Covetous

AUTHOR: VISION GIRL (aka CHRISSY)
SUMMARY: AU. Angel doesn’t have feelings for Cordy, or at least, he’s in denial of having such feelings, and Cordy has a sexual attraction the the big guy. heh. No groo, thank god. Cordy tries to get over her attraction to Angel, realizing it’s a dead-end, by going out on several dates. Only Angel, thinking it’s out of brotherly-affection for Cordy, but really its out of jealousy, either scares the dates off while they’re waiting for Cordy to get ready, or he interrupts their dates saying someone’s in trouble, even if no one is.
RATING: PG
POSTED: 21 Feb 2004
CATEGORY: ANGST, post WITW
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A, B/A friendship, light F/G, and more
WARNINGS:None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: MAB
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) This was something that i thought of at the back of my mind. Not much thought put into it at first, i wanted it to be fluff, but realized i needed a little freaky sh** to occur. heh. Enjoy
2) To Mab for making the header, it’s wonderful and beautiful. And also, thanks for dealing with my demanding side, I’m extremely annoying, aren’t I?
STATUS: Complete


covetous


Prologue: Teaser

Cordelia breathed in sharply, panic rising…escalating to a point where she felt as if there was nothing left inside of her but that. Then something flooded her heart, her soul; it was something she had felt before, many times, too many to count, and it was a foreign feeling still, as if every time it appeared deep within her it intensified the alienation of the sensation.

She didn’t have a name for it, but whenever the thought of Angel came to mind, her dearest friend, it fluttered into her, and it didn’t matter what mood she was in or what kind of situation she found herself in. It was just there, and she accepted it, albeit reluctantly sometimes.

“Poor little Cordelia,” came the low, provocative assertion. The deep tone seemed awfully threatening, but it wasn’t the tone nor the depth of the voice that sent chills up Cordelia’s immobile spine; it was the crimson eyes that were glaring at her from the shadows, watching her with sadistic dependency, as if one move from her physique would ruin his focus, would throw him off guard.

Of course, such an action was unavailable to Cordelia as she lay on the ground in her own blood, paralyzed not by fear but by the dose of illegal drugs John Rowe slipped into her dinner earlier that night while she was in the ladies room.

“Can’t seem to find a normal date, huh?” came the tantalizing voice once more from the shadows, his cherry eyes following the line of her curvy body down to the hem of her skirt, his curiosity rising at what he imagined he would find under the fabric. Even in the unlit room, in the deep darkness, Cordelia could still see him faintly and she observed the pathetic psycho licking his lips. “Sorry to disappoint you. But you don’t have to be so frustrated with me; I’m trying to make this fun for both of us. Me more than you, sure. But with high hopes, we’ll both enjoy this.”

Cordelia tried to answer him, to yell ‘Fuck off’ but she couldn’t, her lips numb and her soft features unmovable.

It was a new experience for the young woman, lying there, feeling so helpless. She’d been in many cases where she was feeling lonely, afraid for her safety, but never…never before in her life had she felt like such a victim, a friendless, forlorn victim with no where to go…no one to rescue her.

She heard his heavy boot softly hit the floor as he jumped off the cabinet, landing firmly on his two feet as his Vampiric features were revealed in the moonlight that filtered through Cordelia’s closed blinds. Absently flicking his tongue across his lips and playfully tracing the sharp edges of his teeth, John Rowe had a mischievous grin cross his contorted features as he kneeled over Cordelia.

He placed both of his strong hands on either of her shoulders, knowing that he didn’t need to hold her down, the paralyzing medicine was sure to last at least a few more minutes in effect, yet he so desired to have that power that was taken from him one hundred years ago…the power he’d desired ever since that night in the alley. He was going to make not only Cordelia pay, but Angel too.

“This is for your friend,” John growled, slowly but surely leaning towards Cordelia’s exposed neck, his white teeth nearing her flesh as the deafening sound of her pulse with the blood coursing through her veins pounded in his acute hearing ears.

Cordelia felt a tear form in the corner of her eyes, and even if she couldn’t feel it, she knew it streaked down her cheek in such desperation to show the many emotions she was experiencing; the longing she had for the Vampire she knew would always be there for her.

“Angel…” she said through her locked jaw.

Two Weeks Earlier

Angel placed the last sword he finished polishing into the weapons cabinet. Letting out a sigh, the Vampire licked his lips unconsciously and glanced over into the office area of the Hotel lobby. There he saw his friend, hard at work, or at least…she looked like she was working. Whether it be from three years experience or just plain good acting skills, Cordelia Chase was pretty darn good at ‘working.’

Angel needed to talk to her, it was something he had to do, something he wanted to do, and something that just needed to be done; for the sake of his comfort, for hers, and for their friendship. Ever since they came back from the Ballet, Cordelia had pointedly ignored him. At first, the Vampire openly welcomed it, using his son as a distraction to keep him from becoming too self-conscious about his friends premeditated disregard. But now, with Conner sound asleep in his crib with Lorne watching over him, and the weapons cabinet re-organized and cleaned, Angel had no where else to hide, no where else to delve his attention into to avoid what he was about to do.

He moved quietly, gradually turning his head to the side and acting as if he was casually strolling around, looking for something to do. Pausing by the counter and leaning against the pillar, Angel crossed his arms and looked pensive, more thoughts than he could handle fluttering into his mind as he observed the young woman, his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth as he bit it to keep from saying something stupid.

Uncrossing his arms and intertwining his fingers, Angel pushed himself away from the pillar and walked closely around it arrive behind the counter. As if it was a fetish of his, Angel leaned against the counter, worrying over the possibility of tripping and alarming his friend. Hands still entwined with one another, he let them stay in his lap as he looked down. Every moment or so, he’d look up, biting his tongue on impulse.

Don’t mess up, Angel thought to himself. This is something you can’t go all Dork!Angel on. Be cool. At this, he chuckled. Out loud. Cordelia looked up from the computer screen where a game of FreeCell was now visible and blushed. “What?”

Angel shook his head, “Nothing.” He looked away, puffing out his cheek and looking perfectly innocent.

Cordelia absently brushed a hair out of her eyes and bit the end of her pen as she looked at him for a few moments. A few moments than need be. She swallowed the excess amount of saliva that formed in her throat as she noticed that Angel forgot to button the top four buttons of his over shirt, revealing his hardened chest and sexy white beater. Mmm…White beater.

Only Angel could pull of that messy yet casual guise. Such an aloof guy when it came to the people around him yet when the time came and the possibility of cutting a demons’ head off was high, he’d be quick as a cat to notice the smallest dissimilarity in his surroundings.

Yet he never notices when I check out his ass, Cordelia thought, a sly smile sweeping across her face for a small second before she thought better of it and hid it behind a laid-back mask. She tilted her head a little as she realized that he had turned around and was looking at something off to the side. She had a perfect few of his cute little butt.

Angel shook his head, looking down at the random book he opened on top of the counter, ignoring the hieroglyphic letters on the parchment and pretending to read. He couldn’t see Cordelia’s face, but he knew she was looking at him, probably wondering why he was acting so weird. That night at the ballet was weird, and our friendship hasn’t been the same since, he thought to himself, holding back a growl.

Cordelia was the best thing that ever happened to him. She was his best friend. And if he could hardly keep a conversation with one of his closest friends, how was he supposed to raise a child, let alone deal with many people a week with the business he had running?

Finally, he let out a small sigh, even if he didn’t need to breathe, he knew it would help somehow to calm him. It didn’t. His pale, cold hands were shaking so he shoved them in his pockets. As he opened his mouth to say something, Wesley called his name from inside his office.

“Angel, could you come here for a moment?” The British voice was immediately recognizable, even if it was a bit husky and stressed.

“What is it, Wes?” Angel asked quietly, walking into the office. He leaned against the doorway, throwing a cursory glance at Cordelia before returning his full attention to Wesley.

The Englishman removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes, “I’ve been a little stressed lately with deciphering this prophecy and with all that’s happened…” Wesley paused, looking out into the lobby as he noticed Gunn and Fred sitting on the divan with Gunn teaching Fred his own mastering skills on his Gameboy. “I could use a little quiet time. I was wondering if you’d take everyone out for a movie, perhaps dinner?”

“Wes, if we’re going out as a family, you should come,” Angel said softly, walking forward and seating himself in one of the chairs placed before his former desk. “If anyone deserves a break, it should be you. You’ve been working your ass off.”

“This is something that needs to be done,” Wesley explained quietly.

“Wesley, this is not a time to be modest,” Angel let out a small chuckle at the sight of Wesley being so quiet. “A lot has happened, but we can’t let anything…anything get in the way of us spending time with one another.”

Before Wesley could reply, Lorne entered the room, a cheerful, albeit exhausted, grin spread across his green skin. Conner in his arms, Lorne kept his voice especially quiet. “Little guy wants his daddy, couldn’t blame him. No matter how angelic my voice is, I’d be fussy too after three hours of many variations of ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’.”

Angel smiled as he took Conner from Lorne softly and rocked a little with the child in his arms, humming a little to calm the fussy child. Sure, the Vampire wasn’t a good singer, but when it came to humming, he could do a few good tunes.

He heard a distant humming along with his own and turned to see Cordelia nodding her head and typing, absently humming. Angel grinned when she looked to him and turned red at the realization she was humming without knowing it.

“Just go up to her and talk,” he heard Lorne say, cutting of his cheerful humming and forcing him back to more serious thoughts.

“Later…” Angel said under his breath, turning to leave. He stopped when Lorne’s hand found its way onto his shoulder. But when Lorne said nothing, the Vampire simply moved towards the stairs, throwing a glance or two at Cordelia before finally climbing the stairs and moving to his room.

Cordelia watched him go, once again biting her blue pen as she wondered whether or not Angel had any idea that she had thoughts of him that weren’t platonic, that involved him and her on his big-ass bed in his room, with candles surrounding them. Or that when they were in the office, she would have random flashes of the Vampire ripping her blouse and taking her right there in the moment, on the counter, witnesses and important files be damned!

She laughed a little, under her breath so neither Lorne nor Wesley could hear her. Something to sleep to…

***

Angel leaned against the wall, watching Conner sleep as he listened quietly for the click on the other end of the line and that familiar voice. Finally, he heard the casual: “Hello?”

“Hey, Buffy.” His voice was strong, but deep down, he felt pained to hear her speak. Sure, she seemed fine at first, but after a few minutes on the phone every time they spoke, once every few weeks, she would break down. Angel was one of the few who knew her best and probably the only one she could talk to without having to worry about who would find out. “H-How are you?”

He wasn’t a good starter, initiating conversations with that familiar, sweet voice. He would always love Buffy, but not anymore. It was more of a ‘there will always be a piece of my heart that will love the Slayer’ type affection, not the type a relationship could be made out of. And it was the same for Buffy. Angel knew because unlike Cordelia, Buffy wasn’t a good liar, at least, not when it came to him.

“Fine,” she said quickly, obviously distracted. “Well…As fine as one would be in this hellhole.”

“Don’t say that, Buff,” Angel quickly asked of her, rather pathetically if one looked too much into it. It hurt to hear her speak so ill fully of her home, the place where her friends were, where her mother was buried. “Life’s a bitch, sure, but you’ve got to remember that no matter what it throws at you, you just have to fight it, to beat. Otherwise it’ll win.”

He heard a small sigh of resignation on the other side of the line, “Who’s this ‘it’ you’re referring to? I can’t necessarily fight something I don’t know.”

“’It’ is whatever’s bothering you,” Angel explained, sticking out his finger in the crib so Conner could wrap both his hands around it. A small, distracted smile found its way on Angel’s chiseled features.

“That’s a long list Angel,” Buffy said, and when she laughed, Angel knew, in some way, the talks they shared were working. “We both know that.”

“Couldn’t agree more.”

***

Cordelia sighed, frustrated with the lack of things to do. She looked up only to jump a little in her seat when she realized Lorne lurking over her shoulder with a sly smirk on his emerald skin, and a flicker of something Cordelia didn’t recognize in his red eyes. “Jeez, Lorne. Sneak up much?”

“Sorry, brown-eyes,” Lorne dismissed it, pulling up a chair.

“We should get you a bell,” Cordelia said, a little frustrated. “Is there something you want? Because I’ll go to hell just to have something to do. I’ve never been this bored.”

“Oh, sugarcakes. You’re not bored. You just can’t find anything to satisfy your hunger,” Lorne half-teased, narrowing his eyes and smirking even wider.

“I’m not hungry,” Cordelia blew it off, confused. “I had lunch. What the hell are you talking about, Lorne?”

“You’re hunger for Angel, I mean. Boy, have you got it bad.”

“Angel!” Cordelia exclaimed in a loud whisper, hiding behind her computer so no one could hear her but Lorne. “The hell? You’ve had one too many Sea Breezes, Lorne.”

Lorne cleared his throat, preparing to explain. “You and Angel hum like a couple, and it’s ironic because I got a certain wave of vibes off of you two.”

“You’re not supposed to read us without permission,” Cordelia pointed out, getting up from her seat to file something. She didn’t care if she filed the ‘Hanker’ case under M. She just needed to look like she was ‘busy’ so Lorne would leave her alone.

It didn’t work. Persistent bastard.

Lorne’s green hand was on top of Cordelia’s keeping her in the spot she was standing, his genuine concern cutting through her stubborn exterior. “You have feelings for Angel. Whether it is just sexual or something more…you enjoyed that night at the Ballet, and seeing Angel walk around afterwards is hurting you. And just because my heart is in my ass doesn’t mean I can’t understand the pain of love. I hate to see you like this, brown eyes. Go get your Ken, Barbie.”

Cordelia sniffed, her eyes a little watery at the comment Lorne made, “I’m no Barbie.” She purposely pouted her lips before her 100-watt smile cracked onto her tan skin. “Who woulda thought that a red-eyed, horned demon would be so good at counseling. You should take that talent into business, buddy. It’ll get you the big bucks.”

Lorne laughed. “Go. Talk to him, lord knows he’s not one to express much with words. Or, more than three expressions for that matter.” The demon thought about it, remembering that if Angel made more than three or four different expressions in one day, he’d become too stressed.

***

Angel motioned for Cordelia to come in, the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he finished rocking Conner in his arms and placed him in the crib.

When the young woman came into sight of the baby, he started to wave his pudgy arms everywhere for Cordelia to pick him up. With a small smile, Cordelia obliged and held the baby in her arms, humming a small tune to the infant to calm him, to comfort him so easily that Angel, for a small moment, forgot he was talking on the phone.

Finally, he cleared his throat and said. “No, I have to go anyways. I’ll talk to you later, alright Buffy?” He turned to hang up the phone, and with his back turned, he didn’t see Cordelia’s reaction when she discovered whom he was speaking to. Luckily, she put herself together enough to fool the Vampire by the time he turned to face her.

“Is there something you wanted to talk about?” Angel asked, walking closer and tracing the soft dimples of Conner’s cheeks, his other hand absently placed on the small of Cordelia’s back. “He’s a handsome guy, takes after his father.”

Angel half expected Cordelia to snort, but it seemed there were other things on her mind.

And his hand, though always cold, usually brought warmth to Cordelia, but it was one touch too many and she took a step to the side. “Do I have to have a reason to come up here?”

Angel shook his head, “Not a problem with me. Conner loves the company. And besides, I wanted to talk.”

“I actually…um, you know, came up here to take Conner out,” Cordelia lied successfully. “On a walk, it’s the middle of the day and he needs some fresh air. You don’t mind do you?” She moved to the stroller that they had bought about a month previous, packing everything into it speedily with just one hand.

“Oh…”Angel didn’t bother to hide his disappointment. He didn’t know whether or not he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to talk to Cordelia about what was bothering him, them, or if he was bothering by the fact that she was leaving…that he wouldn’t be able to be in her company.

Shaking the foreign thought out of his head, Angel cleared his throat. “Try to have him back before 7. I’d like him to get to sleep early. Lorne didn’t really seem to remember that Conner has a bedtime.”

Cordelia paused at the door, forcing a smile. “He’s a baby, they make their own schedules.”

Angel didn’t have time to laugh at her comment, for she was already out the door. “Um..Okay…Bye.”

He kicked the floor with his boot, stuffing his hands in his pockets and unconsciously pouting a little as he realized he was all alone.

The next day…

Angel lifted his eyes to look over the top of the novel he was reading to see Cordelia, standing in the bathroom. The door was open so he had full access to see what she was up to. She looked great, obviously she was going out. Perhaps with Fred, Angel didn’t know.

It was then that he realized he had asked everyone if they wanted to go out to dinner, just like Wesley had suggested to him. The Vampire reluctantly agreed to it when he had spent quite some time the previous night by himself and alone with his thoughts. Angel had fallen asleep before Cordelia had returned, and he had nearly forgotten they were going out.

All day he had been edging around the Hotel, wondering when the right time to talk about the night of the Ballet. I guess Gunn or Fred told her, Angel thought, closing the book with a loud snap.

“You look nice,” Angel croaked.

Though there was no reflection in the mirror, Cordelia didn’t jump in surprise. Angel knew she knew he was there; it was an obvious attribute to their relationship. Friendship, Angel corrected himself, wondering why the hell he would consider their platonic friendship a liaison.

Cordelia was an extremely attractive woman; he just didn’t have those feelings for her. He just…couldn’t.

“Thanks, I hope you like.”

“Why would what I think matter?” Angel asked, stepping back to allow her to go back to her desk. Is she trying to impress me? Angel had to admit, he was flattered. And if he could, he would be blushing a tad at the moment.

“You’re a man,” Cordelia stated matter-of-factly, as if what she was speaking of was obvious. It wasn’t to Angel.

No surprise there, she thought to herself, looking up at her aloof friend. Sexy as usual.

“Of course I am,” Angel sounded defensive.

“I wasn’t questioning it,” Cordelia snorted. She grabbed her purse and made her way to the door.

“Aren’t you going to wait for all of us?” Angel asked, motioning to Fred and Gunn walking down the stairs coming from Fred’s room, coming from doing god knows what behind the closed door.

Fred bit her lip and Gunn looked uncomfortable, as if they knew something Angel didn’t. And it only took a few minutes and a look back at Cordelia to realize that they did know something he did not.

“I told you guys to tell him,” Cordelia scoffed, placing her hands on her hips and looking frustrated. “Now it’s going to seem as if I’m abandoning you guys.”

“Abandoning?” Angel asked, his brow furrowing and a mask of tremendous aloofness covered his chiseled features in a perfectly innocent way that made Cordelia’s heart sink.

“I have a date,” Cordelia admitted, wincing as she expected Angel to be mad.

He wasn’t, he was simply taken aback. Deep down, he was hurt. He didn’t know why, he just was. It was something that he had always felt whenever Cordelia had gone out on a date. But it had been years since she had gone a real one. “Tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“G-Good for you,” Angel forced out. It was hard for him, he didn’t know why, it just was. “W..Wi-With who? I mean, did you just thumb through the phonebook or what?”

“No,” Cordelia quickly fortified herself. “I was in the park with Conner and this cute guy was jogging and we got to talking…” she looked around as she noticed everyone, including Wesley from his desk all the way in his office, was looking at her and listening, prying intently. “Do I really have to explain what happens outside of my office life?”

Gunn, Fred and Wes started to say ‘yes’ but Angel defended Cordelia unconsciously, almost immediately. “No. Go out, have fun. Don’t worry about anything.”

“I won’t.”

Angel winced at that, but it was only briefly and he turned away before she could look too much into it. He went to the opposite side of the hotel and walked up the stairs, not looking at her as he continued to wish her luck on the date. “Remember, no sex on the first date. We don’t…we don’t want a repeat of the last time that happened.”

Cordelia blushed before scoffing and turning around in a huff, exiting quickly with a small wave to everyone. “Have fun!” her voice was hears as she walked quickly through the courtyard.

Everyone returned to their business, getting ready for a night out on the town, not noticing Angel at the top of the stairs, gripping the handrail as he watched the doors slowly stop to a close. After a few moments, he firmed his jaw and forced himself to imagine that Conner was fussing so he would have something to focus on.


Part 1

Angel walked through the door, nervousness creeping into his cold veins as he looked around for his friend. He had sat in his room for about an hour until he finally decided he wasn’t going to allow Cordelia to go out on a date. She worked for him…well, for Wesley, and she didn’t even bother to ask for permission if she could leave work early. “May I help you, sir?” came a greeting, cheery voice from beside him.

The Vampire plastered a polite grin on his face as he took in a calming breath, “Yes, I’m looking for a Miss Cordelia Chase.”

“Is she expecting you?” The woman asked, readjusting her horn-rim glasses as she noticed Angel standing there, looking completely oblivious to the fact that he was wearing a tight sweater, revealing his toned muscles to all the anxious women around him.

“Yeah…” he lied, drifting away from the woman and narrowing his eyes to search for Cordelia on his own terms.

Then, when he discovered her, at a table by the window with a man on the opposite side of her, Angel growled lowly. He could see faintly, under the short tablecloth the man’s hand on Cordelia’s knee and moving ever so slightly upwards.

If her date was a Vampire, Angel knew he would have sensed Cordelia’s sudden rigid ness and the tightness of her expression. She needed to be rescued and Angel was there to do it.

***

Wesley looked up right away when the familiar scent of the young physicist pervaded his nostrils. “Fred,” he breathed, a ghost of a smile playing at the corner of his lips. Daises and Lilies. He though to himself, closing his eyes for a moment and calculating the different amalgamations of scents from different flowers in her perfume.

“Where’s Angel?” she asked. Wesley hid his disappointment.

“Out,” he replied simply, returning his dreary eyes to the scribbled, untranslated texts on the weak parchment placed on his desk. Looks like the days of our wondrous, simply chats are over. It’s either Gunn or Angel. Wesley didn’t care if, even in his thoughts, he sounded selfish and resentful, it was times like these when he needed his friends the most and that was exactly what he didn’t have.

It was his own fault, pushing them away. It was probably some subconscious test he was pushing to have them take. To see if the knew him well enough or cared for him enough to ignore the fact that Wesley needed them desperately.

He knew they loved him, and he loved them back, but it hurt to think that everyone was more interested in their own lives above his own. I’m starting to become my father. Wesley never wanted to grow up like his father, to be self-centered, pompous and heartless. Looking up at the physicist, who was still standing in front of his desk, showing an interest, the Englishman made a polite grin. “How are you?”

“Fine,” Fred replied. “Gunn and I were going out for pancakes and wanted to know if everyone wanted to come. Since that whole dinner thing was shot when Angel left.”

“Pancakes for dinner? That sounds nice,” and he wasn’t lying.

“You sure you don’t want to come out with us?”

“I’m sure,” Wesley dismissed her quietly, still smiling, hoping he wouldn’t come off as rude or creepy.

Fred nodded, moving to exit the room. But before she left, she stopped in the doorway, her back facing Wesley as she asked him quietly: “Do you ever imagine Cordy and Angel as a couple?”

The former Watcher held back a groan, not another couple. But when he considered it for a moment, pursing his lips, he realized that the thought had been in his mind before. “It would be an interesting pairing, but not so lucrative that it wouldn’t work. The two of them have an extremely complicated relationship.”

“Complicated in a bad way or good way?” Fred asked, still facing away from him. It was as if the young woman was doing a survey and Wesley was one of her several guinea pigs. “Like, you think it would work out like it did with the girl with the weird name…Buffy. Or would it be something more like Darla.”

“Neither,” Wesley answered right away. It was an easy answer that required little or no thought. “Buffy and Angel’s relationship was forbidden, it had a poetic air about it. Darla? She was the lover of Angel’s past, that bad sin he committed over and over and over and he regrets it deeply, with the exception of Conner’s conception. Cordelia is…she’s Cordy. No one can match her likeness of Angel and the bond they share. Those two have the most utter respect for each other.”

***

Cordelia slapped Angel, “Jackass.” Her voice teetered from aggravated to plain pissed, sending chills up along Angel’s spine for a small moment. When the Vampire winced and rubbed his face to dispense of the pain, Cordelia scoffed. “It’s a small slap from a girl half your size, deal with it Mr. ‘I-Have-No-Respect-For-People’s-Private lives’.”

“This isn’t about respect, Cor.”

“Don’t call me that, I’m mad at you.”

“I can’t call you ‘Cor’ because you’re pissed?” It was Angel’s turn to scoff, adding his own little eye-roll as he yanked open the door to his convertible and motioned for her to get in, firming his jaw to keep from growling.

This wasn’t how he thought it would end up, but it would have to do. It’s better than her sitting with that creep in the middle of a public restaurant allowing him to let his hand slide up her legs. He could smell the man’s perversity and it royally pissed Angel off. She deserves better.

“Because when you call me that, you have this cute little flicker of something in your eye and it makes me smile,” Cordelia explained, sitting inside the car with a huff, pulling the door from Angel’s grasp in one violent movement.

A smile tugged at the corner of his lips when she said that, “And that’s a bad thing why?”

“As I said before, Dumbass, I’m mad at you. And I won’t be making much of a statement if I allow you to make me all giggly,” she blurted out, sighing in frustration and looking at him.

After a few moments of silence, Angel finally let a big grin appear on his marble like features, shining in the moonlight and looking extravagantly handsome. “I make you ‘giggly’?” He knew he was sounding a bit cocky, but he couldn’t help it. The thought of him bringing out such weaknesses in Cordelia gave a certain air of confidence about him, especially when he was reminded oh-so-often that Cordelia Chase had such a handle on his own weaknesses.

The beautiful woman, looking good in all her glory, narrowed her deep russet eyes and glared at him for the longest time, as if daring him to continue the childish spat they were so entirely engulfed in. Pompous Bastard, she so desired to growl under her breath, but the rare, pure smile on his face kept her from doing so.

“You gonna drive this thing or do you need a woman to do the job for you?” She asked, looking away and straight ahead, focusing on some unknown object and fighting hard to show what she was really feeling and thinking.

Angel sighed, pursing his lips and nodding to himself as he finally moved to the other side of the car, hopping over the door without bothering to open it and pressing his foot on the gas.

“I can’t believe you just leave the car running, someone could have stolen it,” Cordelia thought out loud, propping her elbow on the door and letting her hand support her head, rubbing it profoundly. “Then what would we do for transportation?”

“You could take a bus,” Angel muttered under his breath, too quiet for any normal person to hear him. Cordelia wasn’t normal, so therefore, she heard him and he got a punch to the arm because of it. “I hear city busses are extremely sanitary, voted most preferable way to travel.”

Cordelia wasn’t indulged, “And who voted? The unemployed and the hobos?”

“More so than any other group,” Angel let out a laugh, allowing her that one as he turned the wheel and made his way down another street.

“So who is this that we’re rescuing?” Cordelia asked, shifting in her seat to face Angel.

“You should wear a seatbelt,” Angel suggested, turning once again and focusing his eyes on the road ahead. Didn’t think this through much, just have to stall I s’pose.

“Puh-leeze. At least you’re a better driver than Wesley,” Cordelia ignored his warning and just looked at him, the wind blowing a stray hair across her face. She spat it out of her mouth and struggled to keep it behind her ear.

Angel responded to this by turning once again so that they were driving against the wind and Cordelia’s hair wouldn’t bother her. “Better?”

His question was met with a fleeting, genuine grin crossing Cordelia’s face. But it was just that, fleeting, and it disappeared faster than it appeared. “It’s okay.”

Angel moved to turn on the radio, but thought better of it. Nothing was good on the radio in Los Angeles, just crappy pop music. “It’s going to be a while, you think we should talk?”

“Talk about what?” Angel could sense her apprehension with the prospect of them having one-on-one alone time talk.

“Things. Things that have happened. Babies being born, Ballet’s, possessions,” he threw a wary eye at Cordelia before returning his attention pointedly at the road ahead.

Cordelia laughed a little, but it seemed forced. “Now that was casual, you should win an award for that special talent of casual conversation leading to a big discussion over a life-altering event.”

“Life altering?” Angel reiterated breathlessly, as he usually did when he spoke. But this time his reasons were different. He knew it was weird between the two of them, but he didn’t know it was only because of what happened at the Ballet. He figured Cordy would be a little weird, but she’d soon forget about it. She wasn’t one to make Angel pay for something that wasn’t entirely his fault. “You really think it was that big of a deal?”

Great, Cordy. Blab out something that shouldn’t be said. Like THAT never happens. “No. That was just a simple word-usage. It wasn’t a big deal, Angel.” If it wasn’t to you, than it shouldn’t be to me. “Do you think it was a big deal?”

“I don’t know,” Angel said at length through an elongated sigh, loosing his grip on the steering wheel, removing one hand from it and relaxing it on the door and taking on a nonchalant pose. “What happened that night, it wasn’t us, right?”

Cordelia bit her lip to keep from squealing. It was me, deep down. Sure, I was possessed, Angel, but I still felt the same things the dancer was feeling. She only prayed she could say something like that, and she laughed. Here I am, Cordelia Chase. The once Slayer of dating, the Queen of words and Sunnydale high, not able to say that I’m attracted to an extremely sexy man…Pire.

“What’s so funny?” Angel was obviously self-conscious about that night, and even if he hadn’t admitted it before, it was evident in the expression crossing his face. He looked hurt, yet purely innocent; a look a child would bear when his older sibling and their friends would tease him.

“Nothing,” Cordelia shook it off. “I just…It’s weird that it was…you…and me. Cordelia Chase and Angel, Buffy’s bitch.”

Angel’s hand slipped off the steering wheel at that comment, sending the car a little to the right and almost running into a parked vehicle. Luckily, he regained control and tried to act casual about the incident. “Damn leather wheel coverings…”

Cordelia bit her lip again.

“Why do you say that I’m Buffy’s bitch?”

“You were, now you’re your own man,” Cordelia quickly explained. “But you have to admit, there is still that part of you in there that’s at her beckon call.”

“No, that’s not true,” Angel defended himself, not bearing to look Cordelia in the eye, unable to show her that what she was saying was affecting him deeply. He knew she would never intentionally hurt him unless he was reverted back to Angelus, but her words did hurt sometimes. “I was never her bitch. That was Xander.”

“Then what were you doing talking to her on the phone?” Cordelia asked as her curiosity painted all over her beautiful façade.

Angel sighed, “I called her about two months ago. She died, Cor. And I just wanted to…check up on her and make sure she’d be all right. I only talk her to her every few weeks. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before.”

“Don’t apologize for something that you don’t need to apologize for,” Cordelia said softly, her emotions leaking into her voice. “I should be apologizing.”

“For what?”

“For slapping you.”

“That didn’t hurt.”

“Like hell it did,” Cordelia laughed at his defensiveness. “I saw you, you looked like you were about to cry.”

“It’s the weather, it does this to my sinuses whenever the weather changes rapidly.”

Cordelia laughed a little harder at his pathetic attempt, “Angel. This is Los Angeles, there is no rapid weather change here.”

Angel nodded at that, agreeing completely. “I guess…I was a little surprised by your reaction to the situation.” The Vampire had no idea where he was headed, but as long as he and Cordy were talking, like they hadn’t done in so long, he didn’t care.

“Me? You’re the one who barged in and just took me outta there,” Cordelia started to point out.

“Someone needs help,” Angel lied, a tinge of guilt finding its way into his soul. Suddenly, another urge followed and Angel shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “And that guy was…touching you.”

***

“This is why you took me out of a date?” Cordelia asked through a growl, placing her hands on her hips and looking up in the tree where a cat was sitting on a branch, looking desperately for a way down.

