him. “I am so screwed.”

“Yeah, we got that.” Lorne spoke, sitting opposite Angel. “Here’s what you do. Be nice today. Quit bugging her about moving in.” he raised a hand as Angel opened his mouth to speak. “No, no, I mean it. You got bigger fish to fry right now, ‘licious, and you need to reach back into that big ol’ memory of yours and pull out Mr. Suave. Set up a little dinner for dos here, maybe out in the courtyard…”

“That’s it….” Wesley jumped up. “We still have that card for that caterer, the one…”

“With the possessed dog!” Gunn reached over and opened a desk drawer. “Got her card…..right……here!” He yanked it out triumphantly. Lorne took it, thinking a moment.

“OK. Here’s the plan We call and set up a little soiree ala Cordy, then we’ll vamoose for the evening and leave you two crazy kids alone so that, well, Cordy can beat the crap out of you, then you’ll apologize, grovel, beg forgiveness, and all will be well.” He grinned at Angel. “I’ll call….” He looked down at the card. “Um….Jacque. She’ll take care of everything.”

“I don’t eat.”

Lorne’s smile became a little forced. “Cordy does, Angel. Stay with me, here. You need to charm, wine, and dine her. Settle this little, tiny, huge thing that is, incidentally, affecting us all, and we can get back to kinda normal. Comprende?”

“Yeah. Got it.” Angel sighed. “I just want….I want this to be done. I want her here.” They were all quite a moment. Finally, Gunn spoke, his voice resigned.

“Dead man walking.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re a gonner. You’re whipped. Prancin’ around here, tryin’ to make the Barbie happy like a puppydog. That is just sad. My heart breaks for men everywhere.”

Angel chuckled.. “You’re just jealous because this particular Barbie is all taken….” He grinned at Gunn. “And I’m getting some and you’re not.”

“Damn straight.” Gunn’s voice was a little disgruntled. “All the Barbies I ever saw on the toy shelves had friends. Cordy…..she hasn’t brought a single friend in here for us.”

“Ah, those would be the friends I hang with at my Visions Anonymous meetings.” Cordelia breezed into the office and set her huge tote bag down with a glance at Gunn. “Tell you what….right after I say ‘my name is Cordy and I have painful visions’ I’ll try to scope out some women for you.” Lorne pocketed the business card and looked at her.

Gunn grinned, leaning back in his chair and resting his feet on her desk. “Thanks, Cordy. Every Ken needs a Barbie.”

Cordelia grinned back before looking over at Angel, who frowned a little when he saw the circles under her eyes. She wasn’t sleeping well. He could see that. That would change when he moved her into….

“What? Is there something on my face?” Cordy’s voice broke him out of his thoughts.

“No, no, no, nothing, you just look bad today.” He blanched as Gunn leaned over and thumped him on the head. Lorne shook his head sadly and turned to go.

“Oh yes. Suave.” And he was gone.

Cordy looked at Angel like he was something that she had stepped in. “Excuse me?” with a murmured ‘excuse us’ Wesley hustled Gunn out the front door. Cordelia sighed and sat down at her desk, leaning back in her chair.

“Ya know, I can’t even get that worked up about it. I actually can see myself in a mirror, and this morning I was jealous of your gift of not being able to see your own reflection. I mean, Jeeze. Look at these…” she waved a hand at her face. “You could pack a weekend wardrobe in these bags.”

“You haven’t been, um, sleeping?”

“No, I’ve been, um, having marathon sex with my studmuffin boyfriend.” Cordelia grinned up at him. “Just not used to the whole, you know, rigor thing. No biggie. Just need to get a little shuteye tonight. Home early, sleep of the….tired people who have sex all the time….”

Angel grinned. “Studmuffin, huh?”

Cordy grinned back, shaking her head. “Men.”

Angel popped up suddenly. “Oh. You mean, go home…”

“Uh, yeah….to where I live. To, you know, sleep.”

“Oh. Because, I was thinking….I haven’t really wined and dined you, thought maybe I could, you know…” He thought a moment. His voice dropped. “You could maybe…stay over. Just for tonight.”

Cordelia looked across her desk at him. “Oh. Oh. Ok. I could do that.” She thought a moment. “Angel, it’s not that I want to be away…this is just….new. I want us to get it right. I think that means, you know….taking it slow.”

“Slow.”

“Well, slower.” She grinned. “C’mon, Big Guy. I do know you love quickies…” Angel grinned back. “…let’s take it….easy. Find our way together.”

He looked at her, feeing a tug at his center….a kind of pull of his soul. All his impatience at the slowness…all his annoyance with taking it easy….all disappeared with one word. Together. They could do this. Side by side.

“You’re right, Cordy. You are. Let’s have dinner tonight and talk about it.”

“Where are we going?”

He grinned at her. “It’ll be a surprise.”
Down below, across town and into the depths of a no longer used sewer tunnel, small, golden eyes glowed in the darkness, malevolent and beady in their intensity. Waves of cool soulless hate poured through the air, casually worn like a fine perfume.

“First thing….get a better place to stay. Maybe I should check into a hotel. A fine one. Just like the one my dear dear boy has.”
CHAPTER 3

The lobby of the Hyperion was silent when Cordelia clicked in on impossibly high heels. She spun around for effect, then stopped when she realized no one was there to appreciate her fine, fine genuine imitation Manalos. She peered into the dark office, softly calling, “Wes? Gunn?” Hmm. She walked further into the lobby, looking around and listening to the silence. No one was here, exactly, but she heard something…..here. She listened a moment. No, not a sound….a feeling. Kind of a hum. She looked around the room, trying to shake the feeling, like a prickling at the back of her neck. Well, not at the back exactly. More like….her fingers drifted up to touch the small marks left by Angel’s bite.

Oh for god’s sake. The bite was itchy. She gently stroked the slightly raised punctures and a shimmy raced through her blood. Great. She probably now had the equivalent of some weird vampire allergy thingy. She stopped suddenly. Oh god. What if the itch was some kind of vampire STD? Did they even HAVE clinics for that? She caught her breath as she rubbed at the small wounds again. It wasn’t a bad itch, really…..

She turned and headed for the doors that lead to the garden and pushed them open, stepping out into the lush warm night. She stepped further out into the darkness, and stopped, looking around before softly saying, “Angel…..”

Her heels clicked softly as she stepped back, startled, as dim light suddenly flooded the courtyard. Angel straightened up from kneeling down where he had plugged in the small lights that flitted through the trees and shrubbery, making a soft glow about the garden. Cordelia smiled widely, taking in the gentle lights, the small table set formally for two, and Angel. She had an angel, and he watched her with a solemn expression as he slowly stalked towards her.

“Cordelia.”

“Angel. Holy cow. This is gorgeous.” She stepped further into the garden and looked around at the canopy of small lights in the trees overhead, at the roses in the middle of the table, at the silver dish covers over the plates. Her grin grew wider. “You’ve been busy.”

“I had help.” He grinned a little, pleased that she was surprised. Wow. Score one for Lorne.