Angel had heard the cats meowing over the engine’s low humming and figured it’d be a good enough replacement. It’s a fucking cat, but it’ll have to do. “It’s what Lorne told me he saw when he heard me humming.”

“So now Lorne is our Vision Boy?” Cordelia scoffed.

“Only if you have no problem with that,” Angel teased a little, seeing if he could drag her out of the mental place she was hiding all her thoughts in.

“No, it’s fine,” she said honestly, removing her heels and walking along the wet, soggy grass towards the tree. “It’ll be good now, so when I’m on a date, you guys will be busy rescuing cats.”

Angel swallowed hard, and when Cordelia saw the expression on his face, she misinterpreted it and laughed a little under her breath. “Maybe it won’t always be cats, perhaps a dog or two. Maybe even a monkey!”

“Cordy-”

“Perhaps a spider-monkey,” she started to ramble on, making mocking-cat noises in an attempt to get the cat calm enough for her to help.

“Cordy,” Angel tried again, a little more firmly.

“Then he could bite you and you’d be all sweaty and hallucinate and I’d be taking care of you, and you wouldn’t have a shirt on,” she blurted out, getting caught up in the moment.

“What?” Angel nearly choked on his own spit.

Cordelia cursed under her breath before spinning around to face him, “Sike! As if that would ever happen, in your dreams.”

Angel looked down at his feet, the possibility still hanging in his mind until he forced it deep inside, hiding it under things to keep hidden until later when the time presented itself and he would be able to immerse himself within it. Only after he realized what he was thinking to himself did Angel react outwardly, and Cordelia noticed.

“Jeez, I didn’t know you would put so much thought into it,” she rolled her eyes, feigning irritation when deep down, she was pleased by the idea that Angel pondered doing things with her…

The Vampire puffed out his cheeks, looking up at the dark night sky, the starts spread out across the black velvety texture like specks of diamonds spread out in elegant display. “I never get used to it,” he whispered under his breath, turning around with his eyes still staring upward at the sky. He had no idea where he was going, and he didn’t care. As long as he had time to talk, as long as Cordelia was listening to him and as long as he could just be there…in the moment with no consequences of his actions. The freewill to say anything he wanted was lost so long ago, and these days the ensouled Vampire watched his words carefully.

Yet not around Cordelia. “Sometimes I wonder why not being able to go out into the sunlight is such a punishment for Vampires,” Cordelia admitted with a grunt, planting her feet on the rough bark at the base of the tree and hoisting herself up a bit to reach for the cat. When the cat didn’t respond, simply staring at her blankly with its shiny amber eyes, Cordelia backed away, placing her hands in her backpockets and sighing, sending her bangs up in the air before casually falling to her cheeks. “Night, it’s so…endless. Even with all the secrets you have…it feels like you can just say anything, share whatever you want and nothing will happen. Nothing bad that is.”

She laughed at herself, shaking her head. I’m not making sense.

Angel stopped, his hands in his jacket pockets and his eyes closed as he felt the cool night air flood across his equally cold skin. “I get that. When you’re in the sunlight, it’s like everyone is watching you, waiting for you to mess up.”

He didn’t move or react when he felt Cordelia’s presence appear right beside him, her stance almost exactly like his as she stared up at the sky; not exactly looking for what he was staring at, but searching for something she so desired. Something Angel, for the first time, didn’t know the answer to. And if he didn’t know the answer to her problems, he couldn’t help her; and if he couldn’t help her, he was useless to her, and he didn’t want to be a useless aspect of her life. He wanted to help her; he wanted to complete some part of the complicated puzzle that was Cordelia Chase.

“Yeah…Your ‘oh-so-tortured’,” Cordelia snorted, turning around and moving back to the tree. “You have to admit, some things about being a Vampire make your life…unlife, or whatever, easier.”

Angel nodded, replying at length as he worked around perfect words. “And sometimes being beautiful makes your life easier.”

“What?” Cordelia asked breathlessly, looking back at him immediately when she heard the word ‘beautiful’ come out of his mouth.

“Nothing…” Angel whispered wistfully, as if in some trance. Finally, he breathed in through his nose and turned to face Cordelia, a perfectly tranquil expression on his handsome features. “Is there something wrong with us?”

Before she could answer, the cat jumped out, using Cordelia’s head as a cushion to lighten its fall. Cordelia yelped and struggled to get it off of her, Angel helped, immediately jumping up close to her and using his strong hands to gently pry the claws out of Cordelia’s scalp. “You have nice hair…” he teased.

Finally, the cat was free of Cordelia and she was free of the cat. Angel let the feline skitter off, smiling goofily as he saw Cordelia’s cheeks turn red. “This is a fun night.”

“Sure.” Wincing she rubbed her head and made her way to the car. Angel’s hand grabbing hers stopped her in her tracks, her heart leaping into her throat at his rough, cold hands sending such warmth throughout her body.

“Stay,” he said softly, looking perfectly innocent. Too innocent and it hurt Cordelia deeply to think that he was so sweet to her with no feelings for her other than platonic ones they founded with one another so long ago.

Reluctantly accepting his gesture, Cordelia followed him to a space where there were no trees covering the beautiful sight of night sky and the two sat down.

“Sorry if your jeans are ruined,” Angel grunted, sitting next to her and planting his hands on either side of his back, leaning back a little and letting out a relaxing sigh.

Cordelia just looked at him, her lips pursing and a small smirk was barely visible at the corner of her lips. When he looked at her and noticed her staring, his brow furrowed, but the perfect grin on his face still remained. “What?”

“Nothing,” Cordelia sighed, paying with a loose string on the hem of her knee.

Angel would have none of that as he lifted his finger to her chin and guided her eyes to his, “I’m sick and tired of us not talking anymore.”

“Like you’re some expert at talking,” Cordelia snorted.

“I may not be good with words, Cordy. But since when did you practically avoid conversations involving speaking about yourself?” He was teasing and Cordelia knew it, they both shared a much needed chuckle and Angel was pleased to see a small pink flushing onto Cordelia’s cheeks. “I remember when you’d have to force me to talk with you. Like after I came back after the summer at the retreat?”

“I remember that,” Cordelia answered wistfully. “You went all Mr. Stoic on us and I set you straight.”

“Yes, you did,” Angel nodded. “And there’s been a fair few times when I’ve had a word or two that made you feel better…”

“Like….” Cordelia paused, trying to think.

Angel nudged her, “It can’t be that hard. I mean there was that one time where I…you know, it was when…”

“Angel,” Cordelia whispered, her voice suddenly serious.

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry I’ve been so distant lately,” her apology seemed genuine, and Angel accepted it, but there was something in her voice that implied she was holding something back.
“Thanks, Angel,” Cordelia said under her breath, kicking open the door. When he followed in behind her, she made her way to the fridge and opened it up, reaching to the front of the bottom shelf where a few cups of blood were kept. “I could warm one up for you.”

Angel nodded, casually removing his jacket and wiping off the grass stains. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but grass stains are so last season.”

“I can’t believe you said that either,” Cordelia said, smiling. It was the first time Angel and her hand been so entirely casual with each other. Her romantic feelings for him be damned, it was a time for friendship and she was going to cherish it for all she had.

“It was my pathetic attempt at humor,” Angel explained, hanging his jacket on the couch and nodding thankfully to Dennis the ghost when he saw it move to the coat hanger. “Won’t happen again.”

A minute later, Cordelia removed the cup of blood from the microwave and poured it into a coffee cup, letting a few drops of blood drip on her thumb in the process.

When she walked into the living room, she saw Angel reading one of her Cosmo magazines and looking at it horizontally when a pull out of a model came out. “Watch it, mister.”

Angel, embarrassed, closed the magazine quickly and struggled to hide it. But when he realized it was too late, he simply shook his head in dismay. “I embarrass myself too easily.”

Cordelia made her way to hand him the coffee cup when the coffee table seemed to move several inches and she tripped, falling onto Angel, her face stopping just inches from his. For a second, their eyes locked. Angel swallowed hard, nervous and entranced for a small minute. Finally, they realized that the blood from the cup had spilled all over Angel’s shirt.

“Damn,” Cordelia growled. “Sorry!” She called back at him, immediately moving towards her bedroom to get him a spare shirt. She paused, standing in her closet as she took a deep, steadying breath. They didn’t have to kiss for her to become entranced by his lips, to imagine the things he could do to her, the millions of ways he could make her feel. Taking another breath to calm herself, Cordelia fisted her shaking hands over a tan shirt Angel had worn a few months previous and made her way out into the living room.

Only when she saw Angel standing there, his shirt bundled in one hand, his toned chest displayed for her. Cordelia felt her heart melt, her throat go dry and her knees buckled beneath her.

“Is something wrong?” He asked, stepping forward.

Cordelia cleared her throat, shaking herself out of it. Yeah, my loins are fucking burning! “Here,” she said slowly. Did I just use the word ‘loins’?

Angel shook his head as he slipped on the shirt and slowly but surely buttoned it, Cordelia aching with every button that was clasped and the less amount of his body was exposed to her. “I would have never worn this while dating Buffy. She had this big fetish with me wearing white beaters and dark clothing. Made me mysterious I guess.”

Though the comment was light-hearted, Cordelia’s heart stung at the mention of Buffy and the realization of how inappropriate she was acting his close to home. Not only was he still in love with Buffy, whether he was willing to admit it, he had a curse that forbids him to have any sexual relations. Not that Cordelia was even confident she could make him happy.

They had their chance at the ballet and nothing happened…

“You look good with color,” Cordelia admitted, trying to pass by these difficult emotions. “Dark’s good for only so long.”

Angel nodded, readjusting the shirt he had on until all of sudden he paused. His eyes drifted down to the blood on Cordelia’s thumb. It was obvious he was fighting something back, and it was obvious he wanted to do more than what he did. “You have blood on your thumb, you should wash that off.”

Nodding, Cordelia turned around, but stopped. “Angel, maybe you sh-”

She couldn’t finish what she was going to ask Angel, she couldn’t tell him to go home so she could be alone to drown in her sorrows, to be so contradictory to who she normally was. She couldn’t be alone and wonder what ever happened to the woman who would say anything and everything at any and every opportunity?

A vision hit her, and it hit her hard. She was on her knees, her hands up to her temples as she screamed a little in pain. “Oh…god…” she moaned in pain, falling not to the ground but into Angel’s welcoming grasp, his arms folded around her immediately, as if he fit her completely.

“It’s the usual,” Cordelia murmured into Angel’s shirt. “Demon attacking couple in a picnic.” She looked up at Angel through her watery, pain-filled eyes. “What are you still doing here? Go, rescue them.”

Angel looked at her, brushing the hair out of her eyes as he usually did, sending comfort and warmth that seemed so natural all over her entire body. Nothing but compassion and love was shared between the two. For Cordelia, there was no sexuality of the touch of his finger to her forehead, sliding gently and caressing her cheek. It was just what the two of them shared together. There was no name for it and she didn’t have to have one to know that whenever she felt it, she was in Angel’s arms.

And in that moment, she didn’t want to be anywhere else.

And it seemed that Angel, as he responded in a husky voice, thick with emotion, was where he wanted to be. “I’ll make a call, but this is where I’m staying tonight. With you.


Part 2

“Is she alright?”Charles Gunn’s deep voice was heard on the other end of the line and Angel swallowed hard, trying to keep his emotions hidden in the current situation.

“She’s sleeping,” Angel answered curtly, looking through the crack of Cordelia’s closed door to see the woman trying to sleep and failing miserably as it became apparent the pain hadn’t subsided yet in her head. “They’re getting worse.”

“I know,” Gunn replied. “So, we going to meet you there?”

“Go ahead without me,” Angel informed him. “You can handle it, take Fred along. I’m sure it’ll be a good time for you guys to expand your…friendship.” If he was teasing Gunn, it was unconsciously, automatically with no recognition from the Vampire as his dark eyes stayed on Cordelia and his attention remained on whether or not she was going to be okay.

Gunn started to argue, but Angel hung up the phone abruptly, yet quietly before he could even hear the beginning of the protest. He pushed open the door slowly, peeking his head through and looking at her with hopeful eyes, waiting for her to acknowledge him.

When she did, a sweet smile on her face, a sharp pain struck Angel. She looks like a dying patient in a hospital bed, he thought to himself gravely, walking gently towards her bed.

The chair he had pulled up beside her bed was still there, directed straight at her and waiting for him to sit, to return to his caring position beside his friend. And when he slouched into the chair, he felt a little relieved, as if a weight was lifted off his shoulders.

Cupping Cordelia’s hand with his two large ones, Angel kissed her fingers. “You alright?” His voice was husky and deep, filled with such emotion that it frightened him, but he knew that in the moment, with his dearest friend laying before him in such emotional and physical pain, he couldn’t focus on what it exactly was or why he was so surprised by it.

“I’m fine,” she croaked, looking away for a moment, trying to collect herself.

It’s times like these that my acting just happens to suck, the thought fluttered into her mind as she collected herself over and over, as if a mantra assigned to her by a psychologist to help calm her. But with Angel giving her such attention, Cordelia was far from calm, her physical desire for the Vampire heightening to such an extent that it was starting to dishevel her control over her feelings.

She felt her power over the situation at hand slip a notch when Angel argued with her lie. “No…you’re not.”

Angel’s voice was still quiet with a tinge of firmness creeping in gradually, “Don’t lie to me, Cor.”

“Why did you ask me a question if you knew I wasn’t fine?” Cordelia asked, finally looking at him, her brown eyes wet but strong with determination. It was an empty question wrapped inside an empty threat. He was right, she was wrong, but like the dark Vampire, Cordelia was stubborn to go as far as arguing over something so simple just to have the satisfying knowledge that she was better, that she was right. But his eyes…when he looked at her, the former Cheerleader felt her heart grow weak and skip a beat. “I am fine, so don’t get your pink panties in a bunch, alright?”

Angel wasn’t going to let the situation pass the easy, even when Cordelia rolled onto her side and looked the other way, he immediately got out of his seat and walked to the other side of the bed, sitting at the edge. “This happened before,” he said slowly, placing his hand on the sheets, several inches from where Cordelia was.

He edged closer, trying not to crowd her or rush this comforting thing he was attempting to do once again. “And just because there was a shaman that was purposely doing that to you doesn’t mean the Visions weren’t hurting you beforehand.”

“Angel…” Cordelia whispered, her voice throaty. “Just leave it be, alright? I’m fine. They hurt, but I’m fine.” She sat up in her bed and looked down at her hands for the longest two minutes of her life as she contemplated what to say and rolled her tongue around the words in her mouth, trying to perfect what she so wanted to explain. “They hurt a lot, Angel. But…it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. It’s something I just have to do.”

“I won’t let you sit there and think that going through this pain is something that you have to do, Cordelia. It’s not something that I can allow to happen,” He said, his voice firm as he moved closer to her, one hand moving on top of her cupped ones and the other cupping her face, stroking her cheek comfortingly. Ultimately, he said to her, his voice a ghost of a whisper, “I won’t lose you.”

Whether it was out of comfort or not, Angel felt something deep within in her visibly relax, the light he desperately held onto in her russet eyes brightening.

Cordelia felt better by his comforting words, knowing that he was truly worried about her, but it didn’t dispense of the enormous hole in her heart when every other second she reminded herself that his words were just that: comforting. There was no romantic intentions behind them, he saw her as a sister, as a friend, nothing more. It made the pain even more profound knowing that Angel had no clue he was hurting her so much, with his caring words, his cold hands stroking her cheek and that expression proving that she was his only concern.

With misty eyes, Cordelia gave him a reassuring smile. Angel felt extremely relieved.

For a moment, he felt something, a small spark striking his thumb when it barely grazed across Cordelia’s lip for the smallest second in all eternity. It was a shooting realization that was so deep down in his tortured soul that it felt like a pinprick and before he could put any thought into the sensation, it was gone, his own personal denial over everything most likely dispensing of it as if in routine.

His respite was cut short when Cordelia’s eyes went vacant, as if she was figuring something out. No, not quite vacant. There was something painful, unpleasant shining blindly in the distance of her deep brown orbs. Without a word, she got up from her indolent position and moved out of her room, with Angel following on her footsteps wondering what was going on.

On her heel, the Vampire followed quietly behind her as they made their way through the living room and to the front door. There, he was surprised to see her opening the door and motioning for him to leave. “Time for you to go,” she whispered.

Angel shook his head, “I’m staying here tonight, Cordy. I already told you that.” He didn’t know what was going on and he was getting caught off guard, losing his balance and control of the situation, it was scaring him. Crossing his arms, he stood defiantly. “There’s nothing you could do to make me leave.”

“I just want to be alone.”

“I don’t believe that,” Angel replied curtly, his lips tightened and he was trying to remain unfazed even as the confusion kept reeling in, threatening his actual physical balance.

“Dennis!” Cordelia bellowed, her voice cracking as she stepped out of the way and Angel was suddenly pushed out of the apartment. She didn’t show it, but she was concerned for the Vampire when he fell to his knees. “You alright?”

Angel stood up and made his way towards the door, but Cordelia already had his jacket and his stained shirt in her hands, her arm extended to hand them to him. She strained a polite smile, “See you later, Angel.”

And before he could argue, the door was shut in his face. He struggled to raise his hand several times, wanting to knock, but then thinking better of it. Maybe she does just need a night alone, he dismissed it. It would bother him all night, but he thought better of ruining what alone time Cordelia found for herself.

He took a few steps but stopped immediately in his path as his ears twitched and a soft, barely hearable sound pervaded his hearing. He could smell the tears, the pain suffusing throughout the hallway, and he could hear a soft sobbing right behind Cordelia’s door.

He wanted to just tear the door off of the hinges, to hold her in his arms and make her feel better, but it killed him to remind himself that this was one of those times that nothing he could possibly do would make Cordelia feel better.

It was a dangerous reminder to him that he wasn’t the answer to all of her problems.

***

The soft typing in the distance caught Angel’s attention as he staged down the hallway, exhausted and deprived of sleep. Cordelia must be in, he thought to himself, his eyes opening a bit easier at the thought.

Taking the stairs, one at a time, Angel arched his head over the railing to try and get a look at Cordelia before she knew he was there. He wanted to make sure she was all right and not just acting like it when around her friends. He paused by the pillar, peeking over the edge to see her resign from typing and move as she noticed something in the corner.

Angel couldn’t bear to just stand by the pillar so he moved, ever-so-softly towards the distracted young woman. Yet it was when he was close enough to smell the sweet scent that she always sent off that she yelped and screamed, unexpectedly jumping into his arms. “Rat!”

The rat skittered off, unfazed by Cordelia’s yelp. Cordelia sighed in relief and turned to see Angel, holding her. Her brow furrowed, “Angel?”

Her eyes were inches from his as they just stood there. Finally, Cordelia cleared her throat uncomfortably and let go, yet it was when Angel was reluctant to release her when she looked extremely puzzled. “Hello, personal bubble.”

The comment snapped Angel out of his thoughts and he immediately released the beautiful associate of his, allowing her to return to her desk. She bent over to grab a file and it was then that Angel realized she had a tattoo on her lower back. He jumped at this and placed his hands on her hips to keep her there, his eyes narrowing and surprise mounting deep within him.

Cordelia, after a moment of being entranced by his simple touch on her bare skin, took it all the wrong way and slapped his hands off of her. “Perv.”

“When did you get that tattoo?” he demanded, a little frustrated that she hadn’t told him and that he hadn’t taken notice to it beforehand.

“Like, a year ago,” Cordelia explained, scoffing. “You would have known if you hadn’t fired me.” Ouch! She soon regretted saying that, wincing as she looked at the computer screen.

Angel looked and felt hurt by the comment. He deserved it. Turning away, he left the office. “Sorry for…bothering you,” he muttered under his breath.

Cordelia turned around to face Angel, only to see his back facing her and before she could apologize Gunn entered the Lobby with his battle ax spinning in his hand and Fred following behind him, covered in demon-goo.

“Charles was showing me how to get better at fighting,” Fred explained, wiping some of the green guck off of her forehead as Gunn wrapped a strong arm around her shoulders.

“I bribed her with tacos,” Gunn explained.

Angel, obviously distracted, just nodded. He wanted to throw a glance back at Cordelia, but he couldn’t find the strength to.

Gunn took notice and lowered his voice, “You aight man?”

The Vampire didn’t respond, his hands in his pockets as he looked downwards at some unknown object or pattern on the ground. Angel knew he hurt Cordelia, and Wesley and Gunn when he fired them, but he didn’t think that she still had a grudge.

He was losing his friendship with Cordelia, his grip slacken and his control of the situation had been pushed off a cliff and he was losing it, second by second.

“I’ll be upstairs, Conner needs a bottle,” Angel muttered, turning away and walking up the stairs, his sullen expression still there all the way upstairs.

Gunn looked at Fred with concern, “Something’s up. I wonder if Holtz tried to do something when he was gone…”

Fred wasn’t really listening when she nodded, her eyes drifting to Cordelia, standing by her computer, gazing after Angel as the Vampire ascended and disappeared upstairs. Guilt painted across her face, regret and longing accompanying it, she looked different to Fred, she looked lost.

***

Fred edged into the office, “Cordelia?” She wanted to talk with her, she wanted to know what was going on not only with the woman’s feelings but what was occurring between her and Angel; the tension between the two could cut glass.

“Mmmm?” Cordelia mumbled, not even looking up. She was re-organizing the weapons cabinet, obviously annoyed, deep down, that Angel messed with how she arranged his artillery.

“Are you okay?”

Cordelia was annoyed by the question and it was made clear when she growled to Fred, “Why the hell do people keep asking me that?”

The young physicist took a step back, wincing at the sudden change in mood. “It’s out of concern, Cordy. I mean…would you prefer us to not care at all?”

Her question was met with silence, the former-Cheerleader choosing to pull out a broad sword and swing it about. “I really need to pick up the practicing I was doing. It’s been months.”

“A lot has happened,” Fred added. “But I’m sure Angel would jump at the chance to start training you again. He always liked doing things with you.”

“I never mentioned training with Angel,” Cordelia pointed out, slightly catching on to Fred’s ineptly hidden agenda and the point to the conversation.

Fred merely bobbed her head, biting her lower lip as awkward silence took over.

Cordelia normally exuded confidence, even if it wasn’t visible to the naked eye, but as she stood there, a flicker of something passed over her face like a dark cloud. “Why do you do this Fred?”

“I owe it to you,” the girl replied simply, as if it were that simple.

“And that’s supposed to make sense to me why?”

“You were the one who pushed me to go out into the world, to stop hiding out in the Hotel-”

Cordelia quickly interrupted her, not wanting full credit for the effort she put in helping Fred become acquainted once again with the world. “Everybody was concerned about you, I was just the one who had the right words to say.”

The last few words seemed to add to Fred’s confidence that she actually knew what she was trying to say, “Exactly! You’re Cordy, I mean…you’re probably the best person with words. When you gave me that speech when we were cleaning up the Lobby, I got chillbumps all up my arms and it made me lightheaded.”

“Lightheaded?” Cordelia seemed uneasy by the admission, but regained control of herself, clearing her throat and straightening her posture, sending off the usual confident air. “I was right, next to you, I’m downright linear.”

Fred ignored her last comment and continued with her words, her voice turning squeaky as desperation crept into her tone. “Since when did Cordelia Chase just sit idly by and let the guy she has strong feelings for just prance around with no idea that you’re day-dreaming of him walking around without a shirt on…” She paused, her eyes drifting. It was plain to see that Fred was recalling a time when she had a crush on the Vampire and reminiscing on one of the more detailed fantasy-exploits.

“Everybody’s turning perverted around here,” Cordelia snorted. “First Lorne talking about me having a ‘hunger’ for Angel, now you opening up about your vivid, and by the way extremely disconcerting, daydream of Angel.”

“You’re as stubborn as expected,” Fred mumbled. “You both are. It’s like dest-”

“Don’t start with that crap again,” Cordelia warned, pointing a threatening finger at Fred. “I’ll tie you up and sell you to the hobo on the corner if you mention Kyerumption or Moira.”

“You mean Benny?” Fred giggled. “He’s a sweetie pie, really. One time I was coming home and dropped the bag of tacos and he said something about Saint Bernard’s that was really funny,” she paused, shaking herself out of it. “But that’s not the point. Why ignore something that’s obviously in the stars?”

Cordelia clasped her hands on her head, early pulling her hair out in the process, Fred had finally done it. “Because I don’t want it to be in the stars, damnit! Can’t you get a fricken clue and leave me alone already? I don’t want this, none of this. I’m just tired of it coming back and biting me in the ass. It’s just a fucking sexual attraction for god’s sake! It’ll go away in weeks time.”

She didn’t see Fred’s tearful eyes, she didn’t see the pain crossing the young woman’s obviously frightened, emotional face, she didn’t see anything as she immediately turned and left the Lobby, the Hotel, going god knows where.

Anywhere but here.

***

“Angel?” came the surprised response on the other end of the line. Angel felt his heart drop. No one was really in a good mood to see or speak to him apparently.

“Hey…” he croaked, playing with a stray sliver on the frame of the doorway as he looked to the mirror in the bathroom, longing filling his entire being when he saw nothing there indicating he existed. “Sorry I had to cut off the talk we were having…I had…things to do.”

The tone of Buffy, even if contorted by bad reception obvious from long-distance, seemed to be less depressed and more, down. Sure, she wasn’t as low and miserable as Angel felt, but it was a start. No one knew how he felt and he was looking for something to desperately hold onto. “No, it’s alright. We should have more of these.”

“That’s nice…”

“Angel?” Buffy asked, curious blindly obvious in her voice.

“Yeah?” he croaked, swallowing hard as a large lump formed in his throat. “I’m not having a good day.”

He heard a small sigh escape Buffy’s lips, “I’ve had a lot of those and all I have to say is that after a while, you’ll get used to it.”

“You think?”

He couldn’t see her face, he didn’t hear a change in her voice pattern, he just knew; he knew that she was getting a little worried, a little confused at the sudden appearance of an unsure Angel. Maybe it was just a mirror of what he was experiencing. “Seriously, Angel. What’s wrong?”

“Have you ever felt that you’re losing a person you care about? I mean, the helplessness, it’s…it’s weird.” The Vampire cleared his throat and shifted his position, leaning on his right shoulder in replacement of his left. “I mean…how would you feel if you were losing Willow?”

“Depends on your definition of ‘losing’…is someone sick? Is Conner okay?”

As if he couldn’t control his movements, his thoughts too distracted, Angel found himself seated on his bed now, slumped slightly with his dazed eyes on his son. “He’s fine. It’s…Cordy.”

“Is she sick?”

“Depends on your definition of sick,” Angel turned her words back on her. “Her Visions are getting…they’re…they’re pretty bad. And I’m afraid she’s going to die.” He was struggling to keep his voice strong, not wanting the Slayer to hear him sound so weak, not wanting anyone to hear or see him in such a state of physical and mental capacity.

“Oh god…” Genuine and pure concern filtered through Buffy’s voice as she whispered those two words with great struggle. Though she and the cheerleader never really left on good terms, Angel had filled her in with such great praise and convincing stories that the Slayer had grown fond of the woman in some way, or at least, she could stand the woman. And it was only the image Angel projected that Buffy respected, nearly cared for. “Is she in the hospital?”

“No,” Angel quickly dismissed it. “That’s the problem. A demon brought down her protective barriers and almost killed her with the visions one time, and when she was brought to the hospital, they strapped her to the bed and said there was no hope. This is all just mystical shit the Powers That Be are dispensing on her for their own shitty reasons.” He was getting angry now, frustrated.

But when he realized how he was acting, he took a steadying breath and apologized, his voice no more than a whisper. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be complaining and putting this load on you. You have enough things to worry about.”

“Don’t say that, Angel. You needed to talk to a friend, here I am. You can hear me right? And I can hear you.” She sounded determined to talk with him, to comfort him. Whether it be for her own reasons, as if reassuring him brought some sense of accomplishment to her system, or for some unknown intention she had beset upon herself unconsciously. Buffy Summers was a changed woman and Angel greatly appreciated and welcomed it. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” she teased.

“Thanks,” Angel sighed, falling back on the bed. “I’ve never been this afraid before.”

“You know what you need to do? You need to talk to her; god knows the woman still has her way with words. Maybe if you say the right things, she’ll be spilling the beans sooner than you can say ‘Another Apocalypse?’”

Angel covered his face with his free hand, trying to rub away the stress. When it didn’t work, he just listened to the silence, taking comfort in it for as long as he could manage before reminding himself that he needed to reply to Buffy’s advice. “That’s the problem, we’re not…we’re not talking well these days. She’s been real distant.”

“Maybe she just wants space,” Buffy suggested.

“Space that’ll get her killed.”

“Maybe it has nothing to do with the Visions,” he heard the Slayer point out. “Maybe they’re just a pain when they occur and have a few painful side-affects, but aren’t necessarily life-threatening. Like me getting stabbed, sure, I’ll have a nice excuse not to use my right arm, but in a week? I’ll be good as new, much to the relief of Dawn every time she begs me to help with her homework.”

“It’s not even about them killing her,” Angel contradicted himself as the possibility of Buffy being wholly and truly right hit him. “I can’t stand to see her in such pain. She doesn’t deserve any of this. Some people are just…meant to have positions. Like me and you, we were built for this kind of stuff.”

“You don’t think she’s strong enough?”

“No, I do. Trust me, she can fight like no other and like you said before, she’s good with words and can get out of a few compromising situations but…” He paused, sitting up and closing his eyes, hoping the wetness in his would go away and never come back.

“I don’t like to see her in any shape or form of pain. I want to see her happy, to see her smiling and just enjoying life. For her to laugh again, and in a fun way, a lighthearted way that makes you feel better so easily. For her to have that spark in her eyes, that just assures you everything would be fine even when there was nothing wrong. To have that trust, the confidence that she’ll come to you with her problems. The way she can make a bad situation better and even the best situation isn’t good without her. The way she enters a room and everybody inside lights up…To have her be happy and still look so beautiful even when she’s covered in blood and dirt and green goo-”

“Angel,” Buffy laughed, waking him up from his trancelike state.

It was only then that he realized he was talking in a wistful voice, saying everything at such length that the entire reply lasted over five minutes. He was putting too much thought into it. Yet, as he stood up, cleared his throat and tried to distract himself, the thoughts lingered and the image of Cordelia remained at the front of his mind, blinding his eyes easily with her beauty.

So distracted, trying to force himself to forget about his deep interest in Cordelia, Angel, the Vampire with such attuned senses, didn’t notice the change in the atmosphere and the breathing patterned, though soft, echoing slightly in the hallway outside his door.

Fred stood there, her ear close to the door and listening attentively. From nervous to saddened, from angry to completely and wistfully distracted by the mere thought of Cordelia, Angel had gone from many emotions to one, from opposite ends to opposite ends. And the beauty of his feelings for Cordelia formed a tear in the corner of Fred’s eyes, the deep denial and naive ness Angel was displaying with simply his voice made her laugh and the anger he felt towards the Powers for giving Cordelia the curse of Visions moved her.

Two people in love and they don’t even know it.

***

“You’re going on another date?!” Fred exclaimed in a loud whisper as she leaned over the counter.

Cordelia seemed to not think it was a big deal, for she was putting on her makeup casually in the bathroom, practically ignoring Fred’s ranting as the girl stood in the doorway, obviously perturbed.

“When did this happen?” Fred inquired, curious as to know what put this action in place.

“When I left yesterday, I was pissed so I went home and called an old friend and she said she knew a few guys, so I randomly picked one,” the former cheerleader explained in a matter-of-fact tone. “I can’t just sit around and mope over Angel, nothing good will come of it. So I got smart and decided to move on.”

“Move on from what? From pining for Angel at your desk?” Fred, surprisingly, growled. “You never even gave it a chance.”

The comment forced a scoff to escape from Cordelia’s mouth. “What is there to give a chance to? Angel thinks of me as a friend, nothing more. Nothing less. And I accept it. As hard as it is for you to believe, I’m ready to move on from Angel, I’m ready to grow up and face the reality that even if Angel did have feelings for me we couldn’t do anything about it.”

“What if I told you Angel did have feelings for you?”

“Not likely,” Cordelia snorted, and, at a breaking point resulting from the lack of privacy, she guided Fred out of the bathroom doorway and closed the door. Through the wooden entrance, Fred heard Cordelia shout: “If my date arrives before I’m done in here, tell him to meet me out in the car, alright?”

Fred, frustrated by Cordelia’s denial and lack of interest in the fact that Angel might, whether deep down or that he was in his own denial, have feelings for her. “Love’s a bitch,” she muttered under her breath. It was something that applied to her along with Cordelia and Angel’s situation. She looked to the entrance and thought of Gunn, fighting demons.

He was the sweetest guy when he offered to take their relationship slow, but he was taking it too slow the past few days and it was causing an inferiority complex deep within Fred’s already unstable view upon herself. On one hand, she felt as if she were being treated like a child, being handled with mind-numbing delicacy. And on the other, Fred thought self-consciously to herself that Gunn wasn’t attracted to her physically and thought she wasn’t pretty or beautiful, even if he had said it many times to her before. They’re just words.

Shaking the thought out of her head, Fred walked up the stairs, hoping to catch Angel before he would come down and see her date.

But only she went upstairs and towards his room did Angel appear from the basement with Conner in his arms. “You’ve never been down there before and I see why now. All those sharp things…not good. Though the fake flowers make it alright, don’t they?”

He paused in the middle of the Lobby when a well-dressed man entered. Potential client, Angel laughed in excitement inwardly. “May I help you?”

“Yes, I’m looking for a Miss Cordelia Chase,” he replied curtly, breezing past Angel and looking around. “I’m her date.”

She’s having a date meet her here! Angel held back a growl. “Why not meet her at… I don’t know, her apartment?”

“A client of mine had some troubles and I was delayed, she suggested we just meet here, since it’s closer to the restaurant,” the man snidely responded. “You have a problem with that?”

Angel felt the urge to rip the guys innards out in reaction to his rudeness. “No…”

“Not that it matters of course,” the man snidely responded, haughtily puffing out his chest and fixing his tie.

“Why is that?” Angel asked, curious as to why the man thought so little of him.

“It’s not like she’d listen to man like you,” he explained, smiling snootily. “Why would she take any man with…baby barf all over his shirt seriously? I’m sure she’d simply ignore you even if you tried to convince her.”

Angel’s brow furrowed, “Convince her of what?”

“That I’m not a guy she should be dating,” he mumbled, leaning his head over the counter, looking for Cordelia. “A woman like Cordelia who’s obviously gotten by in life by using her looks shouldn’t be running a business; especially if she’s dim enough to hire useless, mediocre workers. I’m not in it for her luck, or for her supposed ‘business manner’…”

The man placed his hands in his pockets, a confident air about him and his eyebrows rising upwards as he imagined something Angel could only begin to apprehend was perverted and intrusive.

“If all you’re interested in is what’s under her clothes, then maybe you aren’t the kind of guy she’s looking for…” Angel pointed out, gritting his teeth together and repeatedly looking down at the child in his arms in a pathetic attempt to remind himself not to lunge at the man and tear him to pieces. “Cordelia’s not like that. She doesn’t give sex to a man on he first date.”

“Then I’ll just have to bear through three or four dates,” the man laughed, walking over to Angel, easily towering over the Vampire in height. “I’m sure, by the looks of her, it’ll be worth the wait.”

Angel stepped closer, his face inches from the man’s as he growled in a threatening manner. “Get out, before I make you.”

“Now that’s what I call a threat,” he laughed, backing up and casually strolling around the Lobby. “I’ve heard them many times before. I’m a lawyer, you know. No matter what, I have the credentials, the reputation to get me out of any situation.”

Angel nodded, angry thoughts and intentions filtering through his mind as he watched the man stroll around as if he owned the place. “I guess you’re right…there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“I’m glad you see it that way.”

“But I’m sure Jake might have a problem with it,” Angel muttered under an unneeded breath, projecting his voice just loud enough so the man could hear him as he turned away and walked into the office.

“Jake who?”

“Her ex-boyfriend,” Angel lied. “Though, I wouldn’t worry. You look sturdy, I’m sure his Hummer won’t even knock you down.”

“Excuse me?”

Angel laughed it off, “Forget I said anything. The police, something about tracing the large amounts of blood on the windshield in hopes of finding out the victim’s name, confiscated his Hummer. Poor guy, the victim; he was barely recognizable after the whole ordeal.”

“Jake’s the jealous type I presume?” His voice was unfazed and it seemed as if he wasn’t bothered by it, but the last octave of his voice rose for the smallest second.

Progress is being made, “You would know if you watch the 6 o’ clock news. Do you watch the six o’ clock news…?”

“Stanley,” he finished for him. “Yes…I do.”

“Then you’ve obviously heard of Jake’s exploits,” Angel explained.

The man started to look extremely disturbed, surprising Angel by his extremely gullible nature. “Jake Nelson? The…escaped convict?”

Angel started to stroll around with Conner in his arms. She can’t go out with this scumbag, I won’t let her.“Yeah, Cordy used to have really bad taste in men, not surprising considering the guy before Jake was a con-artist. But I’m sure she made a right decision by deciding to go out into public with a respectable man like you, don’t you think so?”

It seemed now that he was getting through. “Sure…”

“All I can say is look out for any sharp objects just hanging around or any suspicious characters,” Angel warned him, trying to hide back a grin as he saw sweat forming on the man’s brow. Leaning in, Angel whispered in the man’s ear: “I hear, sometimes, to avoid detection, he disguises himself as an old woman!”

Silence followed, the man’s eyes bugging out and his skin turning pale.

“I’m serious, just popped out a shotgun and BAM!” Angel lifted a free hand and made a gun impersonation. “Guy lost and ear, but I hear he’s in rehab.”

“Rehab,” the suited, well-dressed, slick guy repeated, swallowing hard and backing away, trying unsuccessfully to look casual. Either he was freaked by what he was hearing or by Angel’s behavior. Either way, he left and Angel was standing there, pleased with himself.

Cordelia exited the bathroom, “Angel, if a guy comes in looking for me, tell him I’ll be downstairs in a few moments, alright?”

The Vampire nodded slowly, “Sure.” He looked up at the opposite stairwell to see Lorne standing there, obviously reeling from what he had just witnessed.

Once Cordelia was out of earshot and upstairs, Angel made his way to Lorne. “The guy was a complete scumbag. He was going to…He was just…I couldn’t let him go out with Cordelia.

“Understandable,” Lorne nodded, but he still seemed a little shocked by the whole situation Angel played out, the fake story, everything… “I never knew you had such…’interesting’ creativity.”

Angel winced, “It was all I could think of to get rid of the guy…what the hell was I supposed to do, Lorne?”

Lorne looked disappointed, not pleased. “Cordy’s a big girl. She would have either taken care of herself or you could have at least told her about the guy before she left. Let her make her own decisions.”

Scoffing, Angel just shook his head; frustrated with Lorne’s lack of sympathy with the good deed he just did for Cordelia. “It’s my job to protect her.”

“Says who?” Lorne asked, incredulous by Angel’s stubborn manner. “If she’s kidnapped by a horde of Vampires and being held hostage, then it’s your obligation to help her. But not if she’s going out on a date willingly, even if the guy is a scumbag.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying this, Lorne. What if he forced Cordelia to have sex with him?” Angel stood up, putting on a confident mask. Even if, deep down, he knew Cordelia would somehow find herself safely out of the situation, Angel didn’t want to relinquish his role as her protector, not that easily. “I only have her best interests in mind.”

“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the bottle, Angel. And I’m not asking you to,” Lorne said quietly, placing both his hands on Angel’s sturdy shoulders. “But don’t lie to her, lead her on and make her think that the date stood her up. Wouldn’t you rather have her know that the guy was a scumbag and you scared him off because of it then her thinking that the guy didn’t think she was pretty enough for him?

Angel winced at the thought, “Cordelia would never think that. She knows she’s beautiful. Any guy would be stupid not to have her.” The look Lorne gave him following his comment forced him to turn around and face the nearing Cordelia descending gracefully down the opposite stairwell.

Swallowing hard, he made his way over to her behind the counter, where she absently looked through folders to keep herself busy.

Tapping her shoulder, Angel whispered her name. “Cor?”

She turned around, an aloof air about her, Angel swallowed hard.

“You’re date was here.”

“Where?”

Angel stood there like a deer in the spotlights, his unbeating hard would be pounding against his chest if it was possible and he wouldn’t be able to breath. “He was here. He…left.”

“Why did he leave?” Cordelia asked, eyeing him curiously.

“I…I scared him off,” Angel admitted quietly, wincing as he expected an angry response.

Cordelia, though not extremely mad, did look annoyed. “What did you do? Did you get all big-brotherly and ask him a lot of questions?” She rubbed her head and sighed, a headache coming on. “I was really excited about this date, Angel. You need to learn to control that urge to ask a lot of over-protective questions.”

“I didn’t do it on accident,” the Vampire blurted out, his voice quiet and sad over how he was expecting Cordelia would react. He didn’t want her to be mad at him, he wanted her to understand. “I purposely scared him off.”

Cordelia firmed her jaw, obviously disappointed. “Why?” Her eyes sparkled and Angel knew her trust in him was slipping.

“He was a jerk,” Angel stuttered. “He wasn’t your type.” He couldn’t find the words, they were just slipping out of his mouth in a sloppy, unconvincing way, and it wasn’t helping his case.

Cordelia growled, walking away from him. “First you pull me out of a date to save a cat, and now you scared off a potentially good date because he wasn’t my type! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Angel stammered. “He was a total jerk to me.”

“Not all people see you as this big hero who can rescue them, Angel!” Cordelia snarled, walking away from him still, her back faced away. “Sometimes you won’t always get along with someone. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, Angel. Don’t you get that?”

She was talking to him as if he was a child, and Angel knew that he wasn’t helping his case when he stood there, speechless and ashamed of the fact that he couldn’t find the right words. He struggled to say something, his voice weak. “I thought you would be thanking me.”

That wasn’t what Cordelia expected, as she turned around at him, her face of complete annoyance. “Thanking you!? Boy, you’re even more arrogant than usual, aren’t you? This was a date; something that I wanted to do that didn’t involve demons or researching ancient texts, Angel. Why can’t you just let me have that?”

I don’t know why, “Because…Because I need you.”

“Need me for what, Angel?” Cordelia asked, exasperated and her voice more quiet, as if giving up on the entire situation. “To give you directions to the next helpless victim? I do that for you everyday, and I’m thankful you need me for that. But for once in a very long time…I just…I want to do something just for me.”

It hurt Angel to hear those words, and he didn’t know why. It was a reasonable thing to ask for, and Cordelia deserved it more than anyone. But when she said it, he just didn’t want to let go. “I don’t… I don’t know what to do.”

For once, Cordelia showed a small flicker of something, as if she was touched by the innocent expression on Angel’s face and the complete helplessness he was showcasing. “Neither do I, Angel.”

And there the two stood, so little space between them, barely five feet, yet both felt so entirely separate, far away from each other, a big gaping whole lodged between them.

One confused about some unknown, brand-new feeling surfacing in his heart, his soul over the woman that invoked such ambiguousness in his mind; and the other trying desperately to break apart from her entire life, to move on from the dead-end feelings with such pitiful, lost hope fueling her desire to move on, even if there was something tugging at her heart and keeping her in that place, that place where all that mattered was the Vampire before her.

Neither had a clue what to do, the only thing they shared was the lost, empty feeling in the gut of their stomachs as they watched their friendship fall apart before their eyes.
Part 3
The fragrance of lilies mingling with a touch of jasmine pervaded the apartment as Cordelia closed the door behind her, ignoring the loud snap penetrating her mind and sending painful shockwaves throughout her already pain stricken head. Her graceful movements absent and replaced with rigid, awkward hobbling through the hallway, her usual smile forgotten along with her cheerful stance in life, Cordelia Chase was different than usual, for more reasons than one.

But the most profound was her Visions, the messages practically damning her to hell in advance, showing her glimpses of the horrid place every time she was sent a Vision.

Her hands were shaking and her lip quivering, and the only fortunate part she could focus on was that her tears weren’t thick enough to smear her mascara, so at least, if she sucked it up and pretended she would look half-way decent.

The light that Dennis switched on too bright, Cordelia winced and covered her eyes. “Too bright,” she moaned.

For a moment, nothing happened, as if Cordelia’s ghostly roommate was contemplating what to do, and then finally the lights switched off and a dim lamp was turned on off in the distant corner of her living room.

“Thanks,” Cordelia breathed in sharply, her eyes still squinting, the pain overcoming her strength to keep her heavy eyes open.

Aftermaths of the Visions that were sent to her by the Powers That Be were never easy to handle, never easy to take. And the ones recently were worse, nearly paralyzing her with pain, her body succumbing to the demanding and draining ache of her vivid and excruciating messages.

But none of the pain could be compared to the emptiness inside of her soul, the aching loneliness she experienced while looking around, seeing the empty apartment, all becoming too much, simply yet profoundly proving to her that she was alone. She hadn’t spoken to Angel since the week before and she couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes.

What he did wasn’t illegal and it sure as hell wasn’t as betraying as the time when he fired her, Wes and Gunn when he had become obsessed with his former-lover-turned Vampire Darla, but it was still as effective and even more surprising. Even if she didn’t want to feel it, the sensation of losing her trust in her closest friend was so intense that it was frightening her.

Cordelia Chase wondered for a moment why in god’s name she could have feelings for Angel, when there were so many reasons and obstacles standing in her way. Loss of trust, his soul and the fact that their friendship would be put at risk and if it didn’t work out they would be forced to still work together due to the Visions.

Not that Angel would let anything stand in the way of our friendship. Cordelia thought, stifling tears as she walked into her bathroom, moving towards the medicine cabinet as she usually did right after she had a Vision. After taking a quick, cursory look at her tired façade, Cordelia pulled open the small mirrored door and looked at the several containers standing out in display for her, waiting patiently to be chose and to have the privilege of dispensing of the woman’s pain for a while, if any time at all.

Swallowing the pills without the aid of water, Cordelia winced as they dragged down her dry throat, scraping against the sore and sensitive skin within. “This isn’t what I wanted hours before I have a date,” Cordelia said out loud to herself, and it was when her roommate pulled the phone into the room that she remembered she wasn’t alone.

She looked at the telephone with question before snorting. “What?” Though not sure, she had an idea as to what the ghost was implying. And when she ignored him, walking out into the living room, the lifeless ghost dialed the numbers apparently with some unmentioned talent and forced the phone in Cordelia’s face, pushing her to hold it.

And when Cordelia complied, pressing the phone to her ear, she felt her heart sink when she heard Angel’s voice on the other end. “Angel Investigations, we help the helpless. May I help you?”

“…”

“Hello?” Angel inquired further, and Conner could be heard gurgling off in the distance of the other line. Cordelia’s breath caught in her throat at the thought of the baby boy, which she had inadvertently ignored while focusing on avoiding his father. Guilt flooded her as she stood there.

It seemed as if the change of breathing patterns was picked up by the Vampire’s focused and attuned senses. “Cordelia?” His voice broke as he said her name, pain flooding through his deep voice. “Cordelia, is that you?”

The response she gave was hanging up immediately and slamming the phone into the wall to ease her rushing emotions. It didn’t help much and it merely heightened her annoyance when she realized she broke her only phone; and her cell phone bill was already running too high.

“Thanks a lot for that, Dennis,” Cordelia growled under her breath, frustration reaching a boiling point.

***

“Was that Cordelia?” Wesley asked as he walked into the office, removing his glasses to wipe off the slimy blood that had been smeared across them. “If she had any more information about the Yaklar demon, it was unnecessary, Gunn and I dispensed of it with ease.”

Gunn seemed to be thinking the opposite, frustration all over his bloody face as he stumbled unstably into the Lobby. “With ease my ass, British Boy.”

“Jerk.”

“Pancy!”

“You’re a monstrosity of manners,” Wesley muttered under his breath, trying to walk away from the potentially insulting argument. Though he so desired to take his anger out on the man that took away his chance with the woman he had strong feelings for, he knew he had to be the better man.

Gunn laughed, “Whoa. I thought we was just kidding. Don’t go all stoicy on my ass.”

“Stoicy?” Wesley grumbled, wincing at the poor use of the English language. He closed the doors to his office to avoid further disturbance.

“What’s wrong with him?” Gunn asked, wiping off the slime from his jacket and removing it, throwing it off to the side, dispensing of his weapon and leaning against the counter. His dark eyes were on Angel, who seemed distracted so obviously that it almost made him laugh.

“What?” Angel asked quietly, not looking to Gunn or breaking his gaze with whatever he was looking at. His own dark eyes seemed gray and distant, distracted even if the love of his life, his son, was there in his arms. “Stop looking at me,” he ordered a little more firmly, turning away and moving towards the stairs.

Gunn shook his head, “If you wanna talk to her, just call her man. She’s Cordy, girl will talk to you sooner or later, am I right?”

“I hope so.”

***

Initially, Cordelia ignored the knocking at the door, her eyes closed and her ears in the water that filled most of the bathtub she was lying in. The relaxing, soothing aroma of the type of soap she chose to use healing some of the emotional pain, only a little. But with the urgent knocking on the door, her time was cut short and it wasn’t pleasing.

Sighing in a failed attempt to keep from her frustration boiling over and taking control, Cordelia stood up in the bathtub and gingerly stepped out as she reached for her blue satin robe that she had gotten as a present from the guys for her birthday last year.

In her most recent birthday, she had to cut the celebration short because of a vision and had to go help the girl. But one present that she had forgotten to open and finally did several days after her birthday was the small box Angel had handed her while the others were out of earshot getting their presents.

It was a gold ring with diamonds imbedded within it, it was elegant, beautiful and thoughtful, and in the moment she looked at it, seeing her eyes reflecting in the glossy diamonds, Cordelia knew there was something different about Angel and the way she felt for him.

After that, her view of him, the way she looked at him, the way her body reacted when he did simple things like lick his lips or bend over, changed. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

As she unconsciously spun the ring around her right ring finger, Cordelia edged out of the bathroom, ignoring the fact that she was getting her floor wet. Her robe loosely about her, she looked through the peephole to see Angel. Reluctantly, she opened it.

“Is something wrong?” she asked flippantly, avoiding eye contact. And if she had been looking in his eyes, she would have noticed the brief moment, perhaps a minute, when his eyes followed the line of her beautiful cheekbones and the hollow of her throat and sliding through the curve of her breasts.

Looking back up, Angel cleared his throat. “We have to talk.” If it were that simple, he moved to come in. But Cordelia didn’t move, her body adamant to stay where it was.

He got a derisive snort in response. Cordelia forced an eye-roll, but it wasn’t any less effective to the Vampire.

Swallowing hard, Angel blinked slowly. “Just tell me what to do.” He was desperate and didn’t know what else to say. He used to be so confidant around the woman, now he could hardly find his words.

“What?” Cordelia asked n disbelief. I can’t believe he actually thinks that’s the right question to ask.

“You know…” Angel whispered, wincing slightly at her reaction and stuttering to say the right words. “Tell me what I have to do to make this all right. And I will. Anything.” He meant every word; he wanted to make their friendship work, his fear of losing the most important in his life other than his son escalating to a frightening point.

Cordelia seemed a little shocked at his denseness. “That’s not how it works, Angel.” She moved to close the door, but Angel stuck his foot in between the door and the frame, keeping it from closing.

“Then tell me how it does,” he begged quietly yet passionately. He pushed the door open slowly and took his steps carefully inside, as if anticipating her unleashing her ghost upon him and being throw onto his ass once again.

Unsurprisingly, he felt a strong force keep him from going any further, Dennis wouldn’t throw him out, but he wasn’t going to let Angel roam freely throughout the apartment, where Cordelia had accidentally left out her prescription bottles out of distracted carelessness. “I thought I was doing you a favor.”

“You did,” Cordelia admitted, closing the door and walking into the living room. Spinning on her heel ever so slowly, she crossed her arms across her bosom and just stood there, as if waiting for him to respond.

When Angel just stood there in disbelief at how easily she admitted to him being right, Cordelia knew that it was going to take a miracle for the Vampire ever to get what was really happening around him,

“You showed me that, no matter how much you care about me, you don’t trust me, not completely at least.” Her face impassive and her voice stonily unemotional, it seemed as if she had practiced it before, silently repeating it in her head to keep her confident, confident that she would have the control, not only in the situation, but also over herself.

Angel started to argue, but Cordelia held her hand up, not finished.

“I have Visions, I tell you. That’s the only interaction we’ll have for now,” Cordelia explained, walking back to the door and opening it.

Only Angel’s strong hand closed it shut before it was even halfway open. His frustration and conclusion churning to a breaking point, it was apparent he didn’t know what to do or what to say. “Don’t you think you’re being a little overdramatic? All I was trying to do was help you out. It’s not my fault you’re ungrateful.”

He regretted the words just as they rolled off of his tongue and out of his lips. Cordelia, by the look on her face, wished he hadn’t said it either. “Once you find out what to do on your own, and when you finally get a clue. Then we’ll talk. I’m tired of telling you how to do everything, Angel. If you’re ever going to become human, you damn well better learn how to act like one.”

***

Wesley ignored the soft knock at the door at first, his dreary eyes unfocused but sill glaring at the untranslated text on the weak, flimsy parchment before him. When a second knock came, firmer, Wesley dropped his glasses and sighed, secretly welcoming the distraction. “Please, come in.”

It was Fred, looking lovely in a simple dress with thin straps keeping it up on her small shoulders. “Hey, Wesley… Long time no see.”

“Fred…” Wesley breathed, but the soft wistfulness of his tone caused warning bells to ring inside of his mind. “It’s great to see you.” Distracting, also. But great nonetheless.

“You should get out more,” Fred suggested, gingerly walking through the stacks of papers and seating herself in the only empty chair beside the front of Wesley’s desk. “You look pale.”

Wesley looked down at his work, “Thank you.”

“I didn’t mean it in a bad way,” Fred quickly explained. “Well…it’s never good to be pale. But if you have important work to do, I’m guessing it’s a good, fine excuse.”

The Englishman didn’t look up or show any response to her comment, as if purposely ignoring her even if he had a momentous reason as to why he would ignore her.

“Cordy and Angel haven’t spoken in a week and a few days,” Fred thought out loud, her worries unsurprisingly wondering around aimlessly. “I can hardly remember when this all started.”

“Sunday, a week or two ago,” Wesley murmured. “I lost count.”

“Wow, two weeks tomorrow.”

“Dimwitted, they both are,” Wesley growled as softly as he could, dropping his pen in frustration and leaning back in his chair, rubbing his eyes in a futile endeavor to weaken his annoyance and strengthen his calmness churning below the surface. “They don’t realize what’s right before their eyes,” he added, trying hard not to focus his gaze on Fred.

Fred laughed, “All the best love stories involve challenges, right? Wes, you’d know that.”

Wesley sighed, standing up from his seat and walking over to the side of the desk where Fred sat. Sitting on the edge of his desk, he crossed his arms and blinked slowly. “I wouldn’t say I was an expert about romance. I know more about the Seven Sins than the perfect way to woo a woman.”

Nodding, the Texan stood up from her seat and placed both her hands on either shoulder of Wesley’s. “Why don’t you come and ‘hang out’ with us? We’d like your company.”

“No thank you,” Wesley forced himself to say. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m sure you and Gunn have…’things’ to…do.” Every word hurt him greatly, no matter how simple they were, stabbing at his soul, his heart, so entirely painfully that he was afraid his legs would give in.

Fred looked so beautiful before him, so innocent and unaware that she had the ability to entice the man before her with a simple gesture, a barely there flicker at the corner of her lips indicating the arrival of her sweet grin. He didn’t notice her nodding and saying goodbye, for he was too entranced in the simple beauty that hid in her eyes, of her smooth skin and the discernable dimples on her cheeks.

When she reached for the doorknob, Wesley’s first impulse was to grab her, to stop her from leaving, and he acted on it without leaving. When she looked down at his hand gripping her bare arm and back to his eyes, he regretted being so abrupt.

Clearing his throat and pulling away, Wesley looked down at his feet, embarrassed by his rashness. “We should do something about the situation with Angel and Cordelia. They’ve been friends and known each other longer than any of us, they shouldn’t let such a thing ruin their friendship.”

“As much as I’d like to save their friendship,” Fred admitted, carefully choosing her words. “I’d rather much help put them together…as a couple.”

Wesley smiled, a rare one he hadn’t worn on his shabby features in days. “I’d expect no less from a woman of your sorts.” When Fred looked almost hurt by how is comment came out, the former Watcher corrected himself, “And it’s one of the many things that makes you so wonderful.”

They shared a quiet, thankful moment, and Wesley forced himself to be the first to return to the subject at hand. “I agree with you wholly and completely, and there are several ways we could go about doing such a thing.”

“How so?” Fred asked, walking closer, her curiousness piquing. Wesley took a small, hardly noticeable step away from her, fearing he would lose control if he were to be too close with the woman.

“How hard have you tried trying to ‘subtly’ convince them of their feelings?”

“Well, based on the fact that I know those two are deeply, and do I mean deeply-”

“In love with each other,” Wesley finished with a sigh, but Fred cleared her throat.

Her cheeks flushed slightly, she looked down and then back up into Wesley’s boyishly blue eyes. “I was going to say ‘in denial’. As much as I believe in ‘kyerumption’ and ‘moira’, I don’t think they’re in love…yet.”

“You don’t?” Wesley asked, surprised. “You of all people I least expected to hear that from.”

“Why would you think of me that way?” Fred asked, her brow furrowing.

Wesley looked away, “From the display of your deep affection for Gunn, I’d assume you openly accepted the term instead of fearing it. If I were in a deep, sexual relationship with someone, the thought of saying those ‘three words’ would frighten me profoundly.”

“Sexual relationship?” Fred reiterated thickly for a moment before realizing what the man before her was saying. “You think—Gunn and M—And me? No…It… It…” She growled in frustration at the difficulty she was having with saying what she was thinking.

“You haven’t?” Wesley swallowed hard, realizing that awkward silence was on the horizon and moving towards the two, its pace fast and inexorable. “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t pry and I should never have mentioned it.”

Fred shook her head and put her hand on Wesley’s tweed vest bearing chest unconsciously, trying to comfort him.

It worked almost instantaneously as her hand stroked the texture of his vest and emotions burst into all parts of his body, including his heart and the area in his pants that was already sensitive in the presence of Winifred Burkle.

“Don’t apologize, we’re friends right? Friends talk about things like that with their other friends,” she laughed a little.

Wesley realized that their faces were inches from each other and swallowed hard before replying, his voice a ghost of a whisper. “What were we even talking about before?”

It seemed as if Fred hadn’t taken notice to their closeness or what obvious tension there was between the two of them, her own obliviousness becoming more and more apparent as the seconds passed. “Cordelia’s gone a date every night for the past two weeks, and even though they’ve been real bad ones, either the man’s a jerk or he’s a eunuch; I’m starting to think that eventually she’ll find someone she’ll want to stay around, and if he stays around, he’ll most likely be visiting her at work like most guys do when they try and keep their girlfriends. From what I’ve heard relationships progress to the point that one and the other are so comfortable with the other that they eventually visit their partners work pla-”

“Fred…” Wesley said softly, shaking her from her ramblings without causing her inferiority.

“Right, anyways.” She looked upwards, thinking hard to remember what she was saying, finally, something in her head clicked. “And Angel will see this guy and god knows what the ‘blood-sucking-Vampire-crazed-with-jealousy’ will do.”

Wesley walked over to his bookcase, thumbing through the various tomes of all sizes and colors, varying in amounts of dust piled on top of them. “I swear I read something about a mystical…protection.”

“Protection?” Fred reiterated, before catching on. “Oh. ‘Protection’.” She walked up behind him, looking over his shoulder and searching in hopes to help him. “There’s actually something like that that exists?”

“A load of paranoid shamans invented it over a thousand years ago,” Wesley explained, pulling five or six books from the shelf and heaving them onto his desk, spreading them out and beginning his search. “They believed that if one was to commit a sexual act, uncommitted…as in they hadn’t yet to swear their lives, through death and sickness, to the other.”

“Like marriage?”

“Yes, exactly,” Wesley nodded. “They believed one would lose their soul and be damned to hell if they engaged in an apathetic sexual act. So they invented a potion, I presume.”

Fred jumped at the idea, “What are we waiting for, we should start researching. The sooner we figure this all out, the sooner Angel and Cordelia can stop this feud.”

Wesley placed his hand on Fred’s, keeping her from grabbing a book. When his hand lingered far too long, he pulled it away but the sullen expression remained on his soft features. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Fred. It’d be a miracle if we could find solid references to it, and imagine searching for the ingredients and not being able to afford them.”

“That’s not even the beginning of the problems, is it?” Fred whispered, her shoulders sinking as she inwardly gave up for a moment. “There’s more.”

“It only works on a being once,” Wesley explained. “These Shamans thought that one sin would be enough for a man or woman to know that they should never do it again, to never go back to what they believed was a dark space.”

Fred sighed, “I wouldn’t be surprised if these Shamans turned out to be computer geeks who made all this up on the night of the Prom when they got all depressed they didn’t have any dates. Trust me, I knew quite a few guys who made up a lot of cr… stuff on Saturday nights when there was nothing else to do.”

Wesley laughed, seating himself and slouching in the chair. “Life’s a bitch.”

His comment surprised him, but when he saw no reaction from Fred, as if she agreed, he didn’t bother to correct himself; he just sat there and enjoyed the silence he was sharing with the only person in he world he would do anything with, to just hear the comforting sound of her breathing, to smell the fragrance of her simple brown hair.

Fred’s thoughts, on the other hand, were not on Wesley, but on Gunn, her new boyfriend who was off fighting demons. She hadn’t considered the option of sex in their relationship yet, only because it had been so long since she had…

“I think we should just wait till tomorrow when our eyes are able to stay open,” she admitted, waving goodbye to Wesley and not noticing the disappointment clear across his face and shining profoundly in his blue eyes.

Making her way through the Lobby, she caught sight of Gunn entering with his Game boy, looking perfectly cute as he struggled to play the game of Tetris that had held his attention for days.

“Hey,” he greeted with a welcoming smile, kissing her on the forehead before returning his eyes to the miniature game console in his hands.

“Hey,” she whispered back, looking at him intently as her thoughts wandered. She wanted to be with Gunn, she wanted to know everything about him and it was obvious that he did also, despite the fact that his attention was solely on the Game boy at the moment. “You’re pretty,” she blurted out absentmindedly.

Gunn laughed, “I said this before, but I’ll say it again, just for you. Not many people could say that and get away with it, but a girl as beautiful as you are? I’ll let it pass.” He kissed her softly on the lips.

When they pulled away, Fred felt her legs go weak. This is what I want, she thought to herself, taking enormous pleasure in Gunn’s eyes as they remained locked with hers, his Game boy forgotten now.