“Yeah. Larry, Moe and Curly really came through here. What’s the occasion?” she stopped and looked around. “They’re not here now, are they? Because, dating for an audience, not my idea of romance.”

Angel looked down at her, watching her look around into the shadows. He licked her taste on his mouth before answering. “Nope. No one here but us.”

“Yeah.” Her voice was relieved as she set her weekender bag down. “Good. I wondered when I came in…I mean, the lobby is all dark….”

“So, how’d you know to come out here?” Angel’s voice was casual, but he watched her intently. She nudged her bag out of the way with her foot and looked back up at him blankly.

“Oh. I don’t know. I saw the lights….”

“They weren’t on.”

“Oh.” Cordy looked confused. “Hmm. I guess I….just….um…” she cocked her head at him. “Jeeze, Angel, I don’t know, I just walked over to the garden. I was…”

“Looking for me.” His voice was calm.

“Well, yeah. You know, looking for the guy who asked me out? Jeeze.” She laughed slightly and turned to the table. “This is lovely. I can’t believe you guys dreamed this up. This is so sweet.” She leaned over and picked up one of the silver covers. In the middle of the china plate was a crystal goblet, filled with thick, dark red blood. She wrinkled her nose a bit and grinned at him. “Um. Your dinner is served.”

Angel smiled a bit and took her elbow, leading her to the other chair and pulling it out. She grinned at him as she sat, tugging her short skirt down as he pushed her chair in a bit. She watched him walk around the table and sit opposite her. He seemed…preoccupied. A little nervous. Well, yeah, he hadn’t done anything like this in…well…..

“Hey. When’s the last time you…” she gestured with her hands “you know….did the wine and dine?”

“Oh.” He looked a little startled. “Uh. Let’s see, that would have been last……” He sat down, meeting her gaze across the table. “Last never.”

She looked down and tried to hide a grin, feeling pleased. Oh yeah. She could still be a first. Even for a guy who had a bicentennial. She picked up the cover off her dish and looked up at Angel, her eyes wide. “Oh my god. Is this chicken kiev?” she leaned over the plate and inhaled the rich smell of the herbed chicken. Angel watched her.

“Yeah. I remember that time that we all went to that place…”

“The place where you wanted free refills on your food?”

“I thought it was all you could eat.”

“It was an upscale restaurant, Angel.”

“At those prices….”

“Oh, god, please.” Cordy laughed. “C’mon. We’re here now, in the garden, under the moonlight, just me and my guy, and his….his big ol’ goblet o’ goo.” She sighed and reached over to pick up a bottle out of the silver chiller. She looked closely at the label. “Champagne? You bought champagne?” She grinned at him, delighted. Angel reached across the table and took the opened bottle from her, pouring a small amount into her glass. “OK. Who are you?” Angel looked at her as he set the bottle back. “Moonlight, a nice dinner, china plates, champagne.”

“It’s just me. And it’s for you.” Angel’s tone was quiet, and Cordy felt bad about teasing him. She smiled at him, a little sadly, and began to eat her dinner. They both relaxed, and time flew by as they talked.

Sated, Cordy finally leaned back in her chair and grinned at Angel. “Oh wow. I’m on a tryptophan high.”

“I think that’s just turkeys.”

“Oh. Then I have no excuse.” Cordy grinned at him tiredly. “This is so nice that you’d do this.” She rested her chin on her hand and leaned forward, pouring more champagne into a glass before lifting it and clinking it against Angel’s. Angel clinked back and took a careful sip before setting his glass back down. He seemed to be thinking as he spoke, carefully.

“Cordy….” She looked at him, all happy and relaxed. He looked down at the table top and casually reached across to snag the dinner knife off her plate before placing it on his own, out of her immediate reach. “I wanted to kind of….clear the air….” He broke off, trying to think of what to say. “What I mean is…..”

“Are you breaking up with me?” Cordy’s voice was incredulous.

“NO. No, no, no….I mean, um….no.” Angel felt a flutter of panic. He should have used note cards. Except that hadn’t worked so well the last time. He grinned to himself. Actually, it had all worked out just fine, in the end. Because, in the end, there was Cordy, in all her bare glory, asking him into her apartment…and then she had…” Suddenly Cordy’s voice, climbing higher, broke into his thoughts.

“…..STD? Because if you have, hell’s gonna be a pleasant memory compared to what I do…”

“What are you talking about?”

“This!” Cordy pointed to the small marks he had left on her throat. “This right here! This little momento of your midnight nibble! Is all this so you can tell me that you’ve given me some freaky deaky vampire slime?”

Angel stared at her a full moment before speaking through gritted teeth. “No. I have not given you a sexually transmitted disease. Thanks for asking.” Cordelia looked at him, trying to read him, then leaned back in her chair.

“Sorry. You have that expression.”

“What expression?”

“The ‘I’ve got bad news how do I break it without her breaking my balls’ face.”

“I don’t have that expression. I’m expressionless. Ask anyone.”

“You’ve got the expression, Angel.” Her voice was steady. “Tell me.”

“No expression. I have no expression.” He scowled at her. “Well, I didn’t.”

Cordelia looked at him seriously for a moment then leaned forward. “OK. Just say it.”

Angel leaned forward also, looking into her eyes. There was a determined set to him as he spoke. “Cordy. That night. The night. We first made love. Remember that?”

“Well, yeah, since it was just 2 weeks ago and it was the most incredible sex ever, yeah. I remember it.” Her voice was calm but bordering on sarcastic.

“Ok. Do you remember after? We talked? I told you I had claimed you….”

“…and how claiming me was some kind of vampire protection? Yeah, got that, too.”

“Well.” Angel cleared his throat a bit. “The thing is, there’s a little more to it than that. There’s a lot more. Cordelia….I want you to remember. That night. I asked you. I asked you some things.” He held her gaze. “I asked you…who owned you. And you said, you do.” He stopped, looking at her.

Cordy’s brow wrinkled. “Well, yeah, I thought you were being chatty.”

“I was. Chatty because the claiming requires it. I asked you to take me so I could take you. And you agreed.”

She had the expression of someone trying to figure out a foreign language. “Angel, don’t know what you remember, but we had sex, you were hot, and cute, and you got chatty. And then we both went to a place where angels sing and the earth shakes and that’s what happened.” She rose up, agitated, and stalked to the edge of the garden. She stared off into the night before slowly turning back to face him, her expression unreadable.

“No, that’s not what happened.” Steel crept into Angel’s voice as he rose and followed her. “I went to your apartment. You invited me in. You took me to your bed. You accepted me as your own, and gave yourself to me. I bit you and I drank. And that sealed the deal.” He reached out and stroked the soft skin under her eye, touching where shadows lined pale ivory flesh. “You haven’t been sleeping well. Know why? Because I’m not beside you. We’re not together at night.” Cordy shook her head and backed away slowly.

“Yes.” His voice became more firm. “You walked into the Hyperion and came straight to me in the dark. You knew where I was. I bet you could find me if you were blindfolded and I stood in a group of a hundred people. We….we know each other. We need each other.”

“No.” Her voice was a whisper. Angel stroked her face again.

“Would it be so bad….being with me?”

“It’s not…..We aren’t…..” Her voice tapered off. Angel cupped her face gently and lowered his mouth, not to her mouth but to her throat. He held her firmly as he breathed in her scent before licking softly at the marks of his bite. He held still as she trembled. His voice was low as he whispered into her ear. “See. It knows me. You know me. Cordy….” She held still and kept her head down.

“So. I belong to you.” Her voice was flat.

“Well, yeah.” He pressed his lips to the top of her head. “But the thing is, you kinda own me, too.”

“I just have one question.” Her voice was a low whisper.

“What, Cordy?” His voice was a tender whispering breath against her hair.

“Do your knuckles bleed from scraping the floor so much?” She pushed away from him and glared up at him. “You can’t really believe that crap.”

“Cordy…”

“No. Really. I mean, I’m on board with the whole demon in a time warp story as much as the next guy, but Jeeze, Angel, you cannot believe some old stupid vampire stories…”

“It’s not a story, Cordelia. It’s a fact.”

“Oh. Well. OK, then. It’s a fact. We have us some kind of stupid you Angel me Cordy thing going on. Fine. How do I break it? Just turn around three times and spit in the wind? Wait for a full moon and dance naked under the north star?”

“Actually, interesting story about the full moon and the north star….”

“Would you just shut up?” Her voice was a screech. They stared at each other. Cordelia drew deep breaths, trying to calm down. “OK. Are we the equivalent of…” her voice caught. “..married? I mean, in vampire lingo. Does this make me wonky? Am I going to…oh, I don’t know….suddenly want a bloody mary, emphasis on the bloody, for a cocktail?

Angel felt his stomach unclench. They could do this. “No. No, no. No, bloodthirst. Actually, the only thing is…”

“That you think you own me. Oh god.” Cordelia stood still. She seemed to be lost in thought. When she finally spoke, her voice was calm. “I haven’t picked a thing about my life other than what I wear day to day for over three years. Only makes sense that I couldn’t pick this, either.” He started to speak and she waved her hand. “Don’t go there. Don’t talk about you asked and I answered. You know I didn’t realize what was going on.” She looked up at him, accusation in her face. They held still, immobile, in the thick evening.

Angel felt the hairs on his neck lift a moment before a cool, dry voice floated out of the night.

“Goodness, Angel, dear, dear one. More girl trouble? You do seem to have a talent.” Angel and Cordy swung around to see Darla lounging in the doorway of the garden, looking bored and coolly watchful. “Please tell me your technique has improved, or were you getting ready to have your famous ‘throw em through a door’ foreplay with her, too?”

Time seemed to freeze as Angel slowly turned to face Cordy, who held still, looking at Darla, her face going pale. Memories of broken wood and shattered glass cut at her jaggedly. She remembered.

“That door finally get in your way one too many times and you had to take it out?”

“I tripped.”

Only he hadn’t. And she was claimed, and the night was still, and there was still champagne, and it was all ruined. Darla’s voice was amused.

“Goodness, Angelus. You do have a way with the women.”
CHAPTER 4

“Goodness Angelus. You do have a way with the women.” Darla seemed maliciously amused as she took in the sudden tension. Her smile seemed to grow a little forced as she flicked a glance at Cordy. “Although I must say….” She straightened up from leaning against the doorframe and strolled with easy grace into the courtyard. “…I never picked you for the candles and moonlight type.” Cordy remained still and stared at Angel, her face tight and unreadable. Darla’s smile widened as she scooped up the half empty bottle of champagne and raised it to her lips, drawing a delicate sip. She set the bottle down and looked at Angel. “The good stuff. I’m impressed. Although it doesn’t look as if Bambi here thinks too much of your efforts. What’s the matter, dear boy? The little woman not impressed with your big, big show? All that work, so little respect….”

“Shut up.” Cordelia’s voice was low and fierce. Darla’s brows rose as she flashed a grin at her.

“What’s the matter, Bambi? Truth hurts?”

“No.” Cordy swung a flat gaze at Darla. “You’re boring me.”

The smile bled from Darla’s face as she drew herself up. “Speaking of respect….I think you should….”

“Get out, Darla.” Angel finally spoke, not even sparing Darla a glance. His gaze was locked on Cordy, and she looked back at him, anger in the depths of her eyes. “I don’t know what you want, and I don’t care. Get out now.”

“Oh, but, Angelus….” Darla’s voice was a silvery coo. “I need a place to stay. I thought, now, wouldn’t an old dear, dear friend…..a lover….put me up? Help me out? Give me…” she strolled around Cordy languidly, leaning over to whisper the last word, “succor?”

Cordy didn’t move, just turned her head slightly. “Get away from me, bitch, or you’re going to be beyond needing succor. You’ll need a dustbuster to pick up all the parts.”

Darla walked on around and stopped to grin at Angel. “Oh, that so hurts me. I was so hoping she and I could be best gal pals.” She laughed. “You know. Tell each other our secrets….”

Angel felt the weight of sadness flit through the air. Cordelia’s hurt was palpable and thick, and it covered him and weighed him down. She just stared at him, looking…..done. Done and resigned. In a burst of speed, he had Darla by the throat. He leaned in and whispered to her in a voice thick with anger, “Get out. Now. Swear to all that’s evil that I’ll kill you if you come here again. Get out. I don’t want you.”

Darla seemed to flinch at the last words and pushed his hand from her throat, stepping back. “My. I seem to have come at a bad time.” She backed up further, towards the garden doors. “Angelus, lover, when will you ever ever learn….” She paused, looking at them both, hate dripping from her sugary tones. “…I live for the bad times.” And she was gone.

Neither Angel nor Cordy moved for the longest time. Angel truly didn’t know what to say or do. He was as lost as he had ever been in his existence.

“You slept with her. After……oh god.” Cordy sank down into one of the chairs. “Oh god. Oh my god.”

“Yeah. OK. The thing is…”

“You tried to rape me. You say I “reached you”, and then, you….”

“Yeah. I was….I was….in a place…..you found me, Cordy, you did. And then, the ring, and the partners, and the whole thing…..”

“So…….you found the ring, you found the partners, and decided to celebrate by taking Mr. Happy to the skank bank?” Cordelia looked up at him. “That’s your remedy for what ails ya? A little Darla dipping and you’re good as new?”

“NO. That’s not what….” He thought a moment. “Ok, that’s pretty much what happened, but it’s not about…”

“Don’t say it. Don’t you say it.” Cordy’s voice was low and fierce as she rose up suddenly and faced him. “It’s all about us. Right here, right now. It’s about you and me and whatever life you think you’ve got all mapped out for us. It’s about me wandering around for months having head ripping gut clenching visions and you basically blowing me off so you can go party in your pants. It’s about me being an idiot because I thought, it’s a new day. I have a new life. Isn’t this new life just great with my blood sucking best friend who did me the huge favor of not raping me.” She finally stopped to take a ragged breath. Angel felt frozen. She looked up at him with such contempt that he felt the icy flames of hell licking at his soul. She closed her eyes for a moment. “It’s about trust. And it’s about lies. And what we have….” She gestured between them. “This…whatever it is….it’s a lie. And I’m done with that.”