***

Angel ignored the knock at the door, rolling onto his stomach and burying his face in the pillows as his spread out body just let the despondent-ness take over and the laziness influence his sluggish movements. Slowly but surely, he lifted his eyes, his puffy and red eyes from the sleeping and pressure his pillow was putting on them, and looked over to the door, there was no sound and the door didn’t move, neither did the doorknob spin and Angel felt his body succumb once more to what was controlling it.

Now on his back, Angel blinked slowly when he heard Conner gurgle in his sleep, sounding innocent and peaceful. Lucky little kid, Angel thought jealously. Though tired, exhausted and having slept for hours, Angel felt for the longest moments in his entire life that he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t go on living.

This is all just one big melodramatic mess that we’ll get over in weeks time, Angel reminded himself. But after silent minutes, several that followed, he contradicted himself. Then why does this feel like I’ve lost her already? Like she’s dead and gone, never to come back?

The word edged into his closed mouth, longing to be said; as if it wished so much that the utterance would make Angel feel better. His eyes still closed, Angel gave it a shot, opening his mouth and slowly saying her name: “Cordelia…”

“Damnit,” he heard a growl come from Conner’s crib and he opened his eyes to see Cordelia standing there, looking as if she were caught.

Too angry with herself for not being quiet enough to slip out, the woman before the bed didn’t notice how glad Angel was to see her. And he was, gladder than he had ever been, seeing this as an opportunity to say he was sorry, to say that he did trust her and he simply acted out of instinct. He opened his mouth to speak, but Cordelia beat him to it, rushing herself closer to the door with Conner in her arms.

“I left you a note,” she muttered. Still avoiding his gaze, she explained: “I haven’t seen Conner and had some alone time with the guy in a while so I decided that he could spend a few hours with me before I go out on a date. If…If it’s all right with you. Is it?”

“Cordy…” Angel croaked, sitting up and looking at her, his eyes halfway open, making him look perfectly innocent. For a moment, Cordelia felt like she could smile.

Seeing her standing there, waiting for what he was about to say, Angel felt the butterflies flood his stomach, and it wasn’t welcome, disheveling him easily. “I’m…I’m sorry.”

“I know you are,” Cordelia whispered, and she was thankful for the effort he put into it, as it was plain to see it took all his willpower to utter such words. Even so, she knew he meant it.

“I know you haven’t had a Vision, but I can’t stand not talking to you,” Angel admitted, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and facing her completely now.

By the glistening in his eyes and the innocent anxiety, Cordelia knew he wanted so desperately to talk, and her romantic feelings for the Vampire pushed her to do so and her platonic, sisterly ones forced her to sit beside him. “I don’t hate you, Angel… I want you to know that.”

Angel nodded, looking down at his lap and swallowing hard, his hands playing with one another. “It’s a good thing to hear. And I want you to know that I do trust you.”

At that, Cordelia remained silent, biting her tongue to keep herself from speaking. She yearned to hear where this was going and wanted to see what Angel would mess up and what he would utter so perfectly that her heart would skip. She needed her heart to skip; she needed to feel something other than the residual pain lingering in her mind, her body and soul from her Visions.

“You know that I have a soul,” Angel began, turning to face her, uncomfortable gesticulating his hands. “But I’m still a Vampire, I still have a demon inside of me.” Cordelia nodded slowly and Angel continued, feeling his confidence return ever so slightly. “And I get jealous when someone I care for is going out and having fun and…and I’m not apart of it. Does that make me a bad person?”

He was desperate to find out, so desperate that his bottom lip quivered in fear. Angel didn’t want to be a bad person, he wanted to feel good, and he wanted Cordelia to be there for him to make him feel that way. She was the only person in the world who did. “I don’t want to be a bad person.”

The Vampire looked into Cordelia’s arms where Conner was, barely awake, his eyes fluttering open at the sound of his father’s voice. Stroking the small patch of hair on the top of the baby’s soft head, Angel’s eyes began to water. “I’m a father now and I don’t want my son to see me as a bad person. I don’t…I don’t want youto see me as a bad person.”

“You’re not, Angel.” Cordelia assured him wholly and honestly. “Jealousy is something everybody feels. It doesn’t make you a bad person, if anything, it makes you even more human than you think.”

“Than why do I feel like I am?” Angel asked in a passionate whisper, looking back up at Cordelia with his dark eyes. There was something there, something Cordelia didn’t recognize, a feeling, an emotion, which comforted and frightened her at the same time.

He cleared his throat softly, his face close to hers and his voice a ghost of a whisper as he admitted to her: “You’re an amazing woman, Cordelia. You can make me feel better in a heartbeat, but you also have that power over me, to make me doubt myself. Not purposely, of course. You would never hurt me as I would never hurt you, but it happens. Right now, I’m afraid that one word could ruin everything, our friendship, everything. I wake up in the morning and wonder what I should wear, and then I think to myself: ‘Cordelia would like this one.’”

Cordelia Chase had not even an inkling of what to make of his admission, and when he became entranced at his sudden ability to spill his heart out, she kept quiet, enjoying his voice, enjoying the fact that they were talking again.

“I’d die just for you to be happy,” Angel explained, taking one of her hands and bringing it to his chest. “My heart doesn’t beat but you…you make me feel like it does. You remind me that it’s there, that I can still use it. I may not be good with words like you and I may not have as big of a heart as you either, Cordelia. But I can try. And…And I just want to make it up to you.”

“This is all over you scaring off one of my dates,” Cordelia laughed, looking away as a tear streaked down her face. Her voice thick with emotion, she thought out loud: “This is crazy.”

Angel’s hand found her cheek and softly forced her to look at him, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Cordelia, I am crazy.”

Several minutes of silence followed, Cordelia couldn’t contain the emotions building up within her at Angel’s admission. If I wasn’t attracted to him before, I sure as hell am now. But then the reminder of nothing happening between them, the curse and Angel’s lack of feelings for her flooded her mind, pushing away the bliss of knowing Angel truly had depth. “I should…I should go.”

Angel nodded, letting go of her cheek and her hand slowly. He stood up and opened the door for her like a gentleman, even if deep down he didn’t want her to go.

Cordelia stopped in the doorway, baby, baby bags and supplies in hand, and took in a deep breath before looking over to and up at Angel, just now realizing that he was significantly taller than her and now towered over her. It made her feel so small, like she didn’t smile. But the light that sparked in his eyes at the sight of her entire face brought it all back. In a good way. “Angel?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, making her way down the hall. Angel stepped out and looked at her departing back.

“For what?” He called after her.

She stopped and threw him a sidelong glance. “For not giving you a chance to explain yourself. You obviously do have a way with words.” Then she was gone, disappearing around the corner with Conner in her arms.

Angel nodded, proud with himself for pulling it off. He meant every word and hadn’t rehearsed at all so it was an extreme ego-booster for him that he could actually speak without stumbling over words and stuttering like an idiot. Closing the door and moving towards his bed, Angel was smiling for the first time in a week.


Part 4

“The funniest thing about it is…she forgave me,” Angel explained eagerly into the receiver. The Vampire had been ranting for nearly twenty minutes now and he couldn’t bear to stop, his excitement mounting and rising within seconds and not showing any sign of fatigue. It had only been about ten minutes after he went back into his room when Buffy called and he answered; then all of sudden he explained the conversation they shared, him talking more than her, and Cordelia forgiving him.

Buffy laughed on the other end, “See, I told you. It was all a stupid fight, both of you are so dense something.”

“Is that a laugh?” Angel asked, shaking himself out of his own personal trance to notice the rarity that was occurring. He hadn’t taken notice to the ‘dense’ reference, the laugh striking an alarm inside of his mind, forcing him to recognize that an infrequent occurrence had just transpired.

For a second, Buffy hesitated, yet finally, in the end, she simply confirmed it. “It’s that atypical, huh?” She sounded surprised by it, like she hadn’t noticed that in such long months she hadn’t laughed and barely smiled.

Angel shook his head, “No. I mean, it’s been a while since either one of us has been in a good mood. What’s changed?” He wanted to continue talking about his and Cordelia’s renewed friendship, but he knew he had to uphold his respect for Buffy and to keep their friendship founded.

“Remember that guy I told you about?” Buffy asked, clearing her throat in preparation to explain herself. “The one I had a really…sexually abusive relationship.”

“Yeah…” Though they were friends, it was hard on him and especially her to refer to any relationships on that term, considering not only the awkwardness at admitting it firstly, but from their own past affiliation with one another. But a few days ago, Buffy finally divulged in Angel one of the reasons why she had been so…down in the dumps.

“I called it off,” she admitted painfully. Even if she should have been relieved, it didn’t seem as if she was and Angel noticed right away. Something was keeping her from fully accepting her decision. Perhaps some true feelings for whoever the guy was, or something else, something keeping her from moving on.

Conceivably the loss of her mother not so long ago and the large amount of work she had to do around the house were factors in it all. But she never mentioned them in referenced to her clinical depression.

Angel asked slowly, at length and with a soft tone, trying to delicately maneuver both of them through the conversation without an emotional breakdown. “And…you been doing better then?”

“Because if you haven’t then maybe there was actually something good about the relationship.”

“No,” Buffy replied right away. “It isn’t even a relationship, not something that could be made into anything more. Not like with you and Cordelia.”

Angel’s brow furrowed and he pulled the phone away from him in surprise for a moment before returning his mouth to the speaking-box. “Me and Cordelia? What are you talking about?”

***

“Cordelia?” Wesley whispered, surprised by the guest in his office.

“Long time no see, skin and bones,” she teased, smiling sweetly as she leaned against the doorway, not looking up from the magazine she had in her hands. “How are you?” she asked, glancing up only for a small moment.

“Skin and bones, you’ve called me that before,” Wesley laughed. “You’re losing your material, Miss Chase.” He enjoyed the company, but he needed to focus. It’s all I have been focusing on, this isn’t healthy. Even if she hadn’t said anything, the woman standing in the doorway was already invoking some common sense in the Englishman.

Cordelia snorted, flipping a page. “This coming from the guy sitting at his desk with the same clothes he wore the day before and the day before that. Seriously, Wes. Go home, take a shower. Use a lot of aftershave, I’m getting a big ‘musty’ smell off of you.”

“Thank you for that.”

“You know what I meant…”

“Of course I do,” Wesley assured her, dropping his pen and leaning back in his chair. “No matter how ambiguous you might be at times, Cordelia, you’re still the easiest book to read. At least, at the moment you are.”

Cordelia bit her lip and placed her thumb on the page she was on and closed the magazine, sighing. “I’m guessing either Fred or Angel. But by the looks of you, I’m thinking this whole ‘suicidal-book-reading-till-the-end-of-time’ is connected to your unrequited feelings for a certain physicist.”

“Cordy…”

“A certain Texan,” Cordelia went on, slowly edging to the desk, trying to toe around the subject without causing too much turmoil for her friend. “A certain girl, woman, who spent five years in another dimension being treated as a cow other than being made princess within a day or two like a beautiful actress…” She paused, wistfully reminiscing. Finally, she shook herself out of it. “What was I talking about again?”

“The extremely hard life Fred led in Pylea opposed to the immediate royalty that was given to you within a matter of days,” Wesley murmured, returning to his work. Business as usual.

“Right,” she breathed. “Fred’s young, she’s exploring this part of her life that wasn’t there before. Let’s face it, she could be the smartest scientist in the world and not realize that she’s being worshipped hand and foot by a lot of men. Maybe it’s because of what happened with Angel, or some odd-fricken-trait she picked up in that stupid dimension…she’s just a little slow when it comes to realizing that a smart, sweet, caring man is deeply in love with her.”

“You forgot sexy,” Wesley added.

Cordelia snorted, but when Wesley looked up, she nodded. “Right. It must have slipped my mind.”

She opened her magazine and began to read, making herself comfortable in the seat placed in front of Wesley’s desk. Crossing her legs and thumbing through it, she barely took notice to Wesley just sitting there and watching her. Or at least, if she did, she was good at ignoring it.

Finally, after too long, she said to him, without looking up: “I’m just here, Wes. Whether you like it or not, I want to keep you company.”

***

Perhaps an hour or two later, Angel slowly descended down the stairs. For once, he didn’t nearly trip when he noticed Cordelia walking around the Lobby, for he was practically tripping down the stairs at his recent conversation with Buffy.

“There’s nothing going on between me and Cordy,” Angel demanded. “We’re friends.”

“Really really stupid friends who don’t realize that they’re practically a couple.”

“A couple! You’re kidding, right.” Angel’s voice was panicked and his tone raised several octaves around the last few words.

“No, and how could you not see it?”

Angel looked at Cordelia for a second, pausing on one of the steps and leaning against the railing, just looking. As if his life depended on it, he gripped the rail and leaned forward when she disappeared behind the counter. He leaned so far that he fell over, crashing onto the floor.

Cordelia looked up at the sound of noise just to see Angel struggling goofily to his feet. He looked like a child trying to hide the cookie he stole from the cookie jar, even if he had cookie crumbs all around his mouth. She laughed, “Dumbass.”

That made Angel smile brightly, even if it only lasted for a few brief moments. Then it flickered as the thoughts came back. He tilted his head and just gazed at her, as if a new lighbulb was placed in the lamp and he was seeing her in a different like, both literally and figuratively.

“Conner is with Fred, just so you know. He’s such a sweetie pie, really enjoys boys and sharp objects that he could lodge in his throat. Weird, but cute. Don’t worry, I kept everything out of reach, but he seemed to build up a enthrallment with my breasts.”

When she noticed Angel was staring, she rolled her eyes, “I guess it runs in the family.” She turned and made her way to her desk, tidying up before she left.

That made the Vampire struggle to defend himself, yet halfway through his stuttering, he gave up and let out a long sigh, stuffing his hands in his pockets and casually strolling to the counter.

“How can you say that?” Angel asked incredulously. “We’ve been friends forever.”

“Which makes it not surprising that you two would become attracted to one another,” Buffy explained slowly, as if she were talking to a child. She had to keep hard from laughing. “You two are the best for each other, I have to admit.”

Watching her was fulfilling and it surprised him by the amount of implementation flooding through him by just seeing her move, walk across the room and bend over…

“Now you’re starting to creep me out,” she said, looking up at him before walking over to the coffee pot, making sure it was full for the next day in case she wouldn’t make it in on time.

“I was just thinking…” Angel admitted, walking around the counter and leaning against it unceremoniously, crossing his arms and just narrowing his eyes, following the line of her frame and noticing the now emphasized curves of her physique in the skirt she was wearing.

Snapping himself out of his trance, he looked back up at her, clearing his throat and shifting uncomfortably. “You and I…we’re…Different. But the same. Right? We’ve known each other since the beginning.”

“You lost me in the middle.”

“The beginning of this ‘fight the good fight’ deal,” Angel explained. “What I’m trying to say is…you’ve been by my side and we’ve been good friends. Really good friends.”

“Yeah?” Cordelia replied at length, growing a little worried for her friend’s already fragile sanity.

“And if we were to take it to the next lev-”

Cordelia’s attention was cut short by the man entering through the doors, looking extremely handsome yet casual. She moved around Angel to greet the man.

Angel scoffed under an unneeded breath, whispering to himself: “I was wondering if you ever considered going out on a date with me. I’m sure I’d be interested. I’m not just into Slayers, you know. And as cheap as I am, I’m sure I could afford a restaurant that you’d like, as long as you wear that one dress…”

Rolling his eyes at his own inadequate way of expressing himself, the feeling and sad ability returning to him after so many quiet days, Angel turned around and looked to see Cordelia greeting the gentleman with an intimate handshake, proving to the Vampire that no matter what kind, any physical contact could be considered insinuating when given to you by a woman of Cordelia’s sorts.

“Hey,” Angel greeted as friendly as he could, but it came out a little stone-like and his eyes immediately narrowed as he cautiously held out a hand to the man, ignoring Cordelia’s elbow casually jamming into his abdomen. “Nice to meet you.”

The man smiled, almost too friendly, as he nodded, accepting Angel’s hand in a firm grasp. “You must be Angel, right? I’ve heard good things about you.”

“Have you?” Angel asked, tilting his head and making a derisive sound as he turned and made his way back into the office while still holding conversation with the man. “Where from?”

“Cordelia…” the man replied, still smiling as he placed he grabbed Cordelia’s hand softly. “We were talking the other day and she mentioned you.”

Cordelia looked at Angel with a look of warning, seeing a potential repeat of his last event with her previous date. ‘Don’t’ she mouthed at him.

Angel barely nodded in response. “I swear I’ve seen you before. You a lawyer?”

“A doctor,” Cordelia chimed in, still warning Angel with a look.

“A pediatric cardiologist,” the man explained. “I love kids. They’re fun to work with and what better way to than to save their lives.”

“True,” Angel nodded politely. “Interesting profession.”

“Most don’t take the profession at first glance because of the mess it involves,” he explained, flashing his toothy smile. For a second, Angel swore the man’s eyes flashed yellow. “I’m very good with blood.”

Shaking himself out of it, Angel nodded. “Have a good time.”

Cordelia threw him a grin, thankful he kept his cool. “Don’t wait up,” she teased, turning and leaving.

Angel stopped them with a loud yet casual tone, “I never got your name.”

“Oh,” the man said in a slightly snide way, for only a second sounding a bit arrogant before politely recalling his own name with confidence: “John, John Rowe.”

***

Fred nearly tripped down the stairs when Angel popped around the pillar, his eyes dolefully lonely. “What you up to?”

The physicist laughed, patting his shoulder slightly in comfort. “Nothing,” there was something in his eyes, like he desperately needed something to do to keep his mind off of something. Most likely Cordelia, Fred thought, holding back an even bigger grin. “You?”

“Oh, I’m just…’hanging out’,” he sounded unsure of it, like he was making up everything off the top of his head.

Fred continued towards Wesley’s office, Angel followed closely behind her. “I kicked Wesley out…in a good way. He deserves some time to relax.”

“Did you organize his office?” Fred asked incredulously as she entered the office, now lit fashionably by the lamp that Angel obviously replaced. All the stray piles of papers, the stranded files and coffee stains were absent off of the wooden desk, which shone brilliantly in the complimentary light.

Angel laughed and looked down shyly, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “You think he’ll be mad?”

“You’re going crazy waiting for Cordelia to come back,” Fred pointed out, turning to him, making an expression that clearly stated ‘aw, how sweet’.

“No!” the Vampire quickly defended himself, his hands yanked out of his pockets as he lifted them and waved them about in a shielding matter.

“Why…why would you think that?” He asked quietly after a few moments passed, as if he was searching for a reason why he was doing exactly what he claimed he wasn’t.

Her hand pinching his cheeks, Fred giggled. “You look so cute when you’re lost.”

“You bet your ass he does,” Lorne said loudly as his keen ears caught Fred’s last comment as he entered the office, obviously a little…tipsy. “I found that out a long time ago, what’s your excuse brown-eyes?”

Angel pushed away Fred’s hand, and if he wasn’t dead and his blood actually flowed throughout his body, his cheeks would have been blushing bright red. “You guys are crazy.”

After a few steps in the direction of the staircase, the Vampire was immediately stopped in his tracks once Fred and Lorne both stepped in his way. “What is this? Gang-up-on-Angel? This isn’t recess. Go have a snack or take a nap…” Their persistence wasn’t annoying, it was just…the look in their eyes scared him because they knew what he was thinking, what he was feeling.

Lorne laughed, “You’re funny and cute. You should get your own series.” Finally, he sucked it up and took on a more quiet, serious tone. “I know feelings, I know destinies. And you want to know what I have to say about it all?”

Angel rolled his eyes. “Sure.”

“Screw destiny!” Lorne rumbled, placing his hands on Angel’s shoulders.

The Vampire crossed his arms and furrowed his brow, “This coming from the guy who used to run a Karaoke Bar where he’d read people and tell them their destinies.”

“Well, with everything that’s happened, your son and Darla, this whole Holtz deal, your friendship with a certain Slayer…I’ve decided my previous outlook on life sucked. Get used to it, Angelcakes. I’m a piece of work and if you can’t see the real picture than you shouldn’t be painting.”

“Huh?” Fred and Angel said in unison.

Lorne rolled his eyes again; feeling tired of everyone’s insolence at his little side comments. “You and Cordelia? You aren’t destined to be together. That’s the magic of it all. You guys just…fell together. She gets you and you get her, better than anyone else. She can soothe your moody disposition and with the anger she has bottled up on some days, I have no better candidate than the ensouled Vamp in front of me to control that, to help it pass.”

Angel didn’t want Lorne to have an ego-boost and know that he was right, so he played dumb and replied slowly. “Me…and Cordelia?”

“Don’t.” Lorne said quickly and sharply. “You don’t always have to sing for me to read you. I know you know that you have some sort of feelings for our favorite Vision Girl. It’s plain to see and I’m just wondering why you’re not ecstatic about it.”

“Wait…” Fred interrupted, looking to Lorne. “What about Kyerumption and Moira?”

“Childish terms,” Lorne snidely commented, trying to return his attention to Angel, but Fred kept him from doing so, her usually quiet demeanor disappearing into thin air for a few moments when her tiny, scrawny hand gripped the demon’s shoulder and forced him to keep his eyes on her.

“Moira! Hello! It’s obvious, the gut physical attraction is so plain to see.”

The continued to bicker, completely ignoring Angel.

But it seemed that the Vampire’s thoughts were elsewhere, his jaw firmed as he bit on the end of his tongue and his eyes shifted in deep thought. Contemplating it all, he felt a myriad of emotions and sensations hit him. Something was there, whether it be love, or just an attraction, it was something. Cordelia Chase could be in a large sweatshirt and be wearing raggy sweat pants and would still be the most attractive woman in the world, and even if she wasn’t, Angel knew that she would still be such a wonderful woman.

Holy Shit…Me and Cordelia…

He leaned over to the corner of the weapons cabinet where his jacket was leisurely hung and he grabbed it. Shrugging into the jacket as he continued to think about what he was preparing to do, the Vampire backed up the stairs and left without a word.

Finally, the sound of the shutting doors ceasing their argument, Fred and Lorne looked around. “Where’d he go?” Fred asked.

***

Cordelia lifted her wine glass to clink with John’s, a smile plastered on her tan, luscious skin that was extravagantly amplified as she sat under the dim light. “This place is nice,” she complimented, feeling a little bad that, even if she was wearing a nice skirt and dressed better than usual, that she wasn’t dressed …lavishly.

“It’s casual yet romantic,” John thought out loud. “One of the gems of this city.” He smiled and waved his hand to catch the waiter’s attention. “Too bad the service isn’t top notch. A woman like you deserves the best attention.”

That made Cordelia laugh, “’A woman like me’? Haven’t been called that in a while.”

“Really?” John seemed surprised. “A man like Angel should be smart enough to realize that you deserve the best respect.” He needed Cordelia to trust him, and even if he were overbearingly polite, it wouldn’t be bad thing. How much alcohol does the bitch need for her to piss? He intolerantly thought to himself, holding back a growl. He hadn’t drank in hours and it was starting to kill him. Such liquids as alcohol were for mere mortals, lesser beings that deserved nothing more than to die.

And never breaking his gaze with Cordelia, John Rowe thought to himself: And she is. For me, for Angel. This is the perfect revenge for what he did to me.

“He respects me,” Cordelia defended him. “I don’t doubt that at all. I mean, sure, he’s a man. But he’s different than most. Treats me right.”

“That’s good,” John nodded. “Wouldn’t want to work for a man that doesn’t value privacy and such things as that.” Easiest woman to read, you are, Miss Chase. Makes my job easier.

Cordelia paused, taking a long gulp of her wine. “Yeah, he does. I mean…it’s never easy working with him, but then again, what job isn’t hard?”

“I agree,” except for the free corpses, bags of blood and whorebag nurses I can screw, my job isn’t that positive.

Sitting in her seat, opposite of a perfectly polite and cute man, Cordelia Chase remained slightly unpleased. This guy had the best demeanor; trusting, funny and so many things, but she felt nothing. Nothing at all.

Sure, maybe a little cuteness in the eyes caused her to smile, but that was it. She didn’t produce an over amount of saliva in the back of her mouth by just seeing him lick his lips, she didn’t feel as though she weighed two pounds when his hand brushed against hers.

Nothing.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his hand cupping hers. Cordelia pulled away but casually recovered by moving the hand to her purse.

“I think I might be heading towards the ladies room,” she whispered, her voice a little weak, distracted even. “Will you excuse me?”

“Sure,” John stood politely, motion for her to go. When she turned around the corner, he nodded to the waiter, who threw a small wink his way and made his way over with a new set of drinks, one specifically for a certain woman with a certain amount of a certain drink it.

“Perfect,” he growled, hiding a smile as his eyes once again glinted yellow.


Part 5

This is the fifth one, Angel thought in frustration. “You sure? No John Rowe?” He slammed the cell phone onto the seat next to him when the rude male on the other end confirmed there were no reservations for the couple Angel was desperately searching for.

Only two more restaurants were left and he couldn’t bear to waste more time calling them. He pulled out of the parking lot he decided to sit in when the bad signal of the phone became a big nuisance. Cordelia said I wasn’t a cell phone person and she was right.

“Dumbass!” Angel imagined Cordelia Chase derisively snorting at his pathetic attempts to work a cell phone, or any piece of technology for that matter. And for a moment, he felt a smile play at the corner of his lips before reality hit and he remembered he was on a mission.

“I’m not losing her to some…doctor!” Angel growled to his own self.

Pushing the pedal to the floor, the Vampire firmed his grip on the wheel and licked his lips. What he was attempting to do wasn’t exactly something he had planned for, ever. In his entire life, such a thing didn’t exist, the nervousness and anticipation of what was about to occur in a matter of hours, minutes.

Buffy Summers was the girl, the woman, who woke Angel up from the deep shell he had become and he was thankful; but Cordelia Chase kept him alive, she pushed him to fight the good fight, she brought a smile to his face and made him feel as if his heart was pounding against his chest.

No other person who ever existed could make him feel what he felt when she did the smallest of things. Bending over, grinning, laughing, snorting, eating like a pig, working out, cleaning his weapons…

He honked once, twice and three times to get the mini-van in front of him’s attention.

The damn vehicle was moving at a snail-like pace and it was getting on Angel’s last nerve.. Swerving to the left and forcing his car to its fastest limits. He made an angry face and started to curse at the van only to look to it and notice several innocent children making silly faces at him and smearing ice cream on the window.

Angel sighed. Kids.

Finally, he was in front of the van and returned to the designated speed he was supposed to be going, using all his willpower to keep from pressing the pedal a little harder…

The next restaurant was about a mile or two away and he was afraid he wouldn’t make it. It had been quite a few hours since Cordelia had left and Angel was starting to think the date was already close to ending.

Or, if it was only the beginning, that they were going to one or the others apartments.

“Damnit,” he growled, looking down at his watch and firming his jaw once more, keeping himself from destroying everyone in his path.

Then the thought of the man she was with filtered into Angel’s mind. He looked pretty damn familiar…

***

1912

Angel struggled to his feet; both of his hands hungrily gripping on the rat as he sucked its blood dry in a matter of seconds. Though it hadn’t dispensed of his enormous thirst and craving for blood, the ensouled Vampire knew it was all he needed and it was all he deserved, so he made his way to the sewer entrance.

But a sudden cry resonated the dark, damp alleyway and caused Angel to look up, the hairs on the back of his neck raising in acute attention as his eyes scanned the darkness with ease. “Someone there?” he called out, his Irish accent slipping in and out. It had been quite a few years since he had last spoken a word, and he paid the toll by losing his accent, his last link to the life he had before he became who he was…what he was.

He saw a few small frames and one bulky one towering over them at the end of the alley and he automatically made his way a little closer. Licking the last drop of blood from his lips, he leaned against the wall and crawled closer. He could see now it was a Vampire mistaken as a mugger and making the family pay.

“I’ll take your money and kill you,” he growled, grabbing the children from the couple and smiling. “Hand me over all you have and I’ll not bite them and suck their blood.”

The wife and husband did so, fear clear in their eyes shining with tears as they threw all their possessions at the demon taking possession of their precious children. “Please, let them go.” The man looked weak, and it was only then did Angel realize that a knife was stuck in his arm and blood was leaving him fairly speedily.

“I’ll keep my end of the deal and won’t suck their blood,” the Vampire explained slowly, his southern drawl evident now. Angel wasn’t surprised; New York was getting quite a few visitors these days.

What did shock him was what the Vampire did next. In one quick motion, he snapped the children’s necks and their limp bodies fell to the ground before their parents’ horrified eyes.

The woman screamed, struggling in her husbands’ painful grasp. She finally snapped and unsuccessfully and pathetically attacked the Vampire, who replied by snapping her neck just as he had done to her beloved offspring.

Angel had enough, moving, limping even since his legs were weak from the disgusting rats blood he had just devoured, towards the Vampire, his game face on. Pushing him to the ground, Angel growled loudly and warned him off. Grabbing the knife lodged in the man’s arm, he threw it into the bloodsuckers shin, causing him to remain on the ground.

“Go!”
The man didn’t listen, his fear sufficing long enough for him to shout out in anger at the sight of Angel’s face, which looked so similar to the Vampire on the grounds that it wasn’t a shock the man was taking his anger out on him. “You sick monster, you killed them. You were there the entire time and you let him kill them! You’re no better than the monster beside you. Hell, you are a monster!”

He knew the man was right, and he utterly agreed with him on the matter, but the demon side of him, though proud of itself, was insulted and kept him from moving, filtering certain thoughts and intentions into Angel’s mind and causing such confusion that it delayed his action. And that delay gave the wounded but still kickin’ Vampire to get to his feet and feast on the man in a desperate attempt for blood that would suffice his own pain.

Angel turned away, pained by the sight of his own failure. The fact that he tried to save the man but ended up letting him die. He couldn’t take it and it was all becoming too much.

Little did he know that, as he walked away towards the sewer entrance, the injured Vampire wryly decided to sire the man. The man that went by the name of John Rowe.

***

Cordelia threw a thankful nod to the Valet when the young man opened the door to John’s car for her before seating herself inside gingerly. She let out a sigh, almost over. “Thank you,” she whispered to John, who was sitting beside her, looking positively giddy. Don’t expect too much outta this, big guy.

Fatigue was overcoming her slowly but surely, but by taking no notice to it, by not realizing it was a bigger deal than she thought it was she was practically contributing to what John Rowe was planning for the night.

“No…” he grinned. “Thank you.” Gripping the steering wheel casually with his right arm and slinging his left over the door, John Rowe licked his teeth unconsciously as he could hear the pulsing of Cordelia’s blood in her veins.

On the other hand, Cordelia remained oblivious to what was occurring, the man who was really a Vampire imagining the pleasure of sucking her blood and turning her into a Vampire, the fact that she was in love with Angel.

Wait, she thought, the last little tidbit catching her attention. Angel…I…I love…

She didn’t have time to think about it though, the sudden numbness in her legs and feet catching her attention. “I think I might have had too much to drink,” she joked, looking to John and motioning to her legs, unable to move them. “I should get the recipe for that wine.”

But after about a half an hour later, as John pulled up outside of her apartment, Cordelia could only move parts of her neck and her head, fear rising deep within her at the sudden immobility. At first it was thought as drunkenness, but now…Cordelia Chase knew something was wrong, something had gone terribly wrong.

I can never get a fucking normal date, can I? Serves me right, since I was the one who said to myself that I just wasn’t destined to have someone to love, someone to love me back. She stopped with the deep thoughts and focused on the only thing that could motivate her: panic.