All at once all the energy in her body seemed to drain and she sagged, her shoulders drooping as she lowered her head. They both stood still for a moment and then she slowly turned and walked to where her overnight bag lay, bending over slowly to pick it up. She moved as if she were old and tired, and Angel felt helpless to do anything. She walked to the doors without a backward look.

“Cordy.” His voice was low. She stopped, keeping her back to him. “This doesn’t change the bond. You’re claimed. You can’t ignore that.”

“Watch me.” And she was through the doors and gone. Angel staggered back slightly at the small click of the latch and listened to her footsteps as she clicked through the lobby and out the front door. He stood alone, the dim lights in the trees twinkling at him like stars in the night sky. He held still for a long long time, and finally moved to answer the cell phone that was buzzing in his pocket.

Mechanically he brought it out and opened it without saying a word.

“Angel? Gunn, your guru to suaveness here. How’s it going?”

Silence.

“Uh, this is Angel, right?”

Silence, then Angel mumbled, “Yeah. It’s me.”

“Woops.” Sudden amusement lit Gunn’s voice. “Call at a bad time? You having some desert about now? Sorry, man. Wes and me, we were worried that Cordy might have dusted you. Our Barbie has a temper, you know.”

“Yeah.”

Angel’s tone finally got to Gunn. “Um, hey, Angel. Everything alright?”

Angel was still. He finally muttered “no” and ended the call, dropping the cellphone to the ground.

He was alone. And all the light in the world couldn’t guide him now.
Cordelia trudged down the sidewalk to the back of the hotel towards her car. She had never in her life hurt as much as she did right at that moment. She reached her car and leaned her forehead against the cool door as she fumbled with her keys. She couldn’t seem to see them because everything was blurry. She wiped at her eyes, realizing that tears had rolled down her face and still clouded her eyes, and that muffled sobs sounded from her throat. She finally smacked her hand against the door, feeling the keys cut into her palm. A hysterical giggle welled up as she remembered Gunn teasing her about the best curse word.

“Fuck. It’s fuck. It’s perfect. Ya got your noun, your verb, your adverb……and of course there’s the “da fucks.” What da fuck, where da fuck, how da fuck, who da fuck…..I’m telling you, for perfect efficiency, it’s fuck everytime.”

Cordy closed her eyes and muttered, “This fucking fucker is fucked.”

“More than you know.” Was breathed into her ear just before a hand rose, covering her mouth and nose and cutting off her air. Cordy tried to bite at the cool hand and clawed at the arm, but darkness engulfed her and her unconscious body finally went limp and slipped to the pavement. Darla looked down and grinned at her, dusting her hands off.

“I do so love the bad times. And I have some special ones planned for you. C’mon, Cordy. Let’s have us a sleepover.”

CHAPTER 5

Angel stalked into the Hyperion Lobby, edgy and restless since Cordy left. He felt something prickling at his skin, needling him slightly. He sighed, looking around the dark empty hall. Nothing here. No demons. No entities. No Cordy. Why did he feel….itchy?

Cordy. He reached for the phone and called her apartment. One ring, Two. Three. Four. He shuffled impatiently. She should have had time to get home. And they’d made a deal. No more not answering the phone, even during a fight. That way led to…not being rescued in times of danger. He remembered saying that to her, and those hazel eyes had rolled up so far at that they had disappeared into her head. He was pretty sure she’d answer the phone just to let him know she was alright. Mostly sure. He finally hung up after the 10th ring and looked around, not sure of what to do next.

Just then the front doors flew open and Gunn and Wesley burst inside. Angel looked up at them in the dimness and flinched slightly as Wesley turned on the lobby lights. The two men looked down at Angel, and he felt his body tighten as he noticed Cordelia’s weekend bag slung over Gunn’s shoulder.

“Man, what happened? Where’s Cordy?” Gunn looked around. Angel felt a chill tear through him. Gunn tossed Cordy’s bag aside and stalked to the office. “What went down….because you sounded like someone kicked your puppy and took your skittles away. Her car is still out back. And we found this on the pavement by the car.”

“Cordy.” Angel’s voice was a strangled whisper.

Wes looked at him closely, moving to him. “Angel.” His voice was low and calm. “What happened? Where’s Cordy?”

Angel looked at the bag on the floor and looked at Wes with bleak fear in his eyes. No. No, no, no. He opened his mouth and uttered one word. Wes went pale, and Gunn spun around from the office door, his hands curling into fists.

“Darla.”
****************

Cordy woke slowly, groaning as she rolled over onto something hard and unyielding. She opened her eyes. Dim light filtered into the cool damp room…a large grey empty room. Rising to her knees, she swallowed, feeling her raw throat protest with pain. She had been….outside. In the night. Getting into her car. She looked around the windowless room and stood slowly, her cramped muscles achy as she stretched. What had happened? She was getting into her car…and…..nothing. She couldn’t remember.

She looked wildly around the room. A large, empty dank space. Some kind of basement room, maybe…a cellar. A single dim bulb swung from the ceiling on a frayed cord. A slight pull at her arm had Cordy looking down. A fresh cut lined her forearm, clotted over. She stared down at it and wiped her shirt over it, feeling a small sting. She looked around again and walked to the door and tugged at it, frowning as it held, apparently locked. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the door. Oh god. What was this? She had a dinner with Angel….. the dinner was fine, great, wonderful….till…..she straightened, remembering what had caused the evening to get shot to hell. She sucked in a breath as footsteps quietly sounded outside the door and she stepped back. All the pain of the night came back to her as the lock on the door clicked, and the door swung open slowly towards her. She stepped back, shards of chill pouring through her as she stared impassively at the malevolent vessel of hate who had stepped in to ruin her life.

Darla.
*******************

“You slept with Darla?” Wes’ voice was incredulous. Angel ignored him as he yanked the weapon cabinet door open and began tugging out a sword and several stakes. Wes stood stock still and stared at him as Angel began tugging his coat on. “Before you….”

“Came back. Yeah. Long story.”

“And Darla comes here, struts her bitchy self, leaves, and you just let Cordy walk out?” Gunn sounded angry. Wes threw him a look and he glared back. “No. Not being nice anymore. What’s wrong with you?” He looked back at Angel. “How stupid can you be?”

“I don’t have time for this. You can take me on later, but I’ve got to find Cordy.” Angel swept towards the basement door. “Wes. Call Lorne. Tell him to open his ears. See if anyone knows where Darla’s nesting. Gunn. You’re with me. I need you to get Cordy while I take care of Darla.” He paused, looking at Gunn. “I can’t lose her. I can’t let….” His voice trailed off bleakly. Gunn grabbed an axe and walked to him, clapping him on the shoulder as he reached around him to push the basement door open.

“It won’t happen, man. C’mon. Let’s go get her back.” Wesley watched them go and then grabbed up the phone and punched in Lorne’s number.

“It’s me. We have a problem.”

******************

“Hello, Cordelia. Sleep well?” Darla’s voice was indolently amused as she strolled into the room, approaching Cordy slowly. Cordelia willed her body to calm as Darla stopped, facing her.