“What did you do?” she breathed, her lungs working slower and harder to keep her breathing. Whatever was in her system now was working hard to kill her, to paralyze her lungs and suffocate her completely, but it wasn’t working. A healthy woman of her age didn’t have the fragile lungs of most and it was a good thing because if she did, she’d be dead instead of fearful and her body brittle.

John merely grinned in response, turning off the engine and exiting the car nonchalantly. Once on the other side of the car, he opened the door slowly and leaned down to wrap his arms around the small of Cordelia’s back and her legs, hoisting her out of the car with his strength.

It was night and everyone was probably asleep, Cordelia reminded herself as she tried to scream, but the numbness was spreading through her throat now. Her body was naturally fighting against it and her fingers twitched every now again, but it wasn’t enough. It would take a while for her to somehow regain enough strength over her body to take action and that’s what scared her the most.

As much as she hated being the victim, and as much as she wanted to take care of herself, she desired so much for Angel to just pop out of a dark corner and save her.

***

“I’m sorry, but Miss Chase and Mister Rowe have already left,” the concierge informed Angel politely as she pressed several keys on the keyboard simultaneously. Readjusting her glasses, she brushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear and tried to hold a blush as she noticed Angel’s eagerness, which only made his chiseled features all the more alluring. “May I offer you a table for yourself?”

“No thank you,” Angel said, gripping the desk and looking down, trying to think of what to do next. Then it hit him, “Does Mister Rowe come here a lot?”

The woman nodded, “He’s a casual customer of this place. Quite the gentleman if you don’t mind me saying.”

“I don’t,” Angel politely nodded. “So…what’s he like, does he have his own routine when brining dates here? Does he feed them an expensive dinner and then woo them with a little wine?”

Any information on Cordelia’s date would be nice, the more Angel knew about the guy the easier it would be for him to anticipate his next move, to determine whether or not he’d have the power over Cordelia to convince her to perhaps let him in for a cup of coffee.

“I wouldn’t know,” she replied firmly, for a moment doubting whether she should trust Angel’s curiosity. “You should ask his personal waiter.”

Angel scoffed, “He has his own waiter?” When the woman nodded, he asked her to point the man out. And when she did, he noticed the pale blonde right away.

Looks albino to me, Angel snarked in his thoughts.

“Hello,” the waiter greeted snidely. “I cannot help you at the moment, I’m a little bus-”

The Vampire had enough with patience, slapping his hand on the guys shoulder and squeezing rather tightly as he asked through gritted teeth: “What can you tell me about John Rowe?”

“Nothing really.”

Guy’s got an attitude. All personal waiters do, I’m guessing. Should get the sense knocked into them if you ask me.

“Really?” Angel asked, raising his eyebrows and daring the waiter to continue with his not-s-honest way of approaching the situation.

“Really.” He spitefully replied, trying to snake out of the situation. Angel didn’t quite appreciate it as he pulled him out of view behind closed doors and slammed him firmly against the wall.

“Listen, I’m sick and tired of playing Mister Nice Guy here, so if you don’t want to spend a week on the toilet trying to crap out your lungs that I’m going to remove and firmly shove up your ass I’m sure you’ll be the honest Joe of the nation. All right?”

The waiter cleared his throat as he nodded and Angel lowered him slowly to the ground, letting his head scrape against the rough wall.

Angel arched his neck and cracked it, his hands formed in fists at his sides as he took a deep calming breath. “Sorry about that, I’m a little…Name’s Angel. You?”

“Jason,” the waiter held out his hand, Angel took it, only to twist the wrist and force him to turn around where Angel twisted his arm and forced him to stay put. “My friends with your friend, so please, be a swell guy and tell me where they went.” He whispered it with such tantalizing energy that he swore the waiter was on the verge of pissing his pants.

All of a sudden, Angel caught something, or at least, he caught the absence of something. There was no heartbeat reverberating off of the walls, no pulse of blood flowing tremendously through the man he had in a strong grip’s veins. Nothing. “You’re not human, are you? You’re a fucking Vampire.”

“Not the only one in the room,” Jason growled. “What’s a Vampire doing looking for a girl? I don’t smell any need of blood on you…not at the moment. And oh! What is that I smell? A soul?” He laughed. “You’re Angel.”

Angel responded by slamming the Vampire’s face into the wall, leaving a blood imprint where the man’s nose impacted. “I’m not in the mood to be chatty. If you’re a Vampire, I figure John knows about it. Smart doctor like him wouldn’t miss something like that now, would he?”

“No, a smart doctor might miss it,” Jason explained, licking his bloody teeth. “But a Vampire wouldn’t.”

***

“You…you’re not…” Cordelia struggling, swallowing with difficulty and her eyes wincing as the numbness faded for a moment and a sharp pain struck her throat. “Human.”

“And yet…you are,” John said under his breath, walking around and exploring the objects in her living room. The door was locked and he was silent as a mouse, so he was extremely confident no one would disturb him. Not like the girl could make a noise louder than a small little fly anyways.

“I hear humans aren’t very shielded to pain,” he admitted.

“It’s been a while since I was one, so I tend to forget those things. Best thing I can remember is the last stab of pain I felt. Not when the Vampire who sired me bit me, but when a certain ensouled Vampire allowed him to. He just watched me die and he walked away, Cordelia. You know how that feels?”

He breathed a little, trying to retain some calmness. The memory wasn’t a fond one and every time he voiced it out loud, he was afraid he would lose his calm disposition.

Angel’s a good person, Cordelia so desired to argue, but her voice was gone, everything was gone. She couldn’t move at all and it took such strength for her to build just to blink. And for the first time in a long time, Cordelia felt nothing but fear, nothing but complete and utter terror.

When John finally looked back to her, shrugging out of his suede jacket, his game face on, she saw his eyes transform from regular to brown to the common yellow of a Vampire’s true eyes to red, a dark, crimson red.

“I can feel what you feel,” he explained, pushing himself onto the cabinet and just staring at her as he dimmed the lights. “Darkness helps the mood, mine at least. Shh…don’t be so afraid, it’s all starting to hurt my head.”

***

“John Rowe, J-O-H-N and R-O-W-E,” Angel explained frantically over the phone, and when silence came his voice raised a few octaves as he screamed: “Hurry!”

“I can’t believe he’s a Vampire,” Fred whispered into the phone and in the background Lorne was heard: “I can’t believe I missed it. My mojo is jinxed, I know it.”

Angel was desperately mumbling to himself that everything was going to be okay, throwing cursory glances to the backseat where Jason was tied up with rope and gagged. Cordelia’s a strong girl; she can take care of herself. He wanted it to be true. Cordelia could handle a sword like no other woman Angel had ever seen but there were no weapons with her. Nothing.

And their training, before it had been abruptly stopped by Darla’s return and Conner’s birth, had only gotten as far as weapons. No ‘use what’s in your surroundings’ crap.

As much as the woman could take care of herself, her dearest friend was starting to think of the thousands of ways the Vampire could trick her or the many things he could do to her to keep her from defending herself.

***

Cordelia breathed in sharply, panic rising…escalating to a point where she felt as if there was nothing left inside of her but that. Then something flooded her heart, her soul; it was something she had felt before, many times, too many to count, and it was a foreign feeling still, as if every time it appeared deep within her it intensified the alienation of the sensation.

She didn’t have a name for it, but whenever the thought of Angel came to mind, her dearest friend, it fluttered into her, and it didn’t matter what mood she was in or what kind of situation she found herself in. It was just there, and she accepted it, albeit reluctantly sometimes.

***

Angel pressed his foot on the pedal desperately and shifted in his seat: “You sure? That’s the right address, I hope, for Cordelia’s sake and yours!” He slammed the phone shut and threw it on the floor of his car.

Not anything was going to ruin his focus, not even the quite loud whimpering and desperate struggles coming from the backseat, not the red lights or the large amount of middle fingers being thrown at him for speeding down the street.

Everything was dark, he couldn’t see, as if the light in his heart, his soul and mind was fading along with his hope that Cordelia could defend herself.

Have faith, he thought. This is exactly what she told me I did. I need to trust that she can take care of herself.

***

“Poor little Cordelia,” came the low, provocative assertion. The deep tone seemed awfully threatening, but it wasn’t the tone nor the depth of the voice that sent chills up Cordelia’s immobile spine; it was the crimson eyes that were glaring at her from the shadows, watching her with sadistic dependency, as if one move from her physique would ruin his focus, would throw him off guard.

Of course, such an action was unavailable to Cordelia as she lay on the ground in her own blood, paralyzed not by fear but by the dose of illegal drugs John Rowe slipped into her dinner earlier that night while she was in the ladies room.

“Can’t seem to find a normal date, huh?” came the tantalizing voice once more from the shadows, his cherry eyes following the line of her curvy body down to the hem of her skirt, his curiosity rising at what he imagined he would find under the fabric.

Even in the unlit room, in the deep darkness, Cordelia could still see him faintly and she observed the pathetic psycho licking his lips. “Sorry to disappoint you. But you don’t have to be so frustrated with me; I’m trying to make this fun for both of us. Me more than you, sure. But with high hopes, we’ll both enjoy this.”

Cordelia tried to answer him, to yell ‘Fuck off’ but she couldn’t, her lips numb and her soft features unmovable.

It was a new experience for the young woman, lying there, feeling so helpless. She’d been in many cases where she was feeling lonely, afraid for her safety, but never…never before in her life had she felt like such a victim, a friendless, forlorn victim with no where to go…no one to rescue her.

***

Angel didn’t turn off the engine or find a perfect parking space, he simply lifted his foot off the gas and let the car roll onto the sidewalk as he desperately jumped out of his seat and ran frantically up the large amount of steps leading the apartment building.

He couldn’t smell anything, he couldn’t see anything, he couldn’t hear anything, it was all just to find Cordelia, and not one thing mattered but that.

Angel needed more than anything else just to see her, not only to rescue the woman but also to tell her he had feelings for her, that he was falling for her. And even if he didn’t build up the confidence to do so, he just needed to see that she was okay, to know that he was doing his job, that he would never lose her.

***

She heard his heavy boot softly hit the floor as he jumped off the cabinet, landing firmly on his two feet as his Vampiric features were revealed in the moonlight that filtered through Cordelia’s closed blinds. Absently flicking his tongue across his lips and playfully tracing the sharp edges of his teeth, John Rowe had a mischievous grin cross his contorted features as he kneeled over Cordelia.

He placed both of his strong hands on either of her shoulders, knowing that he didn’t need to hold her down, the paralyzing medicine was sure to last at least a few more minutes in effect, yet he so desired to have that power that was taken from him almost a hundred years ago…the power he’d desired ever since that night in the alley. He was going to make not only Cordelia pay, but Angel too.

***

Angel kicked he door down, not even bothering to look at the numbers, because he knew it was the apartment he was destined to enter because he crossed the thresh hold, remembering the rules of the ‘Vampire and Entering’ clause.

“Cordelia!” he called frantically, his voice raising and lowering several times, thick with such desperate emotion.

This isn’t happening, Angel thought, bringing his hands to the sides of his head and nearly yanking his hear out as silence followed his desperate calls.

I’m not going to bury Cordelia; she’s going to bury me. He thought, while searching throughout the rooms in the apartment. Empty and empty, every room was dead silent and eerily unwelcoming. Rituals and worshipping stones were filled in each and it was starting to unnerve Angel.

John Rowe’s apartment was empty.

***

“This is for your friend,” John growled, slowly but surely leaning towards Cordelia’s exposed neck, his white teeth nearing her flesh as the deafening sound of her pulse with the blood coursing through her veins pounded in his acute hearing ears.

Cordelia felt a tear form in the corner of her eyes, and even if she couldn’t feel it, she knew it streaked down her cheek in such desperation to show the many emotions she was experiencing; the longing she had for the Vampire she knew would always be there for her. She could move her hands now, it was all coming back and she knew it would be only a matter of minutes and she could move completely.

But a few minutes for her weren’t an option.

“Angel…” she said through her locked jaw.


Part 6
Cordelia could feel the pain, her fingers and toes twitching as the ability to move was slowly coming back to her. Painfully slow, in fact, as each second that she struggled to move only furthered the sharp points of John’s teeth into her neck.

Should have used a better drug, John thought to himself, pulling away only slightly, his crimson eyes glowing in the dark. “Don’t be afraid.”

The woman below him firmed her jaw and glared at him with hateful eyes. “I’m not,” she managed to say through her unmoving jaw.

Only then did he notice that she was starting to move, small twitches here and there and suddenly, before he could react, her knee, though not too forcefully, collided with his groin just hard enough to send a paralyzing shock of pain throughout his body. Vampire or not, he was still a man and any one would recoil in pain and roll to the ground as he did, grunting and groaning as he tried to get the pain to subside.

***

Angel didn’t bother using the breaks as he turned sharply around another corner, his car skidding across the pavement and almost going in a complete circle as it became quiet clear the adamant Vampire wasn’t slowing down.

His senses weren’t on anything but getting to Cordelia’s apartment, the one place he knew Cordelia was. If she weren’t at John’s home, she’d be at hers. Not much of a dancer any more, Cordelia preferred to go home and rest, or watch Entertainment Tonight.

“I’m coming,” he whispered, ignoring the fact that Jason was out of his bindings and working on his gag as his game face surfaced. Angel’s senses didn’t pick the danger up, his focused attention clouding his mind.

Only when Jason used the rope to practically strangle Angel did he notice, his grip on the steering wheel slipping and the car swerving off of the road and into several parked cars. Finally, he threw his elbow back and when it collided with Jason’s jaw, Angel slipped out of the ropes tight grip and pounced from the car before the Vampire could anticipate his next move.

“I don’t have time for this,” Angel growled under his breath. But his confidence in the situation was cut short when Jason ripped the steering wheel from the car and used it skillfully, knocking Angel to his feet with a hard blow to the head.

“You’re going to pay for tying me up!”

Angel coughed up the blood when he fell to the ground, feeling his jaw, knocking it was near breaking. “And you’re going to,” he paused, Jason’s knee into his gut stopping him for a moment. “Pay for,” again with the knee, but this time it was to his face. “Breaking my fucking car.”

Having enough, he stood up to his feet and grabbed the steering wheel with one hand and twisted it in a direction that painfully forced both of them to let go. Kicking it off in the distance so neither could use it against the other, Angel grabbed Jason by the neck and gave him a thorough head-butt.

Grunting and ignoring the pain, the blood spilling over his eyes and his shirt, the throbbing spurts of hurt in his gut, his cheekbones and nose, Angel jumped up to a stray branch and grabbed it, thrusting it into Jason’s chest before the young Vampire could even consider what to do next.

He fell to his knees for a second. Quick but effective, Angel thought. Gotta give the guy some credit., he added, trying desperately to ignore the pain. Finally, he stood on his wobbly legs and coughed for a few seconds, trying to expense of the blood clogging his throat.

Looking to his crashed car and to the long road ahead, Angel groaned.

***

“Fucking…” Cordelia struggled to breath, her lungs readjusting back to how they were before she had been fed the drug. “Bastard.” She was tired of being a victim, she was tired of such half-baked schemes thought up by Dumbass Vampires who figured they’d try and exact revenge on Angel over something he did so long ago.

Her hands trembled, as mad and pissed as she was, the fear had yet to subside. She had feeling in every part of her, but she was still struggling to control everything. It was as if she was just born, having trouble supporting her neck and exploring these new extensions to her body and playing around with them to get the feeling. “You think you…are some mother fucking genius.”

“Such language,” John coughed, still grasping his crotch and wincing in pain. He was having just as much difficulty speaking and moving as Cordelia, but fortunately for him his pissed off demeanor was fueling his ability to speed the process of regaining control of his limps.

“And what the hell…is with…your eyes?’ Cordelia breath, her weak arms hoisting her up before she fell against the couch, her weight suddenly overbearing. “Freak.”

“Freak…I’ve heard that before,” John growled. “Look who’s talking. What about your Visions? They make you better than me?”

Cordelia laughed weakly, but it seemed a little maniacally for a few moments, as if her mind was lost and all she had left was a pissed off little girl wanting her doll back from the big bully. “You bet your ass it does.”

She reached her hand slowly behind the couch where a spare stake was propping it up to level it. It was Angel’s suggestion to put it there, his annoyance over her couch’s crappy workmanship and the fact that she had only a cross for protection in the apartment coming to a breaking point. He arrived one random day with a cheesecake with a stake on top of it, topping it all with a red bow on top.

“Well, there’s got to be something I can do about that attitude,” John struggled to his feet, his game face on and anger rising within him along with his cocky confidence.

***

Angel struggled to pull open the door, yanking it off of its hinges with both hands. He winced as the smoke pillowed onto him from the engine. He needed his phone and had to get it quickly before the engine blew. The Vampire didn’t have the time to deal with the cops he knew were approaching, so once he found his cell phone he ripped the license plates off of both ends of the cars and made his way down the long street.

Opening his phone, he dialed the numbers with difficulty, nearly laughing at himself that he didn’t even remember his own phone number.

“Hello?” came Fred’s chirpy voice on the other end of the line. Once she heard the silence, she knew who it was. “Angel? What’s wrong? Did you get to her in time?”

Angel sighed, rubbing his head thoroughly as a headache came on. “She’s not at John’s, I’m making my way to her place. I just wanted to have you guys come too since I have no weapons and I’m not sure if I can get there fast enough.”

Fred was hushed for a few moments, before replying quietly, “I’ll get there as fast as I can, I promise.”

“Cordy can take care of herself, but I’m sure this guy’s done these things more than once, he’s got to have a routine going on,” Angel explained briskly, quickening his limping pace. He ignored the explosion behind him, but Fred seemed to have keen enough ears to notice.

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” Angel blew it off, looking and noticing several people coming to explore the wreck, checking for victims. “Just get there as fast as you can, alright?”

***

Fred nodded, “We’re on it.” Once the phone was hung up, she approached Gunn. “Go get Lorne, we’re going out.”

“What’s wrong?” Gunn asked, completely lost. Fred had been ignoring him since he told her he loved her, since he said those words to her. The thing about it that bothered him the most was that she didn’t say it back. He knew she cared for him, but it was plain to see she was having a difficult time trying to come to terms with what she really felt. At first, he didn’t take it personally, but now it was starting to get on it nerves, especially since he was obviously being left out of important matters until the last moment. “Is Cordy alright?”

“Hopefully,” Fred said slowly, sighing and closing her eyes to keep from panicking. “Get the best weapons in a Vampire situation and let’s go.”

Gunn started to argue, wanting more information, obviously still lost, but Fred, suddenly confidant, surprising Gunn more than herself, cut him off. “Now.”

But when the two turned to go towards the weapons cabinet, their hearts jumped into their throats when they saw who was standing before them. Holtz.

“Where is he?” he said softly, his calmness about the situation and the way he held the large crossbow in his hand scaring off anyone with a heart and soul.

***

John’s face was inches from hers, his unneeded breathing heavy on her pale, sweaty skin, as she looked at him not fearfully, but with sudden confidence. “You’re going to like being a Vampire, I’m sure you’re first kill might be Angel. I’d love that, and you’ll love it too.”

“No,” Cordelia replied, gritting her teeth and never taking her eyes off of John as she wrapped her slender fingers around the stake and prepared to yank it from underneath the couch and stab the bastard before her. “I won’t.”

The Vampire laughed, his red eyes glinting maliciously. “Don’t say that until you’ve been given the chance. Angel’s the reason this is happening to you, I’d be pissed to kill him too.”

“Then why don’t you?” Cordelia asked, forcing her eyebrows upwards with great difficulty. Sure, she didn’t want to die, but she wasn’t afraid to for the sake of the man she loved, for the Vampire she loved. “Sure as hell would be easier to kill him than to go through all this trouble just to turn me.”

“You underestimate me,” John said at length, flicking his tongue out and licking the skin below her eye, sending shivers throughout her body. Not good ones; horrifyingly pissed and violated ones. He laughed. “I guess I’d have to be Angel to turn you on, right?”

Cordelia rolled her eyes, “You’re an Empath, I get it. Big whoop. Go join the circus.” She knew she flipped a switch because John’s smooth yet large hand immediately shot up to her neck, grasping it tightly.

He leaned in by her ear and whispered in a tantalizing voice, “I could snap your neck before you say a word, before you can even think of what to say. So Don’t. Piss. Me. Off.” He let go slowly, enjoying the desperate gasp and the frantic breathing afterwards.

“Big mistake,” she coughed. And when John furrowed his brow in confusion at her statement, she forced a sly grin onto her tan skin. “Letting go of my neck was the biggest mistake of your undead life.”

And before she even finished, her hand, quick as a cat, pulled out the sake, preparing to kill whoever was in its path.

***

A mile to go, Angel reminded himself, ignoring the continuing pain spread throughout his body. That Vampire wasn’t normal. Though easy to kill, Jason seemed to possess a sort of programmed killing material when he fought and it convinced Angel that something was most likely put into his system.

He lifted his cell phone to his weak eyesight and he stopped in his path to put his focus onto dialing the number of the Hyperion once again. Pushing the phone to his ear, he waited.

And waited.

And waited.

***

Fred grabbed Gunn’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “We don’t know where Angel is,” she lied to him in her most convincing tone. Her eyes were watering as she repeatedly looked to the crossbow pointed at Gunn’s chest and she almost whimpered at the sharp, coolness of the knife pressed against her throat.

“You’re lying,” Holtz said simply, his arms behind his back as he sauntered throughout the Lobby. “What a fine establishment you have here. I’d hate for it to burn to ground. With you inside, of course.”

“You think that scares me?” Gunn scoffed. “I’ve faced a lot worse than a midget of a white man trying to piss of a Vampire that did something over two centuries ago.”

“Midget?” Holtz laughed. “You black people have such a great sense of humor.”

Gunn took a step forward, but stopped when the arrow was pressed into his chest a bit more firmly and the knife by Fred’s throat threatened to move and slice quickly into her flesh.

Fred closed her eyes, blinking away the tears. Stay upstairs, Lorne. Stay upstairs. She thought over and over, her legs nearly buckling beneath her as she remembered that Conner’s feeding time was soon.

Suddenly, a shrill cry of Conner came from upstairs, resonating out of the halls and into the lobby. A smile crept onto Holtz’ face and he nodded to the people beside him to go retrieve the baby.

Only several arrows flung from out of nowhere, lodging into one’s leg, one’s shoulder and another’s gut. Holtz looked up to see Wesley at the opposite end of the Lobby, a bowcaster in hand.

A smug grin on his face as he aimed for Holtz, Wesley said at length: “Get the hell out.”

Holtz didn’t look afraid; instead, he looked pleased to see that someone in Angel Investigations, other than a wretched black man, had the smarts when it came to combat. “You’re a good marksman,” Holtz complimented. “You should join the ranks of good instead of aiding a murder.”

“And what were you to become if they had not answered your questions?” Wesley asked dryly, his voice threatening. “Or if your companions had decided to go and grab Angel’s child?”

Not an answer out of his mouth, the man just grinned. Tipping his hat, Holtz moved out the door, his injured companions struggling behind him.

“Wesley, man, this is one of those times when I love you popping out of a dark corner all of a sudden,” Gunn admitted, laughing at himself and wiping the blood from the small scratch on his forehead. Only when he noticed Fred holding a wound on her arm, where a long arrow was lodged into it, did the smile on his face disappear suddenly.

A few tears streaked down Fred’s cheeks, but other than that she remained unfazed. “When one got shot in the gut, the arrow hit me in the arm.”

Wesley looked slightly ashamed, “I should have aimed better. Or calculated what would happen-” Fred stopped him.

“Don’t, you saved our lives.”

Gunn patted Wesley slightly on the back before returning his attention to Fred. “Better yet, you saved Conner’s man.”

“What about Cordelia?” Fred asked Gunn, realizing that, in the entire situation, they had forgotten of Angel’s urgent phone call. And when they heard the distant ringing of the phone, they felt a bit guilty, even if it wasn’t their fault they had been distracted.

“Wesley, why don’t you go?” Gunn suggested, leaning beside the woman he cared for, not wanting to leave her side.

“Gunn, I know how to heal wounds such as this,” Wesley explained, opening his briefcase to pull out some spare supplies. “Cordelia needs your help more than mine. As much as we all need to go. You’re the most qualified.”

“Go Gunn,” Fred ordered to him softly, wincing as Wesley gently examined her wound. “Save Cordy.”

That was enough for him. Though he wanted so much to help Fred, to make sure she was going to be okay, he knew that the direr situation was with Cordelia, the woman who was like his little sister to him.

I’ve lost one sister, I won’t lose another. He thought to himself, moving to the weapons cabinet.

***

“Probably already on their way,” Angel said to himself, closing the phone shut and slipping it into his pocket as he quickened his pace. Barely a quarter of a mile to go.

He could live a thousand years and never meet a woman like Cordelia ever again, someone who could raise his spirits with a joke or a smile or simply her flippant attitude. She was the anchor he held onto in the hell of a world they both lived in. She was there to place the band-aid on his wounds, emotional or physical. He was the coat placed on her to keep her warm, to remind her she had a purpose other than to make coffee and snide remarks.

They completed each other, like a jigsaw puzzle; with one piece missing, it isn’t complete. And the mere thought of leading a life without Cordelia was something that took everything out of Angel, drained his soul, his heart, everything that could keep him alive, to keep him sane.

I’m not going to lose her, Angel reminded himself desperately, ignoring how idiotic he looked as he ran in a limping manner down the empty sidewalk. She’s going to be okay. I’m going to go over there and she’ll be half-asleep and pissed that I disturbed her beauty sleep. We’ll argue, throw a few insults and make up over a cup of blood with popcorn while playing Jenga.

The Vampire smiled, because it was the only thing he could do, the only thing that made sense when the thought of Cordelia came to mind. He couldn’t not be happy. It just wasn’t possible.

It was his own fault that he hadn’t realized his feelings for Cordelia sooner. Perhaps, he might have told her and she wouldn’t be going out on a date. Or he would have, and she would have not felt the same way, embarrassment would have ensued and she’d most likely have gone on the exact same date she was on to erase it from her memory.

The jealousy he exhibited on her previous date wasn’t out of protection of her, or if it was, it was secondary. There were no brotherly feelings in the envy he demonstrated, it was pure jealousy that might have been shown by an ex-boyfriend or potential one. Which he was. Potentially he was a potential boyfriend of Cordelia Chase.

But no matter what he felt, it all rested on what Cordelia did. She had the power to change everything and it was a little more than unsettling.

***

“Thank you, again.” Fred couldn’t stop thanking Wesley, the man slowly tending to her wound.

He blinked once and looked down before slowly looking up at her, his eyes a tad doleful. “I’m going to have to yank this out. Better than slowly, it’ll only enhance the pain. It’ll still hurt and… and as much as I don’t want you to feel any kind of pain, it’ll happen no matter what.”

Fred smiled at him comfortingly. “Don’t worry, I can handle it.”

“Yes,” Wesley nodded. “I believe that. I just don’t think I can…” he said the last part quietly under his breath, but Fred heard it, loud and clear.

“What did you just say?” she asked breathlessly, but the thought was pushed out of her mind when Wesley ripped the arrow from her arm. “Ow! Mother of fu-” She bit her lip to keep from cursing. No one had ever really heard her curse and she didn’t want to start with Wesley, the one person who respected her the fullest.

He laughed, a rare thing she hadn’t seen in weeks. And she cherished it to the fullest, her free hand pulled up to his chin, raising him to look at her with his boyishly blue eyes. “I haven’t you heard you laugh in…” she paused, seeing something in his eyes, and feeling something in the way his hand remained on her wounded arm.

Swallowing hard, Wesley looked away, avoiding it all by tending to her wound with a cleaning cloth. Fred cleared her throat. “In weeks…you should laugh more, Wesley.”

Her hand brushed up against his, which they both noticed was on her knee. Wesley immediately yanked it away. “Sorry, needed some balance.”

Fred nodded, “Well, if you need it for balance.” She grabbed his hand and placed it on her knee. It didn’t seem too big of a gesture for Fred, who turned to grab a bottle of water, but Wesley had to close his eyes for a second and cherish the moment for what it was.

***

Angel breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped off of the final step leading to Cordelia’s door. He pounded on it at first, desperately calling her name. “Cordelia! Cordelia!” After a few moments of silence, his heart sinking and soul falling to pieces at the deafening stillness, he backed away and prepared to charge through the door.

Only it opened a small crack, stopping him before he started. Angel moved closer, his eyes peering into the darkness. “Cordy…” he whispered.

“What?” she asked abruptly, only her doleful, russet eyes visible, shining slightly from slow tears that had not yet been shed.

“Are…are you okay?” He asked, his voice thick and breaking with emotion. He could smell pain, he could smell blood. But it seemed like Cordelia wasn’t willing to admit what she was hiding. So he pushed open the door slowly and gently, the hallway light lighting up her façade.

Angel felt his heart break as his eyes scanned her face. Her nose was bleeding profusely and her lip was cut, spilling quite an amount of blood. There was a gash on her forehead and Angel knew that in the morning, her left eye would be swollen. And below her hair on her neck were two distinguishable bite marks.

“Oh god…” He lifted his hand to her cheek; she turned away in shame slightly, wincing as she realized how pathetic she looked.

“It’s not all my blood,” she explained, trying to lessen the painful experience Angel was obviously experiencing, seeing his dearest friend as she was.

Angel pulled her into a hug, kissing her temple and squeezing her just tight enough to inform her he was really there, that he cared so much, that he was never going to leave again, but not too much that she couldn’t breath and her injuries wouldn’t ache anymore.

Cordelia didn’t respond to his hug, her arms hanging at her sides and her eyes watering, her face showing barely any emotion.

Closing the door behind him, Angel aided Cordelia to the couch, only to discover even more blood, and dust. He felt her legs grow weaker and her knees buckle beneath her weight and the Vampire caught her immediately, carrying her into her room.

“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” he whispered, his voice a ghost. Dennis, the real ghost, closed the door softly. Angel ignored the bubbling anger within at why Dennis had allowed this to happen, and simply caressed Cordelia’s cheek as she sat on the edge of the bed, blankly staring off. Angel was on his knees, just looking up at her, trying to get her to respond.

“Cordy…” he pleaded, kissing her nose. She winced. “I’m going to make this guy pay,” Angel promised, only to have a pile of dust blown towards him by Dennis. “You…you killed him?”

Cordelia didn’t respond, her eyes having difficulty staying open as the blood caked over them started to dry. Angel wrapped his arm around her in support and moved her slowly towards the bathroom, not once forcing her to rush or quickening her movements.

He wanted to dispense of the pain, to make her feel better, to remind her that she wasn’t alone. But seeing the emptiness she was exhibiting, he knew it wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

She looks dead, Angel thought, turning on the shower. He wanted the warm water to clean her, to wake her up from the darkness she was trapped in, to wash away not only the blood but also the fear that was so obviously taking over her entirety.

Removing his bloody shirt, Angel stepped into the shower and pulled her in with him. His arm remaining at the small of her back as he supported her, never leaving her side, Angel stroked her cheek lovingly as some of the blood on her face washed away. Grabbing the softest washcloth in the shower, Angel slowly but surely made his way across her forehead, dispensing of the blood and slightly healing the wounds.

He ignored the blood falling from his own wounds and slowly unbuttoned Cordelia’s blouse. He wasn’t sure if she would let him, but she didn’t respond. He closed his eyes, afraid she wasn’t wearing a bra and didn’t want to intrude on her own physical privacy, but when he saw she was wearing one, he removed the shirt and threw it to the ground. A few scratches on her belly and blood smeared on her arms were now visible.