“You are so dust.” Cordy’s voice was calm. “You’ll only wish for hell when Angel gets done with you.” Her coolness seemed to surprise Darla a bit; the blonde’s eyes narrowed as she looked Cordy up and down.

“Yes. Well. Now that the empty threat portion of the conversation is over, perhaps you’d like to tell your new best friend why you were all cranky with the bohunk. Of course, there’s his innate stupidity. Angelus is much, much smarter than Angel could ever be.” And she grinned a feline smile. “And much much more clever. Angelus could scent out deception before the thought leaves your head, but Angel…” she laughed, clearly amused. “I love to pull his strings and watch him dance.”

“What do you want?”

“Oh, what does every girl want, Cordelia? A pair of Jimmy Choo’s Soft, size 6 narrow, a little spree at Tiffany’s, a date with the devil….” She circled Cordelia slowly. “Now there’s a thought. Have you thought about it, Cordy? That you could be courted by the devil?” she leaned in to Cordy’s ear. “That you could be stroking flesh of hell?” she moved slowly around, circling. Cordelia held perfectly still as small shivers ran up her spine. Darla leaned in closer so that Cordy could almost feel her lips touching her ear. “You could be….”

The air was silent and still for a moment. Darla suddenly shrieked and shoved Cordelia away, stalking to the other side of the room and spinning around. Angry hate shot out of her eyes. Cordelia met her gaze, feeling her heart hammering in her chest.

“Dammit. You dance around all human and noble and how can the stupid bastard resist that? He fucking CLAIMED you? Goddammit.” Cordelia didn’t say a word. Darla stalked to her and stood, face to face, almost nose to nose. Her voice was a sibilant growl. “What is he going to think when he does find you…not so noble anymore? How much is he going to want the evil bitch who takes your place?”

Cordelia stared back. “Oh Darla. All this sisterhood and you still don’t get it. I’m already a bitch without being fangy. Turn me, and I’ll be your biggest nightmare ever. You’re Pollyanna now compared to what I’ll be. Do it.” Her voice was calm. “You’ll be sorry you ever came back from hell.”

Darla stared back and turned abruptly to the door, pausing just before slamming it shut again. “Maybe I’m playing this game wrong. Maybe he won’t find you undead. Maybe I’ll just stop at dead.” And she walked out, slamming the door behind her, and locking it again.

Cordelia felt her body go boneless with relief. She sank to the floor, clutching her stomach, as it churned at the massive rush of emotion that poured through her body. Oh god, Angel. She closed her eyes and bent over, double. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.
******************
Angel and Gunn sped through the sewers, pausing every once in a while for Angel to take in the scents. Gunn watched him, silent. They moved further down the tunnels and Angel paused again.

“Freakin’ Darla. You do live on the wild side, man. I mean, how did you ever think that would slip past Cordy? Nostradomus, the Amazing Kreskin, and Cordy. Think about it. She’s got, like, a 6th, 7th, and 8th sense. And I’m not talking about the seer thing.

“I didn’t think.” Angel answered absently, concentrating. “I was stupid. I thought…” he leaned towards the wall and swiped his fingers over a small wet dark streak. Bringing his fingers to his lips he licked and straightened up. “They were here.” He looked around and sniffed. “This way.” And he took off, Gunn hot on his heels. Gunn felt cold fear grip him as he followed. Oh god. It was Cordy’s blood.

They ran through the sewers quickly, Angel feeling a curious heat surging through his body as he ran….feeling a pull at him….hurry….hurry….hurry….seemed to echo in his head lightly. More a feeling of urgency than actual words. It beat in his head over and over….acrid fear.

They ran past a door, hidden in a recess. Angel stopped and backtracked, Gunn moving out of his way. Angel leaned in to the door and sniffed once before pulling back and kicking the door in easily. They hurried into what appeared to be an old cellar, small and dark. Gunn pulled out a small penlight and flashed it around in a dim arc. Angel motioned to a set of stairs. “Up here.” And they climbed, kicking open the closed door at the top of the stairs.

They entered a grey hallway, crumbling plaster and moldy exposed sheetrock. Gunn looked around, grimacing, as Angel began to stride down the hallway, his sword ready in his hand.

Hurry….hurry…..hurry…….Angel’s body seemed to throb. Desperate and afraid. Cordy was frightened. He could feel it. He could smell it. It was….closer. It was closer now. He sped around the corner and began to stalk down another hallway. Her scent called to him….begging…..strong…thick…..

********************

Cordelia knelt, clutching her stomach tightly, trying to think. Think. Think. Angel. Hurry. Hurry. And then she felt it. It was….frantic. And hot. It was hot, fearful intent. Cordelia. Her name was almost a whisper. Cordelia. Hurry. Hang on. Hurry.

She rose to her knees and looked around. He was here. She couldn’t hear him, or see him, but he was……somewhere near. Oh thank god. Hurry. Hurry.

She scrambled up to her feet as pounding footsteps sounded in the hallway. She took in a deep breath. It was ok. He was here.

*********************

She was here. Angel sped by doors, kicking them open.

“Cordelia?” His voice was rough. “Cordy? I’m here. Answer me!” All of a sudden, he was taken with her scent…strong and thick. He looked at the door on his right and kicked it open. Charging into the room with Gunn on his heels, he stopped, confused. The room was empty.

“Hey.” Gun stepped past him and leaned over to pick up a torn piece of clothing. “Isn’t this Cordy’s jacket?”

Both men looked down at the torn garment, drying blood staining one sleeve.

Black jagged anger took Angel’s mind. It was a trick. He had been led here. But not to her.

*****************

The door smashed open and Darla strolled in, cool amusement back in her face as she leaned over and grabbed Cordelia’s arm.

“C’mon, girlfriend. Your boyfriend’s here. Let’s go give him something to see.”

CHAPTER 6
“C’mon girlfriend. You’re boyfriend’s here. Let’s go give him something to see.” Darla’s fingers were talons that dug into Cordy’s arm. She leaned in to growl, “After I’m done, it won’t matter any more whether he wants you or not. You’ll be dead.” She straightened up and started out the room, dragging the seer along with her. Cordy pried at the grip, trying to pull the steel like fingers out of the soft flesh of her arm. She finally dug her heels into the worn carpet, yanking them to a halt. Darla whipped around to glare at her.

“Maybe you didn’t notice, Cordelia, but I’m the one with the power here.” Cordy grinned to herself. Anger still laced Darla’s voice. And anger made her defenses weak…made her more vulnerable. Darla was all about control, and Angel’s mark on Cordy’s throat had taken some of that away.

“Oh, I don’t think so. Because if you had any real power over Angel at all, you wouldn’t have to come back here time and time again, trying to prove it.” Darla looked at her, anger flashing gold in her eyes, malevolent hate churning in the depths. Cordy finally shook her hand away, and stepped back. “You don’t want to hurt Angel because you’re disgusted at his goodness…because you think he’s weak. You want to hurt him because he’s stronger than you.”

Cordy’s head snapped back as Darla’s hand slapped across it. Stumbling back, she rammed into the crumbling wall and sagged, bracing her hands on her knees to stay standing. She grinned, tasting blood on a cut inside her cheek. Score one for the California girl. She wiped her mouth and smirked up at Darla.

“Truth hurts, doesn’t it, girlfriend? Hurt me, and all you’ll do is bring a bigger wrath down on your head than you’ve ever known. His life doesn’t end with mine. It’s bigger than that. He’s strong, and he’s brave, and he’s good, and you’re nothing.”

Darla snarled and hurled herself at Cordelia, talons outstretched, face twisted into its full evil mask. Malicious and full of hate, her eyes burned with angry fire. “You stupid bitch…”

Cordy waited her heart racing. Just as Darla reached her she reared up, ramming her head into Darla’s nose. Blood spurted out everywhere, and the vampire shrieked in shock and anger. Cordy stepped back and kicked out, nailing her in the stomach before turning and running down the hallway. Her heart seemed to echo in the long empty corridor, and her footsteps pounded.

Desolate anger suddenly poured through her, grabbing at her mind. A whisper seemed to wisp through her consciousness. Cordelia. I’m here. She raced frantically to an old set of stairs, torn apart and rickety, and began to climb down. Each step brought her closer to the truth. He was here. He was in this building. She hadn’t imagined it. She could…..sense him. Feel his anger. She could almost taste his desperation. He was here, and he was frantic to find her.

“Angel!!!!!!!!” Her voice was a shrill scream as she clambered down the stairs. He was here. “ANGEL!!!!”

********************

The denim jacket was cool to the touch, but the blood on the sleeve was still wet. Angel wanted to bury his face in it and lap at the rich darkness. He clenched it in his hands and turned to face Gunn, who looked around, confused.

“Man, I thought you said she was here.”

“No. We were supposed to think that.” He grasped the jacket and walked out of the room. “Darla wanted me to find this. She’s got her….somewhere. We have to find out where Darla’s nesting. We have to find her before…” He trailed off, listening. Gunn stopped, too. “Did you hear that?”

Gunn listened a moment. “Uh, no. What am I supposed to hear?”

“Cordy’s heart. I can hear it. She’s here.”

“Well, damn, how could I have missed that?” Gunn loped along after Angel, hefting his axe as they sped down the hall. They ran lightly, Angel trying to listen. From the depths of the old building, a frantic scream reached them.

“Angel!!!”

Gunn took off, racing down the hall after Angel. “I heard THAT.”

“Angel! Oh god……” The screams were closer. Angel charged out into an open foyer and turned, glancing up. His body seemed to freeze as he looked up to see Cordelia, poised at the top of where the stairway would lead to, if it were still standing. She teetered on the edge of the upper floor, held back a fraction from falling by Darla.

The vampire stared down at Angel with such raw hate that he felt almost singed. Gunn stared up at Cordy, his jaw clenching at the sight of her pale, frightened face. They all froze, as if caught in a tableau. Darla finally spoke, her voice harsh.

“Pick, dear boy. Does she die from draining or from falling? I doubt you’re any faster than me.”

Angel walked forward cautiously, his eyes finally resting on Cordy’s. She stared down at him, barely breathing. A muscle in his jaw twitched when he saw the vivid red hand mark on her cheek, and he tried to bring his rage under control.

“C’mon, Angel. Be a sport. I’m playing fair; I gave you a choice. Now it’s your turn. That’s how it works. I moved. Now it’s your move.”

“Cordelia.” His voice was rough and low. She looked down at him. “That? That there? That’s what you led me out of.” Darla moved impatiently behind her. “I started to fall, and you caught me. I trusted you. And you caught me.” He willed her to understand, looking up at her. He felt icy, standing there, looking at her in Darla’s hands. Not icy….a small thought entered his head. Warm. You wanted to be warm. He looked up at Cordy and held her gaze as she gave a small nod, one time.

“Darla…” her voice was soft, almost a caress. “Fuck off.” And she dug her elbow into Darla’s chest, loosening her grip and spinning slightly before falling backward off the edge.

“NNNNOOOOOOOOOO” Darla’s angry scream echoed in the empty crumbling building, seeming to make the walls tremble.

Cordelia closed her eyes as she fell, feeling calm as strong arms seemingly scooped her out of midair with a whoosh. She grabbed hold of Angel’s shoulders and opened her eyes to lock her gaze on his. He stepped back, holding her tightly to him, and they both looked up.

Darla looked down at them all in fury. Her gaze locked with Angel’s and she snarled out, “So lovely to see you, Dear Boy. I think I’ll move along now. Let me know when you get bored with your new toy. I’m a big believer in sharing…” and she stepped back, fading into the darkness.

Gunn and Cordelia were silent and still, trying to hear whether or not she was really leaving. Only Angel heard her go. Only Angel took in her scent, which grew weaker and weaker as she made her way down to the sewers to disappear out of the city. Only Angel noticed that Cordelia’s arms were locked firmly around his neck, holding on as if her life depended on it.

He sighed and stepped towards the door, looking out into the dark night. Gunn followed, carefully looking over his shoulder as they went out into the sultry evening air. Outside, Cordy wriggled a bit till Angel finally let go of her legs and she slid down his body, held to him by strong hands.

“She was going to kill me.”

“I know.”

“She was going to turn me at first, then she just got pissed.”

“Yeah. She’s like that.”

Gunn grinned a little, beginning to stroll down the sidewalk as he listened to the two of them. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone, punching out the number for Wesley to share the good news.

“You found me.”

“Seemed fair. You found me then, I found you tonight.”

Cordelia stared up at him, her face lined and pale. She was so tired.

“We still need to talk.”

“I know. But you need to sleep.”

“I’ll come in tomorrow morning…” Cordy grimaced. “Ok. In a few hours. And we’ll talk.”

“Got a better idea.” Angel began to stroll down the sidewalk, tugging at her arm. “Come home and sleep. You’ll sleep better than you have in a while, and then we can talk.”

Cordy looked up at him, suspicion on her face. “No horizontal hula tonight, pal. I’m tired. And we need to talk.”

“No. Of course not. You’re tired.” Angel kept his voice even. “Just…come home.”

Cordy stopped and pulled away, turning to look at him. They stared at each other in the still night., trying to read each other’s hearts. “Home. If I go to the Hyperion, that’s home….” Her voice trailed off.

“Yeah. Not because that’s where I am, Cordy. It’s where we are.” He took her arm and started off again. “Come home. Sleep. And we’ll talk.”

She pulled her arm away and glared up at him, too tired to work up any real heat. “Just so we’re clear….I’m still pissed.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re still low on my list.”

“Yeah, got that.”

“Talking, next time I’m coherent, means being honest. Being open. It means really listening.”

“I’m sure you can do all that, Cordy.” He nodded, his voice reasonable.

Her teeth clenched. “I meant you.”

“Oh. Yeah.” He grinned to himself. She was so easy.

“God you’re a dork.” She turned and began to walk slowly down the street, heading towards home. Angel looked up at the stars dotting the clear sky and felt something lift in him…something heavy that seemed to crumble and arise out of his soul.