Once he had finished with her torso, Angel gingerly bent down to his knees and removed the dirty, bloody skirt, throwing it in the wet, heap of a pile outside the tub. The Vampire, with his keen eyes, could see two bruises on either thigh forming in the shape of handprints.

John had obviously desired to… Angel held back a growl at the thought of the Vampire laying any perverted hands on Cordelia.

Standing up, Angel looked at Cordelia, noticing now that emotion was full in her eyes, his tender touch unlocking what they were both searching for desperately.

Then and there, in the shower, she broke down to tears, sobbing tremendously and burying her face in Angel’s bare chest, digging her fingernails into his back dreadfully.

She needed the man she loved to make her feel better, and when she felt the small kiss placed atop her head and his rough hands and arms wrapping around her, she felt some flicker of safety, of comfort, of caring, so deep and profound that it was beyond scaring her. It enlightened her.

It showed her that no matter how crappy things are, the warm touch of someone you loved could bring you to a place where you weren’t completely okay, but a place where you knew things were headed in the right direction.

It was a reassuring thought to Cordelia.


Part 7

The nascent light of daybreak filtered slightly through the shut blinds, a streak or two sneaking through the screen. Distant chirping of birds and the sound of people waking up to go to their jobs and usual routines drowned in the welcoming silence of Cordelia Chase’s apartment bedroom. Only the soft inhale and supple exhales from the woman were heard, the soothing rhythm of her breathing pattern keeping herself and the Vampire beside her in a deep, dreamless slumber.

With his arm slung over her torso, lying gently on her stomach, Angel’s eyes flickered open ever so slightly as Cordelia stirred faintly in her siesta. His face was stuffed in her hair and it wasn’t his own fault that Cordelia’s warm scent pervaded his nostrils. In fact, he welcomed the aroma, taking in deep breaths and letting his eyes droop to a close. His hand absently traced circles on her abdomen; the luscious, tan skin exposed just a tad at the edge of Angel’s large shirt.

The previous night proved too stressful for either of the beings on the bed, emotional turmoil mingled with physical torment all in a matter of hours. Cordelia Chase had once again proven to Angel that she could take care of herself when it came to matters of the physical sorts, but once he had cleaned her, tended to her wounds, it was made clear that her emotional state was unstable and she needed desperately a friend to hold onto, to drown her fear, her shock, into.

An amazing feeling, it was, to wake up next to such a brilliantly gorgeous woman and feel so complete, like nothing else in the entire world mattered. But as soon as the thoughts came, they left with the worries of his son, of his other friends. Why didn’t they make it here last night?

Angel didn’t want to, he didn’t desire to, but he knew he had to, and he got up. Slowly lifting his hand off of Cordelia, Angel tried to manage getting his other arm, trapped underneath the woman’s sleeping frame, out from the strong hold.

Only when he finally got his arm out from underneath Cordelia did he realize it was a mistake; the woman’s eyes fluttered open, the soft brown evident now and sending a horde of warm butterflies into Angel’s stomach. When her eyes focused on him, she offered a weak smile, one that Angel returned willingly.

“Hey…” he croaked, standing there looking at her, shirtless and quite uncomfortable as to what he should say.

Cordelia shrugged, “Hey…”

A wince came soon after as she realized the shiner on her cheek had formed and taken on a sore quality. Angel moved to her, his heart breaking slightly seeing her in the smallest amount of pain, knowing that he could have prevented it if he had realized whom she was going out with.

Their eyes locked as Angel’s hand stroked her cheek; the two just looked at each other, as if each were thanking the other for being alive, for being there with them. “We have to stop meeting like this,” she half-heartedly kidded, but there wasn’t a tinge of strength left in her to laugh.

As Angel stood there, his dark eyes unmoving, never leaving the woman before him, he forgot all about his other friends. “We should get you to a hospital, your ribs might be damaged.”

Cordelia shook her head as he spoke, disagreeing with him before he was even finished. “I don’t want to spend 10 hours in a hospital, Angel. Nope, not going to happen.”

The Vampire played with the hem of his briefs, hardly noticing how revealing he was, just standing there in front of the woman he had feelings for, practically showcasing all of his manhood. Then again, he added in thought. Not like she’s wearing too much to cover herself. He bit the urge to tilt his urge as he realized she was wearing a shirt, his shirt, and a bra and underwear underneath. No pants, no jackets. Nothing but her and him, in the flesh, just looking at each other.

“What are you looking at?” she asked softly, looking away, partially embarrassed while wondering what was so fascinating about herself. “If the reason you want me to go to the hospital is to get rid of these horrible welts and scratches, all you have to do is say it.”

It was a surreal thing to hear, Cordelia Chase being so self-conscious of herself, not confident at all, looking and sounding so helpless. It wasn’t a sight the Vampire wanted to see when looking at her. “You know that’s not the reason…you deserve the right medical treatment. All I did was clean out the wounds, you might still-”

“What the hell took you so long last night?” Cordelia cut him off, biting her fingernail and looking pointedly off in the distance at nothing, avoiding eye contact. “Wouldn’t hurt to skip a few red light’s, would it?”

“I had a few obstacles to get past,” Angel worded it right, replying at length. It was something he would have been proud of, wording a statement right and being vague, if it hadn’t been for the type of situation he were in. “Traffic mostly…”

Obviously, the young woman wanted to jump out of the bed and run like hell in the opposite direction, to get away from the conversation that was obviously leading to a point, a topic, that she didn’t want to discuss. Ever. But the way her physical stature was, the bruises along her legs that were forming, it was a given she wasn’t able to do it, which she was rightfully pissed off at.

Biting his lip, Angel sat down beside Cordelia on the bed. “Not one single excuse matters right now, I didn’t make it in time and I hate myself for it.”

Cordelia pondered the thought, taking the words into consideration. But her heart gave in and she not so casually whispered: “You don’t have to apologize.”

“Yes, I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Don’t argue with me on this.”

“You just hate being wrong.”

“I’m not wrong.”

“Yes…you are!”

“No, I’m not. If anyone’s wrong here, it’s you.”

“Nope. No way mister, not getting away with this.”

“With what?”

“With this!”

“Do you even remember what we’re arguing about?” Angel asked, a wry smile forming on his face.

Cordelia sighed, “Yeah, but I was hoping you’d get distracted enough to forget about it all.”

“That’s not going to happen, Cor.” Angel moved a little closer, his hand instinctively placed on Cordelia’s. It seemed as if his one touched unhinged the woman, but distracted, as always, Angel didn’t notice. “Nothing in the world can make me forget what you went through.”

“You weren’t even there,” Cordelia pointed out bluntly. “So don’t even start to act like you know how I feel. You don’t.” She tried to push him away, but it only pulled him closer, his strong arms wrapping around her and her face willingly pushing itself into his bare chest. “I’m not going to cry…I’m not. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not!”

“Shh…” Angel whispered into her ear, kissing her on the temple and closing his eyes, praying to god to let the woman he cared for have some peace, to let her be okay; because his fear was starting to build up inside, the fear that he wasn’t her answer to everything. An eerie thought that escalating into a full-fledged, deranging sensation. “You’re okay, you’re alright. He didn’t kill you, you’re alive Cordy.”

Even if he was speaking to Cordelia, he knew he was reassuring himself, hoping it would substantiate it all, to make sure this was all real, that she was alive and in his arms.

Cordelia’s breathing was coming in sharper intakes and it seemed as if she were hyperventilating, and the tears, the sobbing, weren’t helping her state at all. “He…he was going to…” it seemed to painful for her to say it, but that small spark of confidence, of Queen C, forced her to. “He was going to rape me, Angel. And I was afraid, more afraid then I have ever been. It’s a feeling I told myself that I would never experience, a feeling I promised to myself I wouldn’t let inside of me, that I wouldn’t put myself in that kind of situation. But I did, damnit. I let my guard down and let my emotions get the better of me and it almost got me killed.”

Angel pulled away and looked her in the eyes, his own were watery and his strong frame looked to be on the urge of breaking down along with his friend. “Cor…I…I want to tell you everything’s okay, I want to say that this didn’t happen to you, but it did. And…” He swallowed hard, completely lost. “I don’t know what to do to make you feel better.”

The woman saw it, saw it all in his eyes, the Vampire wanted so much to make her feel better, to feel innocent, to feel complete, but he didn’t know how, even his instincts were being shunned, as if nothing below perfect could be said to her. “Angel…” she stroked his cheek, and kissed his nose. “All you have to do is be here, stay with me; it’s all I need for now. You’re the only person I want here, just…don’t leave.”

It was as if she were beginning him, afraid he would leave, become bored with her and find some other damsel in distress to save and comfort. But the spark in his dark eyes confirmed she was safe, that he would never leave unless she told him too, and even then, he’d argue to stay just to be in her presence. His thoughts and feelings were so clear, and for a moment, Cordelia saw something…something she had never seen in his eyes when he looked at her.

Love? She pushed the thought to the back of her mind, claiming it an impossible thing, and saying it was just an illusion her heart was playing on her eyes, trying to break it even more.

* * *

Fred bit the end of her pen as she listened to Gunn’s last words diligently, “So they were just lying on the bed, asleep?”

“Yep,” Gunn sighed, putting away his mention. “Cordelia looked pretty torn up and so did Angel. I’m figuring there was a smack down, since there was dust and blood all over the living room.”

“You think some of it was Cordelia’s?” Fred asked, her voice nearly gone as the story kept replaying in her mind, her conscious placing customized images in that made it all the more gruesome than it might have been.

“Like I said, she looked pretty beat up,” Gunn avoided eye contact. “Wasn’t what they both looked like that caught me off guard, though. They was spooning.”

Fred’s brow furrowed, “Spooning?” Only after a few minutes did she realize what he meant. “Ooh…Spooning. I get it.”

“They was half-naked too,” Gunn snorted. “Those two spent the last few years bickering and bitching and all of a sudden they’re snuggle-bunnies.”

Fred liked the idea of the term ‘snuggle-bunnies’ and she knew both she and Lorne would be using the term quite a lot around the Vampire and the Seer. She turned to enter Wesley’s office, to explain the story in her own words, but Gunn’s arm stopped her, his grip a little more firm than usual.

“Fred, what’s been going on lately?” He swallowed hard, “With us.” His eyes seemed so innocent, as if he were a child asking his mommy why daddy left them when he was little. It was a look that unnerved Winifred Burkle quite a bit.

“W-What do you mean?” She asked, trying to stall. She kept a large amount of space between them, but Gunn lessened it, stepping forward.

Winifred Burkle didn’t know why Charles Gunn told her he loved her, even if she had wanted him to say it to her ever since they started dating, ever since they kissed at the ballet. There was a spark between them and now that she thought about it, she was afraid she amplified her feelings to a certain extent that she thought she felt so much for him when she truly just had an attraction to the man.

She was certain that maybe, one day, she would love him like he obviously loved her, and that was why she didn’t respond. She’d rather not respond to it at all then say she didn’t love him right after something as emotionally naked as his statement.

“You know what I mean,” Gunn whispered ambiguously, lowering his voice as he noticed Wesley’s doors were open. “I told…I told you I loved you. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” He already had such bad trust issues; he didn’t need something more to add to a long list of reasons not to trust others.

“Of course it does,” Fred, her voice strong, replied truthfully. She wasn’t going to lie to him, but she hoped more than anything she could avoid the one thing she knew was coming, denial surfacing and keeping her from realizing completely that it was coming…no matter what she tried to do to delay it.

Gunn shook his head, “That’s not all I want to hear from you.”

“What do you want to hear from me, Charles?”

His hands were on her small shoulders, nearly pushing her into the ground with his strength. “I want to hear what you really feel about me, Fred.” He hadn’t been so emotionally strong before, showcasing his heart out for everyone to see in the middle of the lobby was a daring thing he thought he would never do. Charles Gunn had fought battles with hordes of Vampire’s against him, but as he stood there, waiting for a response he so desperately needed, he’d never been so afraid. “Tell me you love me.”

Fred closed her eyes, looking away for a moment. I’m too young to be deciding things like this, she thought to herself, all of her emotions bubbling just below the surface and threatening to pour out all at once at the mention of the ‘L’ word. “I don’t…” she said softly, her eyes near tears. “Not yet…but someday.”

Gunn shook his head and took a step back, his jaw firm as he looked down at his feet. Finally, he nodded and clapped his hand together, letting out a deep sigh. “Good to know.”

“Charl-”

“I need some fresh air,” he lied, his hands shaking as he turned and left without another word, criticizing himself inwardly for being such an idiot to think that a beautiful young woman like Fred could feel the same way as he did about her.

* * *

Wesley could still feel the soft, smoothness of Fred’s skin on his fingertips, even if a day had passed since his hand had been on her knee. It was something he had to cherish, though he knew, deep down, it was wrong too. She chose Gunn over him. There was nothing more to it.

A call of his name jolted him from his contemplative thoughts, “Wesley?” It was Fred, and she was casually approaching his office. She seemed different, disappointed even. Not at Wesley, but over a matter that was beyond his knowledge.

“Yes? His voice was soft around her and she just noticed. And even after working side by side for months, the Watcher never ceased to amaze her.

“Have you ever been in love?” she asked bluntly, getting right to the point as she sat herself directly in front of him in the chair beside his desk.

Wesley nearly choked on his own spit by the abruptness of the question. I may or may not be in love with the woman before me. “Why do you ask?”

“Gunn and I…we’re a couple, and things are going great, but I’m starting to think I’m not into this whole thing as much as he is.” Fred sighed in frustration, rubbing her face profusely.

“Why would you say that?”

“Because he told me he loved me and he asked me if I did and I said I didn’t, and it didn’t even take as much thought as you would think. Because usually when the question is asked, it requires some thought, at least when you’re the one saying no.” Fred breathed slowly after the statement, not at all phased by her abruptness about the entire topic.

Wesley tried to remain an honest man, a loyal friend. “I would have never thought anything of the sorts when looking at the two of you. You look very much in love with him as he is with you.”

“That’s the thing, I care about him an’ all, and I’m havin’ a great time with him. But I don’t love him, not yet. And I’m afraid that the day won’t ever come. That I’ll be spending the rest of our lives trying to love him.”

Wesley could hardly hide his surprise at what Fred was admitting to him, the doubt she had in her relationship with Gunn gave him some hope but he immediately chided himself for thinking such a thing. “Sometimes it takes time…”

“That’s my problem,” Fred exclaimed frantically. “With the things we do from day to day, I’m thinkin’ we won’t have all the time in the world.”

The young woman sighed, crossing her arms, frustrated with herself. “Maybe I’m crazy. Or just plain stupid.”

“Don’t say that,” Wesley softly dismissed it. Finally, he cleared his throat and went on in a more firm tone. “Don’t ever doubt yourself, Fred. You’re an extremely beautiful woman, a genius, you are. You have the looks of Audrey Hepburn and the brains of Albert Einstein.”

Fred swallowed the gasp desperately trying to escape her mouth as she listened to Wesley’s comforting words. They just flowed through his mouth and went straight into her heart, sending a shock of warmth that was much needed.

“And even if you weren’t, you have the most wonderful personality,” he smiled. “No one is perfect, but you’re one of those few people who should never worry about themselves, or be self-conscious.”

Winifred Burkle felt uplifted somehow, the simple yet effective words flowing through her and clearing her mind of doubtful thoughts as she sat there, entranced in what Wesley said. “Thank you, Wesley.”

He nodded.

Exhaling loudly, Fred reminded herself of the one thing she came into the office for, to ask Wesley. “But what the hell am I going to do about Gunn and Me?”

* * *

The darkness slipped into the living room, and Angel openly welcomed it, finally opening the blinds, allowing the dark to flood into the living room. He had to avoid the sunlight all day, and even when the blinds were closed, he still had trouble. Though the Vampire so desired to just lie next to Cordelia and listen to her breath, to watch the rise and fall of her chest, he knew he had to prepare her dinner; he had to get her to eat.

Too busy trying to work the microwave, his stubbornness with modern technology preventing him from actually knowing how to work the contraption; Angel didn’t notice Cordelia’s presence, even if he usually did. Or, perhaps, on some level, he did acknowledge her presence inwardly and just simply went about his business, as if the comforting warmth she exuded flooded deep within him and he didn’t want to wreck it with words, or with a simple look.

Leaning against the frame of the doorway, Cordelia’s lazy eyes remained on Angel as he moved about her kitchen, trying desperately to be quiet and skillful with the food at the same time. She held back a laugh when he burnt himself on the plate; doesn’t matter that he’s a Vampire; guy’s a big baby at heart. Angel stopped and looked at the plates before him, scratching his head and furrowing his brow, looking completely innocent, as if a child trying to put together a puzzle and desperately searching for the missing piece.

Cordelia took in a deep breath, a sharp one, as her body immediately reacted when Angel bent down. Nice butt, she thought to herself, biting her lower lip. Only it seemed her change in breathing pattern disturbed the Vampire’s attention span and he immediately turned to look up at her.

“You’re up,” a huge smile spread across his face at the sight of Cordelia standing before him, wearing only his shirt, her tan, perfect legs displayed before him.

I hate you Fred, Angel swallowed hard, remembering back to a time when Cordelia’s legs wouldn’t cause such a reaction from his body. He quickly and casually held a towel in his hands, specifically hiding his now bulging pants. You too, Lorne. He knew that if he weren’t dead, blood would be flowing through his body.

Then again, he thought, his mind reeling and reeling for what seemed forever but was simply a few minutes. Angel fought hard and to a great extent no to tilt his head to get a better view. Maybe I should give you a raise. “You shouldn’t be up…”

The tone of his voice was as soft as a silky pillow and it sent surges of warmth throughout Cordelia’s aching body. “You shouldn’t be working any kind of electrical devises.”

Angel had to laugh at that, the smile returning to his pale skin. “You look a lot better…more rested.” His appalling quality of speaking was returning and his confidence was fading under the pressure. Cordelia was okay and all he had left to think of was to take care of her what she looked like under that shirt and bra…

“So,” Angel blurted out, uncomfortable with himself and awkwardly trying to cross his arms but then deciding to stuff them in his pockets. His voice came out exceptionally squeaky and Cordelia couldn’t help but snort.

“Wow, why don’t you come back to me when you’ve reached puberty,” she teased, her humor coming back just a smidge before disappearing again when her ribs throbbed with pain once more, the torment visible on her face.

Angel immediately had his hands on her hips, holding her up and keeping her body stable. “I told you that you should be lying down…” he whispered. “Why don’t you ever listen to me?” he asked more firmly, but his hands remained on her hips and he just looked at her, as if he wasn’t ever going to let go unless she answered his question.

What surprised him was the look on Cordelia’s face and the flicker in her eyes that showed she clearly didn’t mind his hands there, his cold, rough fingers on her warm skin, sending chills up her spine. She smiled a small smile, brushing a piece of hair behind her ear. Even with the shiner and the cuts, she looked extremely charismatic, albeit a more tuned, leveled kind more than her usual alluring nature.

Angel felt his knees buckle beneath him, I have to tell her, I’m driving myself crazy over this!

Finally, Cordelia realized how close they were and the predicament they put themselves into, what she put herself into and Angel unintentionally did. Or not. The Seer had to admit, there was a spark of something in his adorably dark and mysterious eyes that wasn’t there before and indicated something.

Her thoughts drifted back to the ‘L’ word as she cleared her throat and took a wobbly step away from the Vampire. “Why do you keep looking me like that?”

“Why can’t I?” Angel asked, his voice husky, and only when he realized how he was approaching it did he clear his own throat. “I mean…do you not want me to…look at you?”

“Did you have ‘brownies’ today or something Angel?”

“No, it was…it was just a question,” the Vampire looked the part of an extremely uncomfortable teenager asking the girl he had a crush on to go to the Prom with him. “Would it be a problem for you if I looked at you? In…that way?”

Cordelia narrowed her eyes and looked at him curiously, wondering whether or not Angel was still sane enough and whether she should trust him enough to eat the dinner he cooked for her. “I…didn’t know there were…ways to look at someone.”

“Sure there are,” Angel replied enthusiastically. “You can look at someone angrily, you know, with…hate! But that’s not what I’m doing here!” He felt clueless and completely idiotic, As usual. “I mean, when I look at you. I mean, who could not… You’re… It’s just…you’re…”

“I’m what?” Cordelia sighed, obviously lost.

“You’re you,” Angel stated in a matter-of-fact tone, as if it were that simple, that obvious. “You’re a million personalities trapped in one… A million things I love trapped in one extremely beautiful body.” He didn’t regret what he said; in fact, he hoped she would love how he worded it.

“Wh-what?” Cordelia stuttered, catching on quickly now at the statement. “Angel, just spit out what you’re trying to tell me. Please.”

“I think I’m falling in love with you!” Angel yelled, his voice a little louder than expected. He’d grown frustrated with himself, his lack of ability to word things right around Cordelia, and it all finally burst out.

“You…you love me?” Cordelia asked, her voice a ghost of a whisper. “You…love…me?”

“Yes.” As if it were that simple, his voice was quick and curt.

“Yes?” Cordelia turned away. “Oh my…this is…this is big.”

“I guess…”

“You guess? Angel this is so big. Holy Mother of Fu-” To the surprise of Angel, in a blink of an eye, she was gone. One second she was there, the next she was gone, disappearing into thin air, as if she never existed, or if someone had just flipped a switch.

“Cordelia?” Angel asked slowly, confused. “Cordelia?”

* * *

“Ow!” Cordelia grunted, landing on the hard marble with her backside first. “That’s going to hurt in the morning.” The spinning stopped and even if she was dizzy, inwardly she was thankful to have sturdy ground to stand on.

Angel! She wanted to call out. He’d told her he loved her and it was something she wanted to hear for so long. She wasn’t sure if it was a dream or some ploy the Powers That Be were playing her with, toying with her to torture her even more. As if the Visions weren’t enough.

“Hello, Cordelia,” came a familiar voice off in the distance. But in the current state Cordelia was in, curious beyond her limits, she didn’t take notice to the extreme memorable one of the voice.

The room Cordelia was in was dark and seemed infinite; no walls, only a floor and a torch a few feet away from where Cordelia struggled to her feet. It was an eerie place, but it hardly unnerved her, unsurprisingly. She had visited many different realms with Angel on various missions. And the darkness, the chilling silence…wasn’t anything new to the Seer.

“Shit, I’m in some spiritual realm, aren’t I?”

“Got that right,” came the voice again, closer now, and Cordelia could hear the short snaps of a pair of heels nearing, and for the first time Cordelia felt chills going up her spine at the sound of the familiar voice. It can’t be… “I was sent here to inform you of something…plus, I kinda needed the pocket money.”

Cordelia swallowed hard, turning in the direction of where the voice was coming from. “Buffy?” She called out the name; dreadfully hoping it wasn’t true, that it was someone else.

“Sorta…” came a small chuckle. “I take the form of the being that is most suited for the kind of job I’m doing.”

“And what kind of job is this?” Cordelia inquired, trying to keep her voice from shaking and clenching her hands into fists.

Finally, the familiar green eyes, blonde hair and short frame appeared from the darkness, a grim mask worn on the face. “Those Visions are a bitch, aren’t they?”

“And I always thought you higher beings were dumbasses, guess you proved me wrong,” Cordelia snarked.

Buffy remained blank. “They’re painful…so painful. And they’re a mystical problem so the medical tests and doctors you have been going to haven’t been able to see…”

“See what?”

“Let me explain, then you’ll know,” Buffy said curtly, on the edge of her patience. “I have a job to do and I’ve only been given a certain amount of time. Cordelia… In one year…”

“In one year what?” Cordelia’s impatience too was running out, and it was showing in her voice and in her strained expression. Something was wrong with the situation and her body was reacting, telling her to run or cover her ears. But she didn’t, she just stood there, knowing she had to stand strong and face whatever was coming till the end.

Her voice was sturdy, impassive and completely chilling as she said what she said at length: “In one year…you’re going to die.”


Part 8
The tension in the living room of Cordelia’s apartment could cut glass and it seemed as if every single person in the room knew it and welcomed it, not accepting anything less. The situation was odd, but it required finding Cordelia and saving her, and it was something all were willing to risk their lives doing. The Vampire, having just admitted he was falling for her, was losing his cool and panicking in front of his colleagues.

Angel scratched his head, “She was just here…” Usually excellent under pressure, the Vampire was frantic in his shock and confusion, but most of all, the longing sense that he had just told her he was falling in love with her and her response was cut short.

“I checked in the microwave, under the rug and even in the dumpster outside. She’s nowhere.” His voice raised several octaves every now and again and it was becoming evident to the others that Angel was losing his cool, and he was losing it fast.

Fred stepped forward, “It’s possible there could have been a numinous lapse in the precipice of our reality and she almost certainly was lodged between it.”

It was Wesley’s turn to step forward, nodding his head in agreement with Fred. “It’s possible. She could be stuck in a different realm, standing here in this very apartment, alone. We may not be visible or hearable to her, and vice versa.”

Angel on the other hand was too busy checking underneath the table to listen, “You just do whatever you have to do to…unlapse whatever happened and get her back. I think I might have an idea who might behind all of this, just in case it’s intentional.”

***

Cordelia stood in the middle of darkness, complete and udder obscurity both literally and figuratively. She had no idea what was going on, her legs buckling beneath her as she glared into the penetrating emerald eyes of Buffy Summers. Or at least someone or something that looked like Buffy Summers. The only response that floated through her crowded mind blurted out of her mouth quickly and scathingly: “You’re shitting me!”

It was unconceivable and Cordelia Chase was obviously incredulous about the entire situation. Not that anyone would blame her, considering what she was just told.

The being before her narrowed her eyes and shook her head, replying at length. “No…I’m not ‘Shitting You’.”

“How the hell am I supposed to take you seriously?” Cordelia asked frantically, her voice raising several octaves. The pain in her ribs seemed to subside as the shock took over and numbed every inch of her limbs. “Even if you really are Buffy Summers, this must be some sick joke to get Angel back or something.”

“I never said I was Buffy Summers,” the woman, or whatever it truly was standing before Cordelia, said calmly. It was an oddity to see the person being so nonchalant about the entire situation but it became lucid enough as the seconds passed that a task was assigned to the being many, many times before. “Taking on the form of Buffy Summers was a decision I had no part it. I alter my manifestation to whatever best suits the persona I am dealing with. This ‘Buffy Summers’ you speak of just happens to be the perfect candidate.”

“Candidate for what? Death dealing?!” Cordelia growled through gritted her teeth, a headache forming in her mind as her own frantic behavior began to spin out of control. “Though, I have to admit, I’m not surprised such a job would be given to her…” Cordelia had to admit, a brief smile passing over for the smallest moment.

The person, who Cordelia grudgingly decided just to assume was Buffy, remained tremendously tranquil throughout the entire exchange. I’ve done this too many times to be affected by a petty Lower Being’s grief and shock. “You see what you want to see.”

“Huh?” Cordelia was reeling from the words in her mind. In one year you’re going to die. After a momentary lapse, she was finally gripping the fact that perhaps what Buffy told her was true.

Luckily for Buffy, she’d done this a thousand times before and managed to remain cool and collected, not once letting it slip that she actually felt something for the woman before her. Perhaps it was the lack of noble people she had been sent to before, or the supreme amount of cheaters and sinners, betrayers and dishonest scumbag men she seemed to be sending messages too.

She had done her research and Cordelia was no sinner. She’d been a tad shallow and rude in her teen years, but now she was a gracious young woman who was dealt the wrong hand and not given a life that she could so amiably perfect. “Buffy obviously is someone you consider to be the kind of person to do these sorts of things. Is she emotional perhaps? Did you two not leave on good terms?”

“Not really, I mean, we didn’t necessarily hate each other,” Cordelia absentmindedly explained, hardly even considering what she was saying as she started to pace, edginess creeping into her veins and flowing through every inch of her body. “I am so not going to die.”

“I’m afraid that it is true,” Buffy replied curtly. “You are going to die.”

Cordelia felt her legs give in and she landed bluntly on her backside; though she hardly seemed to notice it, the deadness inside of her was enough to dispense of any pain that was physical, leaving behind emotional turmoil that was so lock, stock and barrel unbearable. “How?” was all she could say, her watery eyes looking off in the dark distance, loneliness shining profoundly within them.

“You’re Visions…they’ve been hurting a lot lately, haven’t they?” Buffy asked, without a tinge of question in her voice, as if she were stating a fact that was obvious to everyone, and with just the two of them in the room, it was. “It’s obvious that they’re what kill you. So I won’t go into much detail.”

“Go into a hell of a lot of detail before-” Cordelia jumped up from her droopy position and attempted to tackle Buffy, only to fly right through her and skid face-first across the marble. “Fuck…”

***

Holtz grinned smugly as he watched his recruit’s train, swinging their swords aimlessly and trying to look professional. “I recruited you to train you’re talents, not to make you look like idiots.” His voice was dripping with loftiness as he condescended his ranks. Grabbing the broad sword from a young recruit, he spun it skillfully before successfully and stylishly returning it to its holster, all in one graceful movement. “Thank god, or else I’d be making myself look utterly pitiable.”

“You do that on your own, I’m afraid,” came a frustrated, low growl from the dark corner, and the voice was followed by Angel storming into the room, weaponless except for the sharp blade in his hand. Before anyone, even Holtz, could react, Angel already had the man slammed up against the wall, raised several feet in the air, and the sharp blade against his throat.

“Good to see that you are still trying to make the defense that you are somehow an innocent protector of the helpless,” Holtz snidely struggled through a toughened breath.

Angel had no time to retort, his teeth clenched and his dark eyes fuming in a way that seemed even shocking to Holtz. “Where the fuck is she? Where’d you put her you pathetic bastard?”

The cold blade pressed against didn’t change the mood permeating throughout Holtz, and it didn’t matter, since he had no idea what was going on. “She? Another whore you picked u-”

No time was left to finish, Angel’s knee shoved into Holtz’ groin stopped him. “You’re lucky I just bruised it, if you don’t tell me where Cordelia is, I’ll cut the fucking thing off.”

Wesley Wyndam Pryce entered in a panicked manner, battle-ax in hand, along with Gunn at his side. The threw warning looks at Angel but it was a pointless gesture to do, since the Vampire’s emotional, raging dark eyes were locked on Holtz, the one man he believed to know where Cordelia Chase was.

“Angel…” Wesley said slowly, but Gunn elbowed him, shaking his head.

“He aint gonna listen man.”

Angel slammed Holtz against the wall once again, but this time, his voice faltered: “Where is she?”

“I do not know, I apologize,” Holtz grinned as the Vampire let him slide to his feet. “Sad to see such a supposedly strong Vampire being so pitifully sad over a woman.”

I’d see it in his eyes if he was lying, Angel desperately tried to confirm, to reassure himself. Shaking his head and turning away, the Vampire headed for the door. But before he left, she paused and threw a glance back at Holtz. “If it’s my understanding, isn’t the whole reason why you’re trying to fuck my life up a woman who I raped and murdered over a century and a half ago?”

***

The tranquility of the office was tinted with sadness and lost hope. It had only been a few hours and already the group was thinking the worst. They had no hope of finding the portal without a strong enough witch and without finding the portal, they wouldn’t be able to hopefully find Cordelia and bring her back.

And Angel wouldn’t be able to find out if she felt the same way.

He’d placed something so emotionally naked before the very stronghold of their friendship and the safety of their aforementioned amity was hanging in a balance, depending on what Cordelia felt for Angel in return. “She’s probably worried about us…” he said, his voice faltering.