They were going home. And they were going to talk.
CHAPTER 7
Firelight danced off of fine crystal stems, brimming with champagne. Fine china was laid out precisely on the linen tablecloth, gleaming and delicate. A crown of rib sat in the middle of the table, basted with mouthwatering juices. Cordelia felt a tug and looked down at the fingers holding hers. Smiling, she allowed herself to be led around the table but the one leading her was blurry and she was unable to make out the face. Around the table slowly they strolled. She reached out for a flute of bubbly champagne, but her hand couldn’t quite reach it. She felt a nervous shimmy up her spine and looked again just as her hand was dropped.

Slowly she turned around and her confusion cleared as she neared the bed. Dim and shadowed, the figure on the bed raised one hand out to her and she smiled as she took it and climbed up onto the thick mattress. Moving in closer and running her hands up and down his body, she smiled into Angel’s face, clear at last.

“You found me.” His voice was gentle.

Her brow wrinkled. “You weren’t lost.” She leaned into him, her lips parting slightly to brush against his. Just as she felt his lips at hers he suddenly burst into a cloud of dust, tiny motes dancing about in the air. Cordelia’s eyes opened wide to see Darla, lounging on the bed, holding a stake in her hand where Angel had been reclining.

“Winner takes all.”
Cordelia shot up in bed, crying out. She panted softly, and her heart beat a frantic tattoo in her chest as she clutched the covers to her disoriented body. She felt herself calming as deep breaths filled her lungs. Her hand rose to rub at her eyes and she swung her legs to the side of the bed, sitting quietly for a moment.

Her mind flooded with images of Angel. Angel, throwing her over his shoulder and carting her upstairs, slapping her ass when she kicked at him and hit his back. Angel, poised to take her, stopping only when her soft pleas reached his hidden soul. Angel, catching her when a vision racked her brain.

She rose and wandered listlessly to the heavily draped window, grimacing as aching muscles protested at the fresh movement. Wow. Coupla rounds with Darla, and she felt like she’d been hit by a truck.

Darla. Cordy swung her gaze around to the large bed that dominated the room. The new bed. She sighed, leaning against the wall and staring at the bed as if it held answers to all her questions. He got a new bed. He took a walk on the skank side and got rid of the bed. Why?

She and Angel had danced the Me Angel You Cordy dance up here and Angel had come to his senses just in time. She had left, and Darla had slunk in and she and Angel had had some Extreme Makeover sex that apparently destroyed the French doors. And then he tossed the bed. And he came back to her. Well….to the agency. To the fight. And then….then he came to her.

Smoothing the comforter, she let her fingers dance lightly over the fine satin, noting for the first time that the colors were the same as the comforter on her bed in her apartment. The pattern was similar, too. He did this. He picked something……something that he thought she would like. For his bed. Before they even…..before they belonged to each other.

****************
Angel rose slightly in his seat, looking up at the ceiling. She was awake…and…..he sat still for a moment. He could sense her, her pulse racing wildly. He listened for a moment to her heartbeat…a siren’s song to him.

“What is it?” Wesley’s voice broke into his reverie. Angel looked at him and settled back in his seat.

“She’s awake.”

Wesely looked back down at the book on his desk, silent for a full minute. His voice was measured when he finally spoke.

“Angel.” His gaze met the vampire’s and held for a moment. “What I said before…about hurting her….” Angel tensed but held still. “I meant it. I don’t know what happened exactly, but I know it involved Darla. I can guess at the basic premise.” He looked back down absently at his book, and his voice stayed low. “And yet somehow, Cordelia’s here, and she hasn’t staked you herself, though I would imagine she was tempted.”

Angel blew out a gust of air, nodding. They were both quiet for a moment. When he spoke again, Wesley’s words seemed to be carefully measured.

“Cordelia didn’t really choose this, when you get right down to it. Dress it up all you like but you just decided you wanted her and you took her. This isn’t about her finding out something dicey from your past. That’s always going to be there, right in the middle of you both. This is about you and your total ineptitude in making one intelligent decision. Your whole life has been you want, you take.” Controlled anger made Wesley enunciate each syllable carefully.

“God. Did you ever raise a glass in Ireland and think, well, I could try to be a better man? Did you ever once in your life think, I want that, but it’s not right?” Wesley leaned forward in his chair and spoke between gritted teeth, “Did you ever one time, one moment, think, I can’t do this to her. It changes everything, and she deserves better?”

“Every fucking moment.” Angel bit the words out. He closed his eyes and leaned back, resting his head against the back of the chair. “I think about it all the time. I think about all I’ve done, and what I could do, and all the filth I’ve rolled around in.”

“And that seems to not matter one whit.” Wesley’s voice was flat.

“No. It matters. It…..” Angel’s voice trailed off. He sat, and listened to Cordelia’s strong, giving, beating heart, and all of a sudden, he felt peace pour through him. It was as if she had reached out, all fear and pleas and frantic whispers, and touched him somewhere in the dark all over again. He looked at Wesley.

“I haven’t been much of a man. But I will be. And I can promise you it’s because Cordelia Chase is right there at my side.” He leaned forward, his voice quiet. “I have to go make it good, and I have to start by being honest with her.”

Wesley stared back down at his book for a moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and steady. “I haven’t been fair to you. I’ve just been worried…..” He broke off and looked up at Angel, a calm settling over his face. “Go start. She’s waiting.”

*****************

A shimmy ran down her spine and she raised a hand to the small healed wounds at her neck just as a soft rap came at the door. Cordy sighed. Her new Angeldar. “Come in, Angel.”

The door swung open slowly and he stood just in the doorframe, hands in his pockets as he looked over at her. She slowly walked around the bed to him and stopped inches away, her hands on her hips. He looked at her uncertainly, as if he expected something thrown at his head….or a stake plunged into his heart. Good, she thought. Let him wonder. Keep him on his toes.

“I don’t know what happened with Darla, Angel. Well…” She broke off on a snort and he flinched slightly. “I think I have the general idea. I mean….ya get down to it it’s all the same no matter what. But I don’t want details.” She stepped back and finished making the bed, pulling the comforter up and smoothing its surface with gentle hands. She looked down at the muted pattern and thought carefully before speaking. She didn’t look at him as she finally straightened up and tugged at a large pillow, fluffing it as she continued.

“What I want to know is…what do you want? I mean, right here, right now, tell me what you want. Are you in or are you out?” She felt him tense up in surprise but carefully kept her gaze on the pillow as she placed it precisely on the bed before walking around to the other side, picking up the other pillow. “You shouldn’t even have to think about it. Tell me right now.” She paused, looking down at the bed, and could almost hear her own shallow breathing as they both held still.

“I’m in.” His voice was even and almost detached. He hadn’t moved from the doorjamb, and his hands still shoved deep into his pockets as he watched her. Cordelia took a long breath and let it out and turned to face him, her chin up.