“Of course she is, as we are worrying over her,” Wesley replied softly from the doorway, where he leaned against the frame, watching as the Vampire shuffled through the papers on the desk. “But what you did was…reckless.”

“Yeah and I’ll do it again,” Angel pointedly admitted, looking up at Wesley for only a brief moment. “And you can’t even begin to realize how much it pisses me off that you wouldn’t do the same for Cordelia.”

Wesley shook his head, enormously offended by the comment. “How dare you claim that I wouldn’t do the same for Cordelia.” His voice was soft and it didn’t seem menacing, but Angel got the picture that Wesley wasn’t in the mood to be patronized. “But I’d be smart about the situation and not barge into Holtz’ domain if all we had to do was a spell to find Cordelia.”

“We can’t do the spell because we don’t have a warlock to do it,” Angel pointed out, slamming a book down and tipping over a large pile of papers. Ignoring them as they scattered over the floor, Angel kicked his way through to the bookshelf.

The former Watcher shook his head; “He knows your weakness now. Cordelia is important to you and he knows that now, damnit. He’s going to bloody well use it against you.”

Angel paused, letting his head fall for a moment. Finally, he started moving through the office again. “Let him bring it on, throw all he’s got at me. I don’t care, I need Cordy back.”

“We all do,” Wesley pointed out.

“No, Wes…” Angel sighed, firming his jaw and turning to face his friend, his eyes doleful, “I need her. I need to see her, I need to wake up in the morning and know that I’m going to see her. I need to know how she feels…” His voice trailed off and he looked away.

“How she feels about wh-” Wesley cut himself off, realizing what was brought up unintentionally. “Oh…I see.” He turned away for a moment and saw Gunn and Fred sitting next to each other on the divan in the middle of the Lobby. “This office is just full of love these days, is it not?”

Little did he know, that as Gunn and Fred talked, it had nothing to do with the goodness of their relationship. If he knew that Charles Gunn was quietly breaking up with Winifred Burkle, he would have done something. But he didn’t, as he turned to face Angel, and their breakup ensued.

The Hotel was far from filled with happiness and love at the moment.

***

There the Vampire stood, desperate, confused, and desperate some more; a phone to his ear and Conner resting soundlessly in his crib beside him. Begging wasn’t something he’d normally do, but he was prepared, listening to the constant ringing in the receiver.

“Hello?” Came a distracted, slightly panicked and chirpy voice on the other end.

“Willow…” Angel breathed; relieved she answered, his fear that she wasn’t available subsiding. But the pitch of her tone finally rang a warning bell in Angel’s crowded mind. “Is everything okay?”

Willow was quick to reply: “We were just about to call you.” She sounded weak, being pressed under an overbearing amount of emotional turmoil, and Angel took great notice to it. “Is Cordelia there?”

“That’s…actually why I called you,” Angel replied at length, his voice extremely quiet, a ghost of a whisper. “She’s…missing.” It pained him to admit it, even if he thought it to himself and said it to others a million times before in the past hours; calling Willow, the last resort, was simply a way to finalize the calamitousness of the situation.

He could hear Willow’s breath get caught in her throat, as if someone were choking her. But before the Vampire could worry, she finally struggled a few words: “Something really weird is going on. And this is coming from a witch who lives on a Hellmouth.”

The words hit Angel hard, paralyzing him for a few moments. “What’s going on up there?”

“At first we though it was a new Big Bad trying to mess with her, but now she’s really freaked,” Willow explained frantically. “I’ve never seen Buffy so freaked out before, Angel.”

“Willow…what is going on?” Angel asked again, his voice firm but still soft enough so that the Wicca on the other end of the line wouldn’t feel too pressured to try and remain calm. An emotional person, Willow Rosenberg was, and Angel damn well knew that he had to be the stronger person in the conversation, using all his willpower to do so. Yet, paradoxically, it seemed that he had to use all of his willpower just to speak.

“It’s like a part of Buffy was stolen from her…like some piece of her essence was transported to a different realm and/or dimension.” Willow was obviously trying to say it ‘by-the-book’ in hopes of calming her frantic manner, that became more visible to her as the moments passed. It didn’t work quite well, her breathing came in sharp intakes and soon, she was hyperventilating. “Cordelia’s okay…I’m assuming. Buffy comes out of it every so often and tells us a few things.”

Angel swallowed hard, surprised by the revelation. “That’s…weird.”

He knew Willow wholeheartedly agreed by the silence on the other end of the line.

“Is she okay?” Angel asked, his voice breaking. “Cordelia…is she…is Cordy okay?”

***

Sharp intakes and quick exhales echoed endlessly in the dark expanse as Cordelia Chase tried desperately to hold onto the last bit of strength she had left. “What are you offering me?”

Nonchalantly, Buffy boasted. “A brand new life, without the Visions, of course.”

“No,” Cordelia replied almost immediately, unfazed by what Buffy saw as a good offer. “No fucking way.

“You’d rather die than live?”

Cordelia took a deep breath, “I’d rather die than abandon Angel and the mission.”

“Who ever said that would happen?”

“I know how this routine works, the Powers That Be are a little more than predictable, okay?” Cordelia explained tersely, trying to find a strong spot to hold onto, an anchor to keep her steady. “Without the Visions, what laudable service do I provide to Angel? Nothing. So it’s plain to see that if I take this deal, I’ll be giving up Angel. And I…I can’t do that.”

This is going to be harder than expected. “You’re telling me that you’d rather give up your life, to die in an excruciatingly painful death…than not know Angel? The Vampire who lied to you about sleeping with Darla? The same being who fired you when things got too tough…treated you like crap and alienated you from himself?”

A part of her soul ached at the memory of those moments, those heartrending instants in their relationship where Angel broke their trust, betrayed their friendship. But it wasn’t enough…Cordelia was too big of a person to let someone’s past mistakes get in the way of something better, something greater. “Angel’s made mistakes…bad choices; but who hasn’t? He’s been a jackass sometimes…but what man isn’t a jackass from time to time? All you’re really doing is making a pathetic attempt at trying to get me to turn on my closest friend.”

“You’re friend? This whole stubborn demeanor you have going on here doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Angel professed his love to you…does it?” Cordelia saw in the emerald eyes that whoever was masquerading as Buffy Summers was pleased to find a weak spot in her soul, hitting it hard.

All she could do was reply honestly, her voice wavering slightly as she spoke. “What if it does?”

Buffy seemed arrogantly disappointed by Cordelia’s weak reply, “You do know that all you’ll do is hurt him…all you’ll do is lead him on until you die. Would you rather not know him than cause him such emotional anguish when he watches you die before his ‘oh-so-tortured’ eyes? If you’re the Cordelia Chase I’ve heard about…than I know you’re smart enough to do the right thing. Don’t make a decision such as this based on a dead-end relationship that was not foreseen, that isn’t to be.”

“Who says it has to be foreseen?” Cordelia said, her voice a little more firm. But she knew the argument was pointless and redundant. It was all she had, her confusion taking over and clouding her better judgment.

“Make the decision…” Buffy Summers replied more firmly, losing her patience. Won’t be too long before I lose my cool, she thought to herself, trying not to panic.

Cordelia sighed, rubbing her hands against her face. She fell down to her knees and just buried her face in her hands; tears streaking silently down her bruised and battered skin. “Send me back,” she finally whispered. And after a few silent moments, she looked up; her red eyes resolutely staring down the being standing before her.

Getting to her feet, she said it again, her voice strong. She knew she had to live her life till the end, and she knew that even if she was going to die in a year, she had to live it with those she loved. She wasn’t going to run away like a coward. If she was supposed to die in a year, then she was going to face it down like any other hero, any other champion. “Send me back to my family…now!”

***

Angel stood in Cordelia’s apartment, her home phone pressed against his ear. “You sure the spell will work Willow?” He asked edgily, feeling a shift in the wind and the aura of the area changing rapidly. The Vampire knew it was a risk that they could bring back a dangerous demon instead of Cordelia, but he was willing to do it. “Don’t answer. Just do it.”

“She’s trying to get to Cordelia…trying to speak with her,” Willow said in a quiet whisper, observing her friend desperately trying to contact Cordelia.

Angel appreciated the two Sunnydale natives trying so very much to get his friend back, something he though they would never do. It proved to him that it wasn’t just him, Cordelia and Wesley that had changed since their days back in Sunnydale. Was a reassuring thought to him, but it was soon plundered by the silence on the other end of the line and the frightened thoughts in his mind.

“Angel…” came Willow’s grim, disappointed response. Silence followed.

“What…?”

Willow sighed, “Something happened…Buffy’s not…there anymore…I mean…she’s back to normal. She has no contact.”

Angel growled to himself, slamming his fist into the wall. “Then do the spell, isn’t that our plan B?” He wasn’t going to give up, not then, not anytime in the future, not ever. He’d spend the next thousand years trying to find Cordelia. Her feelings for him didn’t even matter at the point he was at then, standing in her living room, alone. All he wanted to do was get her back, she deserved a life and he was prepared to try and give it to her. As a friend, or as something more; it didn’t matter; he was going to sacrifice anything and everything to get her back. “Do it!”

“It’s not that simple, Angel.” Willow seemed put out, and obviously ashamed of herself. “I’m taking a break from Magic…if I try something that requires as much power as this spell does…I don’t think I’ll be able to turn back.”

“God damnit…” Angel cursed, but he winced as he realized the harshness in his tone. Even as he apologized, he still could hear the anger and frustration in his tone: “You couldn’t have told me that when we first started to talk about Plan B?”

“Well I…I figured Plan A was going to be a good plan,” she whimpered slightly, obviously pouting. Angel was probably the only man besides Giles that she kind of sort of looked up to and to hear him speaking down to her wasn’t doing much for her confidence.

“Look…it’s alright,” Angel forced the softness out through his gritted teeth. “Just…” he paused, a gust of wind that was pressing against his back stopping suddenly and was replaced by a feminine grunt and loud thud on the floor.

He turned around to see Cordelia Chase, on her backside, lying down, dazed from returning from wherever she was. Her cuts that had healed a little over night were bleeding then, and her eyes were bloodshot. “Cordelia…” he whispered, letting the phone drop to the floor as he ran to the woman on the ground, falling to his knees and wrapping his strong arms around her, nearly crushing her in his too-tight embrace.

“I thought I wasn’t going to get you back…” he whispered in her ear, and when he realized he was nearly choking her, he loosed his grip only a tad and pulled away so that their eyes locked with each other. But Cordelia broke the gaze, looking away shamefully. Tears smeared the blood on her face and Angel now realized that her eyes were bloodshot as a result of her sobbing.

His voice was soft, filled with a tinge of curiousness that was drowned in concern. “What happened? Where were you?”

Cordelia looked up at him, her heart breaking into a thousand pieces at the sight of his concerned eyes, his innocent façade. “Did…did you mean what you said? Before I…disappeared.”

Angel shifted slightly and sat down beside her, never once taking his eyes from her or letting his arms leave her. “I think I might be falling in love with you, Cordy. I know that I have feelings…”

This caused her soul to ache profoundly, so intensely that it seemed physically impossible. None of this is real… “You do…?” She asked, tears pouring down her face. She forced a weak smile onto her tender skin, ignoring the blood dripping down her cheek.

Angel never was more in love with her than at the moment, and he never thought she looked more beautiful than as she did sitting there in front of him. “I do.”

“Angel…” she started to say, her hand reaching up and absently playing with his lapel. She was still fighting to keep the smile on her face, the happiness in her heart shining in her white, perfect teeth as she continued to grin. But then it hit her, the reminder of what she learned when she was wherever the hell that dark empty hole was. I’m going to die in one year…

His hand lifted and stroked her cheek softly, a smile of his own forming relentlessly on his own pale skin. It was a sight Cordelia knew made it all the more harder. Oh god, it’s the smile… Nothing was more irresistible than that pure smile he had on his face, that it seemed he had only on when he was around her, as if he saved it for these kinds of occasions. His nose rubbed up against hers and she knew what he was preparing to do, going at an excruciatingly slow pace.

He was asking for permission, and it was made clear to Cordelia. This can’t be happening… She wanted to just kiss him, she wanted to be with him in so many ways, to have his hands roaming her body, and she wanted him to please her. But it wasn’t possible, for more reasons than one.

I can’t let him open his heart to me if all I’m going to do is break it… Cordelia reminded herself. And when his lips were a breath away from hers, she turned away, painfully so. And the hurt she saw in his eyes made it all the more harder. The curse, she thought to herself. “Angel…I can’t.”

It was the only way she could avoid leading him on, giving him small tastes of a life he had just admitted to her he wanted when in a year, it’d be yanked away from him. Don’t let him test drive the car if you don’t have it in stock, Cordy…

“What’s wrong…?” he asked, his voice breaking. He’d laid out his emotions on the table and it was plain to see in his eyes that it seemed to him that she had returned the gesture by smashing the table to bits.

I can’t believe I’m doing this… “I can’t do this with you, Angel. I’m sorry…I don’t…” She paused, bringing her hand up to stifle a sob as it became too much. Angel evoked such happiness inside of her and tore her heart apart at the same time. And as she forced herself to look him in the eyes, she knew that it was the same with him. “I don’t feel the same way as you do…”

Such a blatant lie, it was, and Cordelia was ashamed of herself. She’d fantasized of this moment for so long…and it was occurring, and there was nothing she could do…

It was already done and she could do nothing to change it. And as she sat there, she saw her heart breaking mirrored in Angel’s soul, which seemed to be torn apart by her admission.


Part 9

Darkness was embodied in room 217, flowing graciously and infecting anyone and everyone that came into contact with its deadly aura. There was no sound of birds chirping, the shut windows and closed blinds keeping out any sounds of the outside world.

Angel crossed his arms over his chest and just gazed up at the ceiling. His dark eyes weren’t filled with hatred, they weren’t filled with pain, they were as empty as his heart, as his soul. A dark cloud spread across his face, obscuring whatever emotions were churning below the surface, if any were.

He wasn’t being melodramatic about the situation, if anything, he was being reasonable. Cordelia obviously was uncomfortable with the way he felt and the Vampire was willingly giving her some space. It’d be rude of him to ask her not to come into work, to not get paid, so he did the exact opposite and buried himself in his own room.

What scared him more than the realization that he had dead-end feelings for Cordelia Chase, that she didn’t feel the same way, was that he felt so empty.

He’d practically hung their friendship on a balance beam and once he made the mistake of admitting his growing feelings for Cordelia, he killed it. It was going to be a bitch trying to get their friendship back to the way it was.

Angel turned his head to the crib beside his bed, where Conner played with his pacifier quietly. Tracing the worn hem of the crib, the Vampire just gazed at the basinet, not one single thought in his mind.

A soft knock came from the door, and Angel ignored it, his mind filtering out any sounds besides the ones his son made when he needed his father. His eyes focused on the crib, Angel didn’t have to see the bright emerald skin to know that it was Lorne entering, concern permeating throughout the room in the wake the green-skinned demon left.

Angel didn’t answer when he offered a soft, “Hey, Angel-cakes.” He simply got up and dolefully focused his attention on the fridge, where Conner’s formula was. Dragging his feet along the ground, Angel made his way across the room.

“Is there something wrong?” Angel mumbled, not a tinge of concern in his voice. He filled a pot with water and placed it on the stove. “Otherwise, I’m not really in the mood for company. No offense.”

Lorne nodded, “I know you’re not in the mood. Didn’t even need to sing for me to feel the vibe in this room.” A worried grimace formed on his face as he looked at Angel, whose back faced him. “You doing okay, Champ?”

“A little tired,” Angel admitted, his voice conveying no emotion as he opened a cup of blood and looked down at it for the longest time. “I really am not in the mood for company, Lorne.” The Vampire was trying to be candid about it all, but it seemed like the singing demon wasn’t getting the hint.

“You haven’t been down in a week.”

“Well, we haven’t had a client in a week that you guys really needed me on, and Conner has been with me the whole time. So if Holtz comes by, I’ll snap his neck before he even thinks of stepping into the room.” Angel sighed and turned around to face Lorne, his façade one of creepy impassiveness. “If you guys want me to come down, I’ll do it. Just make sure you run it by Cordelia…”

Lorne shook his head, “She never said you had to hide up in your room. She never said anything to you besides-”

“That she doesn’t feel the same way about me as I do about her,” Angel put in, not at all fazed. A smile even crossed his face. Albeit, a small, worn one. “We both need space, I get that. But if she’s okay with me around her all the time, I’ll be okay with it.”

Lorne took a few steps closer, “Just go downstairs…everything will be fine.” He wasn’t in the mood to preach to the dense Vampire that Cordelia really did have feelings for him, and was simply afraid of being too close to him. And he wasn’t in the mood to force Cordelia to face up to her feelings. The both of them were getting on his nerves.

Angel surprised him by his keenness, “Okay.” And before he headed towards the door, Angel threw the bottle of formula into Lorne’s awaiting hands. “You’re on babysitting duty then.”

***

Cordelia leaned back in her chair, sighing profoundly in frustration. “I hate having no clients…it gets really boring around here.” What was really bothering her was something entirely different, and her loud shout didn’t fool her or anyone else in the office. “I hate having too much time to dwell on my thoughts…”

Act normal, she reminded herself. But her hands wouldn’t stop shaking and the thoughts kept coming back to her, haunting her in both daylight and in the middle of the night, turning her dreams into nightmares so seamlessly.

Cordelia Chase didn’t want to die, but she knew there was nothing she could do about it…for now at least. She accepted I grudgingly, and still it came back to haunt her, to torture her and keep her from continuing on in life and acting as normal as she could manage.

“Angel!” came a loud whisper from Fred that was so painfully badly covered up that Cordelia felt bad for the Texan’s bad skills in being secretive.

She didn’t turn around, but her ears perked and listened attentively as the conversation continued from the top of the staircase.

Angel forced a weak smile and rubbed his neck, “Nothing, just decided to come downstairs for a while. See if there were any new cases.” His eyes immediately drifted to the office area where Cordelia was sitting at her desk and working diligently. “Everything doing okay these days?”

Fred noticed right away where Angel’s focus was directed and she smiled bittersweetly for a brief moment. “Okay…Not perfect…” she was speaking about everyone practically. Angel had hidden himself in his room, Cordelia was hardly speaking to anyone anymore and Gunn was plaintively ignoring her. Sometimes he’d act outright blissful, and it was starting to hurt that their breakup wasn’t affecting him so much.

“Good…” Angel mumbled, distracted. When he saw Cordelia turn around to grab a file, he immediately moved his eyes in the opposite direction, nearly stumbling down the stairs in the process.

He walked into the office, pulling open the mini-fridge door and looking inside for a cup of blood to distract himself with. Cordelia was only ten feet away and he could smell her sweet scent almost immediately. And faster than he smelt it, he forced it to the back of his mind, the tender reminder that it was slightly invading to smell her in such a way that she plaintively made clear she didn’t want him to do.

She looked up at him at the same time he briefly glanced at her and they awkwardly locked gazes. “Hey…” he offered uncomfortably.

Cordelia turned back to her computer, casually and briefly throwing a ‘Hey’ back at him. After a few moments, she realized how rude she was being. She didn’t want to push him away completely, nor anyone else for that matter. I’ve been going about this all wrong, she said to herself, realizing that ignoring everyone wouldn’t be the best solution, she should be spending every moment she could with them.

“Ang-” She started to say his name softly, spinning around in her chair only to see him already gone, talking with Lorne, who was walking down the stairs with Conner in his arms.

***

Wesley Wyndam Pryce was no longer the kind of man who asked for help, showing that he was desperate in a situation was known as a weakness o him as the days passed and he learned more and more about being a leader. Though as he sat at his desk, alone in his office, the doors closed, leaving him in deafening silence, he knew that he would openly welcome any company that would be offered.

When the door opened, his heart leapt into his throat, proclaiming that he really was lonely and frantic for companionship. Yet when Fred walked in, closing the door behind her, he noticed that she had the looks about her that she was on the verge of tears.

“What’s wrong, Fred?” Wesley immediately asked, standing up from his seat and immediately walking over to the young woman.

“Nothing…” she lied poorly. The former Watcher responded by wrapping his arms around her comfortingly.

“Of all the things you’re exceptional at, lying is not one of them.” His voice was soft and comforting as he whispered into her small ear, brushing the hair out of her eyes when he pulled away just far enough that he could hold her at barely arms length.

“I shouldn’t be bothering you with silly stuff like my own problems,” Fred shook her head and tried to turn away, but Wesley firmed his grip ever so slightly and held her in place. Forced to look him in his boyishly blue eyes, Fred couldn’t help but melt back into Wesley’s arms. “It’s my fault really…I don’t know why I’m so upset. I told him I didn’t love him,” she explained into his arms.

“Did Gunn…?” Wesley couldn’t even say it, his heart torn on what to do in the situation as he looked at the woman he cared for, openly embracing him, holding him close as he did to her.

“Yep. Charles broke up with me…” Fred nodded, pulling away and taking a step back, clapping her hands together. “Glad we talked about it!”

As she moved to the door, opening it, Wesley’s hand closed it shut, keeping it closed resolutely.

His face beside hers, he whispered softly, yet persuasively. “You can always speak to me Fred, and I know you wouldn’t have come here unless you desperately needed to talk to someone.”

The young Texan looked up to him at that, embarrassed: “You don’t actually think I would come to you as a last resort, do you?” She seemed almost offended by it, surprised that he would think of her coming to him that way.

For a moment, her watery eyes were no longer weak, innocent, they were curious and firm in finding out what the man before her truly figured she was.

“It’s not an insult,” Wesley tried to avoid it. “Let’s get back to you… Do you think Gunn broke up with you because you said you didn’t love him?”

“Well duh!” Fred was distracted by his blatantly dim comment.

“But you two have only dated for a few weeks…perhaps one or two months. Does he really expect for you to confirm your long-term feelings for him by now?” Fred rolled her eyes, smiling weakly: “If I knew, I wouldn’t be having this dilemma, Wesley.”

The Englishman couldn’t help but smile. “True.”

“Truth is, I think it’s best for us…to take a break, reevaluate what we really want,” Fred admitted, looking down. “It’s the mature thing to do…”

“Then what’s bothering you?”

Fred looked back up at him with her eyes watery once again, her emotions that were bottled up for the past few hours reaching a point where she couldn’t hide them anymore. “He doesn’t seem that bothered by it. I’m not trying to sound egotistic, but I can usually tell what he’s feeling.”

“It’s easy to admit that Gunn doesn’t really hide his emotions well when it comes to matters like this…” Wesley agreed. “But I’m sure he’s hiding the pain. He obviously loves you.”

Nodding, the young physicist agreed partially. “It’s been bothering me a lot lately…you know?”

A comforting hand on her shoulder was all it took at the moment for her heart to feel fine, for her soul to be cleansed. But Winifred Burkle knew that once she left Wesley’s office, the feeling would subside and she’d be left in the god awful desolate place she was before she came to him; it frightened her more that the man before her could comfort her so easily more so than anything else.

“All I can tell you is to speak to him,” Wesley said at length, forcing the words from his mouth. Be the better man, Pryce. It was a thought he’d reiterate to himself for a long time, a not so reassuring consideration to himself that made it all the more harder.

***

Growling, Cordelia smacked the side of the computer monitor in frustration. “Damn thing…” she clenched her hands into fists and gritted her teeth. She was alone, and the silence was unbearable. Wesley and Fred were behind closed doors in his office, Lorne was with Conner, Gunn was out and Angel…well, no one knew where he went.

Then, the entrance doors to the Lobby swung open, a gust of wind being let in as Angel grudgingly dragged himself inside, throwing his jacket to the ground as he grunted, removing a large jagged piece of glass from his shoulder. Cordelia kept her eyesight on the computer, trying to focus her attention on work that needed to be done.

When Angel noticed Cordelia working, he had every intention of asking her how her day was, if she needed anything to eat. But the woman was hard at work and he didn’t want to disturb that. Even as the blood kept flowing and the pain remained, the Vampire’s attention remained on the woman working at her computer.

His bruised shoulder hardly stuck a noticeable pang of tenderness when the Vampire leaned against the frame of the doorway, his eyes never leaving Cordelia Chase as she worked at her computer.

Angel could stand there for hours, doing nothing but looking at her, watching her movements and anticipating her next stir, her next shift in motion; as if a diminutive change in her breathing pattern or heartbeat could change the direction of his future altogether. And when she sighed gallingly, Angel’s body reacted and he immediately pushed himself away from the door, crossing his arms as a look of concern crossed his chiseled features.

The only light now came from the dimly lit lamp on Cordelia’s desk, and it illuminated his features in a way that made him look irrationally striking, a look that, when Cordelia turned around in acknowledgment to his presence, made the woman’s heart leap.

“Need any help?” Angel asked politely, his voice no louder than the soft tone he secreted.

“Gets pretty quiet around here and I figured I’d skulk in dark corners…” he was only half-kidding when he said it, but when a small grin fleetingly appeared on Cordelia’s beautiful features, he didn’t regret one word. That is, until he noticed the indignant demeanor of the transitory smirk.

“I’m just a little exhausted…” was all she could force through her tightened lips, a result of the mood that flooded through her.

Cordelia Chase knew then more than ever that she had to take life by the reins and give it all she had, but as she sat there, merely feet away from the one being who evoked such amorous thoughts contained by her essence, the Seer had no other choice but to let her heart sink and break to a million pieces for the millionth time that day.

Spinning the opposite way in her chair, Cordelia bit her lip and resumed typing, keeping in mind that she was so blatantly ignoring the Vampire offering aid to her.

In spite of her action to ignore him, she felt his presence near, the shift in the wind and the chills running up and down her spine inclining her to confirm he was standing closer, observing what she was up to. “You sure you don’t want any help with…whatever it is you’re doing?”

Angel was relentless to help, to be near her, to smell her scent, to hear the soothing sound of her breathing. He was crowding her, nonetheless, and he knew it, but standing closer to her now, barely inches between them, the Vampire knew there was no going back and he wasn’t going to give up on their friendship, even if his feelings seemed stubborn enough to stick around for quite some time.

“No…” Cordelia replied, a bit more firm than either expected, and when Angel noticed her cringing and her hands right away shooting up to her temples, he came to the realization that a Vision was hitting her.

Almost immediately after, Cordelia lunged back in her seat, flying backwards into Angel’s strong arms, the Vampire instinctively darting to his knees to catch her.

A few moments later, Cordelia’s Visions subsided; yet by the bloodshot look of her eyes and the small tear that was oppressed out of the corner of her eye, it was plain to see that the pain remained. “What did you see?”

“The usual big ugly by the pier,” she forced out of her dry throat, coughing. “I can taste the water,” she groaned.

“Let’s go.”

***

The fresh air of night sashayed across Angel’s pale, carved features as he looked out of the window on the public bus. Beside him on the uncomfortable plastic seat was Cordelia, pointedly huddled up into her own kind of ball and looking the other way.

“I never thought your little spiel about public busses would be personally tested,” he heard her mumble under an elongated sigh.

Angel forced a grin, “I thought we could use a little field trip, with different transportation…thought it’d be fun…”

He didn’t know if they were slipping past the awkward phase or not, but he was glad they were speaking. Was a reassuring thought and the Vampire was going to dwell on it for as long as he could manage, sucking all the positive energy he could possibly find and hold onto it desperately.

Cordelia cleared her throat, still facing away from her friend as she shifted in the seat, dreadfully trying to find a comfortable position. Why is this so hard? Cordelia asked herself over and over again as she watched the landscape pass by.

Just because we can’t be together…doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. At first, Cordelia knew to give her friend some time to bide by himself, to perhaps get over his attraction to her, since she so blatantly rejected him. But now, sitting there with him on a public bus that smelled of hobos and month-old hot dogs, the Vampire was trying ‘oh-so-casually’ to talk with her, to get back their friendship.

Smalltalk wasn’t always Angel’s preference, and he certainly wasn’t good at it, but sitting there, he knew that it was the only way to ease back into that comfort zone they once had.

Nonetheless, both of them knew it was going to take more than small talk o fix everything.

“Angel?” Cordelia whispered his name, shifting in her seat to face forward, her eyes still avoiding Angel’s.

“Yeah?” He responded just as quiet as she said his name.

“Maybe…maybe this is all hard for a reason,” Cordelia began, looking down at her lap as she played with the hem of her coat. “We just shouldn’t be trying so hard. If we’re going to be friends again, it’ll just happen.”

It sounded like crap, it looked like crap, and therefore it was crap. But there was nothing she could do as the words spilled from her mouth.

“For now, I think we should just take a break…from us. Not speak to each other for a while…till it all kind of settles down. Because, Angel? It’s a little too painful for me to speak to you.”

For more reasons than you know.

Angel didn’t answer, he simply turned his head and returned his attention to the scenery, illuminated by the wondrous moonlight. Delving all of his concentration into the pointless panorama, the Vampire knew that, for a while, his pain would be forgotten, buried. For now.

***

Lorne knocked on the door politely, plastering on a smile as he entered Wesley’s office as quietly as he could. “What’s the urgency, blue eyes? I was mixing myself a Sea Breeze…these times around the big ol’ Hotel are getting rougher and rougher.”

Nodding, the Englishman agreed. “Angel I could expect to be a little dense when it came to matters of the heart and commitment; the sorts. But Cordelia…she was the smart one out of the pair.”

“Maybe they aren’t so opposite,” Lorne sighed, seating himself. “Brown-eyes has feelings for the big lug, I know it. Don’t need to sing a jingle for me to get the tingle, if you get my drift.” The emerald skinned demon’s skin blushed a tad in frustration. “Wonder why she went down the road of lying…think she’s afraid?”

Wesley sighed, “To be frank, I don’t give a bloody hell if she’s afraid. I’m exhausted by the two, their ignorance.”

“That’s more than Frank, that’s Billy-bob Joe gossiping with Aunt Sue down by the riverboat,” Lorne replied enthusiastically, perking up in his seat. “Tell me you’re planning something. Because if you are…I want in on it.”

***

Gunn sighed as he labeled the brown box. His spelling hadn’t improved over the years, but it wasn’t frustrating him as much as it should have been in his current state. The smell of Fred’s clothes pressed against his was still in the air and it was driving him crazy. Never in his life had he felt the same way for a woman as he did for Fred.

And I blew it, he chided in his thoughts. All the more reason to take the offer, he reminded himself, dropping the pen to the floor and heaving the box upwards and turning to bring it out into the hall.

Only when he turned around, his dark eyes locked with beautiful russet ones, Winifred Burkles’ to be exact.

“Fred, what are you doing here?” His voice was firm and unemotional at first, but seeing her face caused it to raise several octaves at the last word or two. “I mean…come in if you want.”

Fred didn’t, remaining where she stood in the badly lit hallway, holding her hands together before her and pursing her lips. Her voice shook as she said in an ineffectively firm tone, “You know why I’m here.”

“No…I don’t,” Gunn replied frankly, forcing a smile and straining a chuckle.

“If you love me so much then why are you so unaffected by us breaking up? Why? There’s got to be a reason. Because if you’re hurting inside, then maybe we sho-”

Gunn dropped the box and walked over, shushing her. “Calm down, girl. Shhh…” he placed a hand on her shoulder and guided her inside. “Listen, I am hurting. But finding out how you really felt…it was something I needed to know to make a final decision about my future.”

Fred then, as he spoke those words, took notice to all the packing boxes spread throughout his apartment and observed his things were halfway packed. “What’s with all the…boxes?”