“Well, alrighty then. We’re in.” He seemed to relax a little and took a step into the room but stopped when she held up her hand. “Whoa, Punkin. A few little details.” His own chin lifted a bit as she strolled towards him. God. Whatever that was just waiting to come out of her mouth was going to be good. He could tell. Cordelia on a tear was scalding, bright, chaotic energy, and right now, it was all directed at him

“It’s amnesty day. Anything else ya wanna get off your chest, because I’m running a twofer on forgiveness.” He remained silent, and she waited a moment. “I mean it, Angel. Speak now, or forever…well, you know. Because this is your get out
of jail free card. Ya got any other little secrets; this would be a good time to spill ‘em. ‘Cause after this moment, we’re on a new page. And I won’t listen to anymore crap after this. So…..anyone else you throw through a door recently? Anyone else showing up to wrap us in the happy? Any other little surprises you’re hiding from me?”

Angel closed his eyes and felt his head drop. Oh god. He was going to have to sit here and list his freakin’ sins? This would take weeks to get through, and no way would she have him in her life after he ticked off all his past misdeeds. She’d be so horrified, she wouldn’t be able to pack fast enough and she’d roar out of town and he’d….

“Angel?” Her voice nudged him patiently.

He slowly raised his head and opened his eyes. “Cordy….” His hands flexed in his pockets. He could do this. He could be the man she needed, and he could do the right thing, and he could be honest. “Cordy…..” His eyes held hers, a plea in the dark pools of the windows to his soul. “Cordy….my life…..before, during, and after…..it’s been….I’ve always…..I’ve done things….”

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed as she tried to follow his rambling attempts and opened wide as she finally got the gist of where he was going. She leaned over and smacked his shoulder, ignoring his soft “ow.”

“Not every stupid sin, Dumbass. Just the stuff between you and me. Just the middle part of your third century. Specifically the part where you see the hottie and claim her. Jeeze.” She shook her head. “Like I have 20 years to listen to that caca.” Angel stared back, blankly.

She took his hand and yanked him into the doorway, pausing a moment to lean out and yell down the hall, “Go away, Wesley.” She waited a moment, and then Angel heard the soft pad of footsteps down the stairs to the first floor and he glared at Cordelia. She shrugged.

“Don’t blame me. You’re the one with the superhero hearing. And don’t blame Wesley. He cares about me. He….” She shut the door firmly and turned to face him. “…would never be anything less than honest with me. As for you and me…..” She walked towards him slowly, hands on her hips.

“As for you and me….I don’t care about what you did when you were Liam, the village drunk studmuffin. I don’t wanna hear about the adventures of Angelus. Been there, a little, I can guess at the rest. It’s there. It always will be. And I accept that. Because, Angel…” She stood an inch from his body and looked up at him, certainty in her face. “..that was then. And this is now. I’m willing to take on all that, as long as you’re level with me. So dish. Since we…..grew together, has there been anything…any….” She seemed to stop to draw a breath. “Anyone else?” She waited, sure that her heart could stop beating at any moment.

He shook his head slowly, his eyes holding hers. A shudder seemed to go through her and she sighed. “Alright. Ok. Then, let’s move on to the rules.”

“Rules. There’s rules?” Angel looked distressed as she pushed him back onto the bed. He sat back and looked up at her. “Cordy, I don’t think you’re getting the whole structure of the claiming…”

“Fuck the claiming. I’m Cordelia Chase. Buncha old vampires sitting around thinking of new ways to torture mankind never saw me coming. They don’t like it; they can come deal with me.”

“No. No, I don’t think anyone ever really sees you coming, babe.” His voice was dry, and Cordy looked at him suspiciously.

“Did you just make a joke?”

“Yes.”

They looked at each other a long moment and Cordelia smiled a little. “Rule one. Do that more often. Rule two. I’m a little flip about the claiming thing, but the truth is, I know it’s huge and I know it’s kinda major and I know you think you own me…..” she looked at him. “Because like that will ever happen.” He looked away, smiling to himself. She climbed onto the bed and faced him, crossing her legs. “…but here’s the deal. We have this tie…this bond. I get it. I’ll deal. But you have to deal too. ‘Cause I’m not some little wimpy girl in your pocket. I’m your partner. Got it?”

Angel nodded, feeling his chest constrict.

“Good. Rule three.”

“How many of these rules are there going to be?”

She looked at him a long moment. “Four hundred and fifty-six. So shut up and I’ll get through them quicker. Rule three. And this is a biggie. No secrets. None. From here on in, we’re an open book with each other. This isn’t about protection or fear, Angel. This is trust. And it starts now.” He nodded. “And rule number four.” She looked at him. “We don’t go on just because you’ve claimed me.” There was silence. “I mean it. I need a better reason than that. If you hadn’t decided to take a little drinkypoo, why would you hang around me?”

Angel felt like he stood at the gaping chasm of a steep cliff. One wrong move and he’d be toast. Smashed, bloody toast. “Um. I would…uh…hang around….because…..” she looked at him with a closed expression. No help there. He sighed. Honesty. God, it could just kick you in the ass sometimes. “I’d stay right there by you, Cordelia, because I love you. There. Happy now?”

Time hung, suspended, his words thick in the air. Suddenly, she launched her body at him, pushing him over onto his back and straddling him as she leaned down and kissed him with a big smacking noise.

“Yeah. I’m happy.” She laughed as she kissed him, softening as she lay across his chest. Her laughter stilled when his hands rose and held her head to him as he hungrily opened his mouth against hers and stroked her lips with his tongue. “Very…very…..um…..happy.” He smiled softly, burying his fingers in the thick waves of silken hair that spilled down around their faces. He held her head gently, and rolled so that she lay under him, pressed to his body as he covered her on the bed.

“Go on, Cordy….I think you were on rule five.” He leaned down and pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth. Her pulse picked up and thundered in his ears, and his lips traveled down the soft down of her cheek to her jaw.

“Um…whaddya say we just make up the other four hundred and fifty-one as we go along?” Cordy’s voice was a little breathy, and her hands rose up to clutch at his shoulders. “Because Angel?” He looked up at her. She looked back, sexy and warm and soft and…vulnerable. “Angel? I love you right back.”

He didn’t move. He lay there, feeling her heart thud against his solid chest, and he couldn’t move one small inch. Cordy looked up at him. “OK. That seems to have put a damper on things.” The vulnerability in her eyes tore at him. “I mean, you said it, I said it….”

“No.” Angel reached to stroke her hair back from her face gently. “No damper. Fuel to the flame, hon. Fuel to the flame. I’ve said it, I’ve heard it, but here…now…..” His eyes darkened. “It’s real.”

She looked up at him and smiled softly, her own gaze clearing. “Yes it is. Ok, one more rule. Rule five. We go forward from here. No looking back and second guessing. We’re right here, right now, and we take that and run with it. Whaddya say?”

He leaned down and breathed into her ear softly, just before nipping gently at her throat, “I say, Welcome Home.”
******************
Across the seas, across the lands….
He leaned back in his chair, his back aching from hunching over the opened scroll that unrolled across his desk. Good God. He looked down at the writing and breathed in deeply. If this was accurate…..if he read it correctly…..

He took his glasses off absently and cleaned them while his mind raced. He needed to go to Los Angeles. And Rupert Giles needed to round up the old gang……to save the world.

 


…THE END…


 

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