Even as she said it, her heart sunk to new depths as the realization hit home, hit home hard. Charles Gunn tried to comfortingly guide her to sit, but she pushed his hand away, her eyes focusing on all the boxes, avoiding his own dark, emotional eyes.

“My old gang…they want to do right again. But they realize that with Angel here, their territory is shrinkin’ down to small percentages, Fred. They made the move to Seattle and offered me to lead up there.”

***

Letting out an exaggerated sigh, Cordelia pushed open the gates, holding back a wince as she limped towards the stairs leading into the Lobby. Outside, it was an extremely breezy night for Los Angeles, and neither the Vampire nor the Seer overlooked it, their eyes warily observing every inch of the courtyard as they edged to the door.

“Something’s different than when we left,” Angel whispered, and Cordelia focused on the fact that there was a good chance he was talking to himself and left it at that as she moved slowly and cautiously towards the doors.

Cordelia glanced over at him, noting that he held in reserve his wary eyes and his clenched fists as they crept up the stone steps ever so slowly. When Angel himself looked to her, as if by habit, Cordelia turned away and pretended not to notice his, albeit briefly, regulating eyes.

Angel venerated the moment where her hand brushed against hers, usually, he’d be impetuous and hold the moment, her hand, and keep it that way for as long as he could manage, but it was plain to see the option was no longer available to him.

Finally, his hand pushed open the doors, revealing none other than a petite blonde with distinguishable emerald eyes; eyes that looked frighteningly familiar to Cordelia Chase.

Buffy Summers stood there, her jaw firmed and an emotionally hardened expression on her face. “We need to talk.”


Part 10

Angel swallowed hard, surprised to see the Slayer standing at the bottom of the steps, bags beside her, full of clothes and supplies. “Buffy…” he breathed, standing frozen for a few silent minutes, emphasizing the shock he was experiencing at the sight of her.

Finally, he shook himself out of it, stumbling over his feet as he moved towards her, hugging her affably. “It’s good to see you,” he honestly admitted, pulling away so he could hold Buffy at arms length.

Ultimately, he blinked and firmed his voice a bit: “What is it you wanted to talk about?”

A small, polite smile transiently crossed the young woman’s clouded features as she shifted her eyesight from the Vampire courteously beaming at her, his bittersweet grin panging guilt inside of her tremendously, to his faithful Seer. It was unadorned to see that there was pain underlying both of the two’s forced facades, and it made it all the more harder for Buffy Summers to look them in the eyes, and especially, to focus on Cordelia and try to remain strong.

I’m the Slayer, damnit. She tried to remind herself the fact over and over, but it wasn’t doing much in the situation.

“No…I need to speak with Cordelia.” At this, the former Cheerleader lead her head fall slightly, but attempted poorly to hide the disappointment so blatantly ringing deep within.

“Okay…” Angel whispered softly, taking a step back and awkwardly clapping his hands together. It had been nearly a year since they last saw each other and it didn’t seem hat the Slayer was too inclined to reunite properly. It was a self-absorbed thought to think, and Angel knew it, but it was a feeling, a sensation, that he could not help…Was something he needed to be focused on to distract the Vampire from his other turmoil’s.

“We’ll talk later?” he asked quietly, and when Buffy nodded briefly, he turned and moved to walk up the stairs. Once at the top, he threw a glance back at the two before moving to his room.

When the Vampire finally disappeared, Buffy cleared her throat, blinked and finally spoke.

It unnerved Cordelia Chase greatly; both the fact that the Slayer never took her eyes off of her, and that the silence in the room seemed so loud.

“How are you?”

“Fine.”

“Good.” Buffy was curious beyond normal limits by the admission Cordelia blurted out. By the looks of the former Cheerleader, she was not good. Emotional turmoil evident in her eyes and the scratches, bruises all over her were more reasons than needed to state was obvious: Cordelia Chase is not in a good place at the moment.

Cordelia got straight to the point, her voice supple yet straightforwardly curt, “What are you doing here?”

“Wesley was kind enough to give me a call,” Buffy explained, her voice fading in and out every now and again.

Shaking her head, the former Queen C of Sunnydale High looked in the eyes of her former opponent and snorted, “Cut the crap, Buffy. Stop with the pleasantries and get to the point. I can believe that maybe you’d like to visit Angel, see Conner perhaps…but there’s another reason why you’re here.”

Buffy wasn’t surprised by Cordelia’s quick exit to the point; the woman always had the sharper tongue of the two. And, standing in the deserted Lobby of the Hyperion Hotel where Angel Investigations worked, Buffy Summers, intimidated by all means, welcomed the quick and easy way to the point and embraced it fully. “I would have come here sooner or later even if Wesley hadn’t invited me. And no, it’s not for some selfish, bratty reason that you might think.”

At that, Cordelia rolled her eyes, but only partially. “We didn’t leave on good terms Buffy, but then again, I haven’t seen you in a long time…so there’s really nothing that should have me believing you came here for the benefit of making friends with me and Angel aga-”

“And there’s no reason for me to believe that you’re a changed woman, that you believe in helping the helpless. Except for one pretty big one.”

Sighing, Cordelia turned on her heel and made her way into the office. Even if she was acting rude, she didn’t mind.

Buffy Summers and Angel were no longer together, but every time the woman came into town, her friendship with Angel was strained and so was the Vampire’s sanity. Whether the Slayer intended to or not, she had an impact on people wherever she went, and most of the time, it wasn’t positive.

“Angel, right? His little talks with you on the phone must have convinced you that I’m such a big hero right? Angel’s worked on his social skills a lot lately, but I guess he reserves the really eloquent wordings for you.”

Bitterness spread through her veins and Buffy Summers was the only target in the room that she could dispense of the frustration deep within her at.

“No…” Buffy quietly argued, following after the departing Seer. “No matter how much he praises you on the phone, I would have to see it for myself, or hear it in person. And I did…”

Cordelia froze on the spot at the words, her heart stopping. Progressively, she turned around to face Buffy, forcing a strong yet curious façade onto her striking features. “W-What?”

Crossing her arms, Buffy cleared her throat, trying to remain strong as she admitted it. Seeing it all in Cordelia’s eyes; the emotion, the fear, the lost sensation… was a new experience for the Slayer and it was extremely off-putting, emotionally and physically. “For some reason, when you went wherever you went…that dark place…I went there with you. Or, at least my mind did. It was scary, I admit…but what freaked me out the most was that…”

Buffy paused, looking down in an attempt to remain cool and collected, to keep her voice from wavering. “Cordelia Chase, former Queen C bitch of Sunnydale High School who’d treat any cute guy in her eyesight as a lap dog and didn’t care about other people’s feelings…gave up her humanity, her entire future for a Vampire.”

“For Angel…” Cordelia put out into the open firmly, her voice remaining strong even as her eyes’ barriers started to slowly break down. “Call him by his own name.”

“I’ll take a note on that,” Buffy played along, her focus more on Cordelia than the absent Vampire. “And what really screws with my mind is that the minute you got back you lied to him about you felt, when he put his heart out on the line…”

“You weren’t there!” Cordelia argued, finding a weak footing, but it kept her voice strong and it was the only thing she could hold onto to keep from falling. “He doesn’t deserve to have his heart broken…you’ve done that enough times for his own sanity. I just don’t want to be the cause of it.”

“I ne-” Cordelia stopped her, the woman sighing exasperatingly as she seated herself on the divan that Buffy now noticed in the middle of the Lobby.

“Not now…you’ve changed, I’ll give you that.” Twiddling her fingers, the confidant woman looked the part of a small little girl looking for a way home, lost beyond words. “Angel shouldn’t have his heart broken more than once…”

Buffy shook her head, walking over to the woman sitting on the divan, sitting on the opposite side, her back facing Cordelia as she spoke, her voice a ghost of a whisper: “You’re going to die…”

“In three-hundred and fifty-eight days on estimate,” at that Cordelia forced a chuckle, still looking down at her lap, her voice wavering; proving that the conversation was becoming too much to handle. Crybuffy affects all who cross her path. Damnit.

“Angel deserves-”

“Not to know the exact time I’m going to die…to kill his heart by himself just trying to save me when we all know that it isn’t possible.” Cordelia finished, her tone and voice eloquently heartbreaking.

Buffy wasn’t going to have any of what she was hearing, her stubborn side regaining control in a way that hadn’t happened in so long. Since High School, she remembered, glancing at her former rival for a small moment. “Whoever told you all of this never said it wasn’t impossible…there’s always a way Cordelia.”

“I know…but it doesn’t mean he’s going to find it,” at that, Cordelia’s now watery eyes drifted to the stairway where she knew Angel had gone down and entered his room through.
”I’m going to spend the next year with my friends…with the man I love. He may not know it, and I think it’s better that way, you know? Living every day to the fullest…and when the time comes…”

Sniffing away a tear or two, Cordelia regained enough control over her emotions to spill a few more words all over the messy situation at hand. “When the time comes it’ll come and I know that the people I love will deal with it…will move on.”

Buffy Summers turned to face the woman as the tears spilled out of her mouth. The Slayer had endured thousands of pains in the world before but as she sat there, in a long time, she felt bad for someone other than herself, the pain so clear on the woman beside her awakening her, creating an epiphany so grand that it shocked it completely, numbing her.

***

A few hours into the workday, Gunn was spinning his battle-ax and making sure it was useable. Gonna be a while before I pack up my stuff here, he thought quietly in the back of his mind, reminding himself to put the weapon back in the weapons cabinet holding it.

Leaving his friends, his family at Angel Investigations was going to be one of the harder things he’d have to do in life and Charles Gunn was willing to admit it to himself as he turned around to leave and get some food, to clear his thread.

Only his movement and his thoughts were abruptly cut short by him coming face to face with Winifred Burkle, her face strongly determined and her arms crossed over her chest. His heart leaping into his throat, Gunn tried to remain cool.

“Hey, Fred. Sup?”

“Don’t ‘sup’ me, Charles!” she warned in a low growl, not moving from her spot, even when Gunn tried to uncomfortably push past.

Yet after a few moments she realized that the firmness in her tone was getting her nowhere and deep down she was still shell-shocked and hurting from what Gunn had informed her of earlier.

Lowering her voice to an enigmatic whisper, Fred asked him: “Are you serious about going to Seattle?”

“Yes.” Gunn’s immediate reply, both instant and unhesitant, proved that he wasn’t all too vague about the decision.

Fred’s heart sank as he continued his explanation. “My apartment is sold and in a week, I’m gone.”

“Why?”

“Because…I need to build a life outside of Angel Investigations, I need to do good and do right in a different town. You know…spread the love.”

His justification seemed too well rehearsed and Fred knew he was hiding a lot of pain. “You sure it doesn’t have anything to do with…me?”

“No. If you loved me, I would have asked you to come along. That’s the only difference, I swear.” He smiled a weak smile. “Not every life-altering decision has to be so…dramatic, Fred. This is for good reasons and I wish I could make you see it that way too.”

“I wish I could…” Fred honestly admitted, sighing. “I just… I don’t want you to go.”

Gunn nodded slowly, “I admit, there’s a part of me that don’t want to go either, girl. Not to wake up to your pretty face and share taco’s of the sorts. Or be killing big green demons by Wesley and Angel’s sides, or to laugh at Cordy’s jokes…But this is something that I-”

“Have to do,” Fred finished, nodding slightly. Pursing her lips, she took a step out of his way and allowed him to leave. “I guess it’ll take me a while to get used it. But…I guess it’s something I’ll have to do, right?”

***

Lorne crept into Wesley’s office that night, quiet as a mouse. His voice no louder than a whisper, Lorne greeted Wesley through a smile. “Never met a Slayer before, but I gotta say she’s nicer than some of the stories you and Cordy have told.”

“She’s changed,” was the simple wording Wesley put to it, not looking up from the small cauldron on his desk. Once everyone either went upstairs or to bed, the Englishman closed his doors and pulled out the cauldron that the potion he was preparing would be made into. “I just hope I won’t have to use this potion.”

“Me neither,” Lorne exaggerated a shudder. “You’d think magic would never get old, but it’s starting to get on my nerves, big time! Why is it you don’t want to use the potion?”

At the question, the former Watched raised his eyes to return his gaze to the green skinned, red-eyed demon standing before him. “This is a precaution, and I despise using precautions. Plan A shouldn’t be a disappointment and I’m merely afraid that it may be.”

“Plan A being inviting the Buffster? Good move on that,” Lorne let out a small snicker as he seated himself. “All you told me was to get you the atypical ingredients for an extracurricular potion-making, nothing more nothing less. Why with the secrets, blue eyes?”

“I’m sorry for being secretive,” Wesley’s apology seemed genuine, but he was distracted when a poof of smoke escaped the liquid. “We shouldn’t be hiding such large things from each other, we’re all a big happy family aren’t we?”

“I detect a little bitterness.”

“Don’t start…” Wesley’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “This isn’t about me, or you. Angel and Cordelia are our priority today, tomorrow, if the matter is closed, we’ll focus on more dire problems.”

“Like what you’re going to do with my room?” Lorne expressed concern about his abrupt blurt-out as he awaited Wesley’s response.

Unsurprisingly, Wesley didn’t believe him. “Is this some joke to make me feel better? You must be kidding.” When the demon didn’t show any enthusiasm or humor, the Englishman’s shoulders slumped in complete putdown.

“An old friend of mine called a day or two ago from Vegas,” Lorne explained, edging around it carefully, treading the fine line. “He has an opening in a casino of his, and I admit I’ve been missing the singing, the karaoke.”

“This is…abrupt, I have to admit,” Wesley confessed. “I’m not going to tell you that you can’t, I just hope that you make the decision that is best for you.”

Lorne grinned, “And that’s why you’re the leader, and a noble one at that. But don’t worry, sweetcakes, I won’t leave your lives for a while. And even if a state line is separating us, there’s always the telephone.”

***

The soft wrapping on the door brought forth Angel’s attuned senses, when a few minutes prior they were buried under the warming feeling of Conner’s breathing and gaze. His son was the only thing at the moment that could warm his cold skin, could awaken the deep longing inside.

The feeling used to be reserved to both his son and a certain Seer, but as he stood there, turning to see who was entering through the door, he knew that he was losing grip on that feeling, and he was losing it fast.

When Buffy’s blonde head poked through, Angel wasn’t disappointed but rather indecisively tolerable with the appearance of the Slayer. “Hey…” she offered in a slightly scratchy voice, and it became visible once she entered the diffuse light that she had just wiped loads of tears from her sensitive emerald eyes.

The Vampire presented a polite smile and allowed himself to kiss her on the cheek, not once removing Conner from his arms to wrap his arms in a welcoming hug. “It’s good to see you…” he wasn’t lying, but the way his voice cracked proved he was distracted and not quite sure if he really was glad, if he was feeling anything at all.

“I’m sorry if it seems like I’m intruding,” Buffy apologized right away as her hand lifted to Conner’s head and absently traced soft, comforting circles along the child’s forehead.

“He’s a cutie.”

“I’d like to say he gets it from his mother, but that would be exaggerating thing,” Angel teased weakly, his smile faltering at the memory of Darla, the trouble, and the heartache she had caused. And yet, looking down at Conner for what intended to be a quick moment but turned into quite a while, the Vampire couldn’t be more thankful for her sacrifice.

“I meant what I said before, it is great to see you, but what-”

“Am I doing here?” Buffy finished for him, looking up at him, her eyes reddened from tears that were obviously shed before she came to Angel’s room. The thoughts of Cordelia’s sacrifice, of the pain she showed so easily when explaining how she felt, how she gave up her life for a Vampire that she presumably figured she never had a chance with. “Wesley invited me, but truthfully, I was planning on visiting sooner or later.”

Nodding, Angel smiled genuinely at the admittance. “It’s good to know that someone from Sunnydale loves to visit.”

“Do you love her?” Buffy blurted out immediately, out of the blue. She may have moved on from Angel, and he may have moved on from her, but it was still always going to be difficult for them to speak with one another about their separate romantic relationships.

Unfortunately for Buffy’s self-esteem, the woman that Angel obviously had feelings for was the former bitch that she practically despised in High School. And the fact that she was now a selfless Seer that aided in the good fight didn’t help with Buffy’s appeasement.

“What?” Angel immediately responded, flabbergasted by the abruptness of which the Slayer before him brought up the obviously uncomfortable topic for both of them. “Buffy-”

Buffy Summers wasn’t in the mood to be patronized, she was asked to come to L.A. for a reason and she needed to be there, to fix a problem that wouldn’t leave her mind; a problem that she hoped would distract her from her own demons waiting back in Sunnydale. “Answer. The. Question.”

Biting his lower lip, the Vampire hesitated. “I don’t know anymore. I just…I don’t know.”

“Angel, the biggest problem with you and me as a couple was that we never communicated, we never fought for each other…” Her voice was firm and she knew it had to stay that way during the length of the conversation she was having with the socially retarded Vampire. “You can’t just all of a sudden doubt your feelings for Cordelia. Either you love her or you don’t.”

“It doesn’t work out that way, Buffy.”

“How does it work then, explain to me how it works because I sure as hell don’t know.”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Angel gently placed Conner back in his crib before he jumped into a lengthy explanation of his complex situation. “Love doesn’t just happen, it’s gradual. I developed feelings for Cordy over time. Sure, I didn’t know about them until Lorne and Fred pointed them out, but they were there, hidden by denial. Now…now I know I have feelings for her, and I jumped ahead and told her I loved her when I don’t.”

“You don’t?”

“I’m falling for her, hard. With every day, every minute that passes, my feelings for her grow and I’m damned proud to admit it.” Angel growled, rubbing his hand across his face in utter frustration. “Damnit, you got me talking about this, Buffy.”

Crossing her arms, the Slayer wasn’t pleased even if she should have been, standing there hearing the Vampire admit what she came to his room to confirm. It was the fact that his feelings were so multifaceted, so deep in a river of emotions running through his heart, his soul; it confirmed the Slayer’s worst fears that she wasn’t the most important person in his life anymore, that Angel felt so strongly for a different person and it wasn’t her.

Sure, it was egotistic and a little self-absorbed to think so, and Buffy Summers was willing to admit it to herself. Growing up as a teenager on a hellmouth taught everyone in the experience to live every day to the fullest and take nothing for granted. Angel was the man she loved, the man that owned her heart and it tore her apart to stand in the same room as him and not have those feelings anymore, and in a more haunting thought, that he didn’t have them for her either.

“We fought against each other every time we were together,” Buffy said softly, her voice barely audible. “I was an emotional nutcase and you were a shell of a person who showed no emotions except for a good sense of brooding. I admit to my part in it…do you?”

“Yes.” His reply was simple, as he looked at her, his eyes sullen as his shoulders slumped and the darkness illuminated his sculpture of a face in a way that no light could ever possibly do.

Nodding, Buffy didn’t miss a beat. “What’s different now? A lot. You’re a person now, more than you ever before. You laugh, you smile, and you enjoy yourself. At least, this is what your friends have told me. And the fact that you have friends shows how different things are. Angel, you’re not the guy who skulks in dark corners twenty-four seven, don’t hide up in your room when the woman that you obviously have strong feelings for is downstairs.”

Angel firmed his jaw, and the look in his eyes shocked Buffy more than anything. He looked angry and it was unnerving. “There’s one problem with you’re little…analysis.” Crossing his arms, his muscles taut as the firmness in his voice spread throughout his entire physique. “She doesn’t feel the same way as me. You know how it feels to confirm that you have feelings for a woman and she doesn’t feel anything for you more than a friendly bond?”

Angel didn’t stop edging towards Buffy until his face was inches from hers, his icy eyes looking down into her green ones. “It hurts,” he spat, his voice breaking for a moment, but he recovered slightly and blinked away the wetness. The frustration, the hurt, the anger and impatience all fused together and it caused Buffy’s breathing to come in sharp intakes.

Before she could even explain everything, which she so desired to do; to explain that Cordelia Chase did love him, she wanted him more than anything, but only lied because in nearly a year, her life would painfully end, Angel caught her off guard with an abrupt and chillingly quiet order: “Get out. Now.”

***

Fred opened the door quietly, sneaking into the room unnoticed by the green-skinned demon and the Englishman. Yet she quickly dispensed of her secret entrance into the room when she hiccupped, a result from her speeding down the stairs quietly in her slippers. The physicist knew something was going on downstairs and her curiosity climaxed to a point where she just had to find out what was happening behind the closed doors of Wesley’s office.

Bashfully, she grinned, her cheeks reddened with embarrassment. “I was curious.”

What made her lose control and caused her to laugh was Wesley’s own smile that seemed so rare yet so entirely uplifting.

When none of them said anything to her, slowly returning to what they were up to, she moved to where they stood, realizing what they were up to. “You’re making a potion!”

Lorne’s hand immediately captured her mouth and cut her words off before she could make too much of a ruckus. “What are you up to?” she asked quietly once Lorne’s hand finally pulled away from her mouth.

“Like you said, a potion. It’s supposed to bind two or more individuals in a closed environment until they admit the secret’s they are keeping from each other.”

“It works perfectly in this situation, I’m just pleased I was able to find it, and that Lorne was able to discover the rare ingredients,” Wesley chimed in softly. Sprinkling the last part of the powder in his hands straight into the boiling water. A small poof escaped the container and burned the three’s eyes. “It’s ready.”

***

“What are you still doing here?” Cordy found herself rudely remarking when she discovered Buffy sitting beside the counter with a mug of hot chocolate in her hand. “I mean…you’re up?”

The Slayer let go the snide remark beforehand and nodded, licking her lips and placing the cup on the counter. “I’m surprised you’re still here this late. Late nights a common thing around here?”

The Seer edged around the Slayer and behind the counter to her desk, her voice slow and way as she replied: “Sometimes…depends.”

“Cool,” Buffy casually sighed.

“I like the sweater,” Cordelia commented politely, turning and motioning to the sea green pullover the Slayer had on, a very casual choice. “Brings out your eyes, good color coordination.”

An indisputable grin crossed Buffy’s eternally youthful features and stayed for quite some time. “I’ll take note of that, since it came from the girl with the Mihnola Blahnics.”

“You can’t live in L.A., this close to thousands of shoes, and not own quite a few pairs,” Cordelia continued the friendly banter, letting out a relaxing sigh as she knelt down and grabbed a box in her arms.

Before Buffy could offer her own strength to aid the woman, Cordelia Chase proved her wrong as her arms nonchalantly gripped around the box and proved she had the strength to do the tasks around the Hotel like no other. “I met Fred.”

“And?” Smalltalk was something Cordelia usually maneuvered with in situations where her Vampire boss would be skulking in his office or brooding; it wasn’t a pleasant reminder and it annoyed her for a moment, even if she genuinely welcomed having a civil conversation with the Slayer.

“She’s a sweet girl…a little quirky sure, but who isn’t these days?”

“Got that right.”

Buffy got from her seat and knotted her fingers together as she sidled towards the Seer moving the boxes, her back facing her. “Need any help?” she offered quietly, even if she wasn’t intending to help with the boxes. Her intentions remained hidden, yet were evident in her mind, her thoughts, as she edged closer and closer as the seconds passed.

Wesley’s orders were direct and hard not to understand, it was the part where Buffy Summers would actually have to act out them that was the quandary.

“No thanks,” Cordelia quickly dismissed the offer, letting the box drop to the ground by Wesley’s closed doors. Her accustomed hearing caught differential sounds that didn’t mesh with the typical resonance of he Lobby and Hotel in general. Leaning her ear against the door, she glanced at Buffy.

Before the suspicious former Cheerleader could firmly grip the doorknob and find the root of the curious noises, Buffy’s clenched fist suckerpunched her in the cheekbone.

***

“That’s going to hurt in the morning,” Buffy grunted as she carried Cordelia through the hallways of the Hyperion Hotel. Her emerald eyes were fixed on the forming bruise below Cordelia’s closed eyes. Beside her was Lorne, the green-skinned demon that loved to call her names of baked goods.

“She’s used to it,” Lorne offered somberly, kissing the tips of his fingers before letting them fall gently to Cordelia’s soft forehead. “She doesn’t deserve all the wounds and bruises she’s taken for this team, but she’s sure used to it by now.”

Nodding, Buffy cleared her throat. “Are you sure this is going to work? I’d hate for this whole trip of mine to be for nothing.” The woman didn’t intend to sound so deviously rude, but it happened anyways. She hated to make a trip to fix something and leave knowing that she was no help at all.

“I’m pissed that I couldn’t convince Cordy…” She wanted to finish the sentence, but her mind stopped her, reminding her that no one else knew, and with what Cordelia Chase had told her hours previous, no one needed to know.

At the moment.

Fred appeared behind them with Wesley at her side, bottle in hand. “We’re ready.” By the time they all stopped, they were standing before Angel’s bedroom door, as silent as mice even as they breathed.

Buffy Summers surprised herself by having her heart jump into her throat. Never did she think that she would be so nervous, that she would put so much of herself into something that would help two people be together, especially when one was a former rival-bitch of hers, and the other her former beau.

“Can I kick it?” Buffy asked, forcing a smile to lighten the mood. It was slightly edgy in the hallway and she didn’t blame herself for wishing she could do it alone. Love was a big deal to her, to everyone, but her reason for being so dire was different than the others. Someone’s life was at stake.

The other’s are doing this solely for personal reasons. I’m not.

“I haven’t kicked anything down in a while…I thought it’d be fun,” Buffy explained bashfully when the looks coming from the other’s forced her to explain. Too impatient to wait for a voted decision, the Slayer lifted her knee and kicked down the door. Barging into the room, Buffy quickened her movements when she realized the woman in her arms was stirring awake.

Placing Cordelia gently onto the mattress, Buffy took one long glance at the woman, praying she would make the right decision in the situation, and finally she turned and left. Lifting the door from the ground, Buffy placed it back on the hinges carefully.

Wesley was right behind her, sprinkling the liquid on the doorknob, and the frame. “That should keep it from closing. Of course, I should have tested it.”

“You didn’t test it?” Fred exasperatingly said, turning to face Wesley.

Everyone followed in suit and looked at him incredulously.

***

Angel opened the doors from his balcony, escaping the cold air of night for the moment.

Thinking he heard a sound from inside, he immediately made his way inside his apartment/bedroom. The door was undamaged and nothing seemed out of place as his dark eyes scanned the room.

Then a stir from his bed caught his attention and his head sharply turned to acknowledge the presence, creating a large amount of whiplash in his neck.

His brow furrowed, the Vampire was confused. So confused that the woman opening her eyes and looking at him with an equally confused gaze didn’t impact him for several minutes into the silence.

Cordelia shot up, her hands shooting all over the bed as she struggled to a sitting position. Her hair untidy and the bruise on her face, the scratches, seemed prominent in her waking up.

Angel looked behind him, all around the room, looking for a reason as to why the woman was in his bed. Finally, he looked back at her, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Hi.”

“Um…hi?”
Part 11
Charles Gunn taped the last of the boxes with a disgruntled sigh; relieved he was done yet still so entirely exhausted after the daylong packing. It was nearly midnight and his eyes were barely able to stay open as his gaze drifted to the window that was open, allowing cold, refreshing nighttime air to leak into his apartment. Closing his eyes for a moment, the man sucked in a deep breath. L.A. air.

“You can’t just leave and not tell anyone,” came a small voice from the doorway. Gunn didn’t need to turn to concede that it was indeed Fred.

Nevertheless, he continued gazing outwards into the night sky, trying to distract himself from the presence of the woman. He wanted so much for her to come with him, to start new lives up north. But the way she felt about him; or rather, the way she didn’t feel about him kept the two from doing so and it was purely a painful reminder of that fact with Fred standing in his doorway.

“You know that right?”

“Why not, why can’t I just leave, huh? I’m not good at goodbyes.”

“Maybe because you’ve never said goodbye to anyone.”

Gunn shook his head, letting it drop down as he played with the key in his hands. “I said goodbye to a lot more people than you ever will, Fred. And I’m sick and tired of waking up in the morning and seeing it around me.”

Fred shook her head, taking a few steps inside. “Waking up to what? This apartment? You didn’t even own it when you were on the street. Because well…you were on the street.”

His shaking head became more visible and tainted with extra aggravation than before. “Why the hell are you here?”

“To tell you that you can’t leave without telling everybody you’re leaving.” The physicist swallowed hard and placed her hand on Gunn’s, her eyes desperately trying to force him to look into hers, as she so wanted to look into his. “I’ve accepted that you’re leaving. So just give me this in return. Shit, Gunn, we’ve been through a lot lately and you leaving without notice isn’t good for our sanity, now is it?”

Gunn surprised her by breaking the mood slightly with a small chuckle. “It’s just…I’ve never heard you say shit before. Wow…that’s one of the things I’m going to miss.”

Before Fred could continue preaching to him, he turned to face her completely, his smile remaining. “This isn’t goodbye. I’m not dying! I mean…I’ll come back and visit, for sure. And you guys will visit too. I know it. You know it. Let’s just leave it like that, alright?”

Fred wasn’t ready to accept his rationalization, “What makes you think I’ll want to speak with you after you act so freaking cowardly?”

“Oh god, Fred. Stop being so melodramatic,” Gunn pushed past her, moving to the boxes that he needed to move outside, but Fred immediately jumped in front of him, stopping him in his tracks with no trouble.

“If you love me…than you’ll tell them. Face to face. I hate to use this against you. But god, Charles. You leave me no choice. I won’t let you stand by and just hurt all of us because you’re to damned afraid to say a few goodbyes that you just stated weren’t permanent.”

***

The darkness personified greatly, in a frighteningly realistic way, and it was creeping all along the room, onto the furniture, the cloth, the skin and the faces of the two souls that were quietly sitting in opposite ends of the room.

Cordelia Chase, her arms wrapped around her legs, pressing them against her chest, rested her chin on the soft fabric covering her knees and only breathed every few moments, as if praying that her excruciatingly slow breath intake would cause her to pass out. Because if she wasn’t conscious, she wouldn’t have to endure the agonizingly dreadful silence and emotional turmoil flooding her veins as every once in a while, the Vampire came into her eyesight.

His eyes never left her, the shadows skillfully disguising his intruding eyes from the woman so that she hadn’t a clue as to where he gaze was rested. Four hours into being in the same room as one another, they hadn’t spoken a word since the greetings; it was starting to become akin to a countdown for the Vampire. Seeing the beautiful woman, so near yet so far away, sitting in the corner opposite of him was just another keepsake to ring a bell in his shut off mind.

Firming his jaw, he bit his tongue in a frantic attempt to keep from speaking. Words from him would only amplify the awkwardness and make Cordelia even more uncomfortable. Yet as the moments passed, his bottled up emotions begging to blow out of his hidden interior and spread all over the walls, the Vampire came to the conclusion that something needed to be said before he lost all of his pride and started to sob. “Do you love me?”

Cordelia looked at him for the longest time afterwards, not surprised at all by his question, as if she expected it. She wasn’t embarrassed, uncomfortable, she looked…she looked like she was yearning to say something other than what she knew she had to say. But even the strong emotion didn’t last long on her exterior, easily being dispensed by her defenses.

“Because I see it in your eyes,” Angel thought out loud, lifting a finger and pointing flippantly to her beautiful russet eyes, which were transfixed on him.

On my own eyes, Angel had a small spark of hope form in his soul and he grabbed onto it, his grip unrelenting to let go. “It’s something that I didn’t notice before. Then again, it took me god knows how long to notice that there was something in my eyes too.”

Cordelia didn’t respond, still looking at him, her emotions painfully skillfully hidden.

“Maybe all I’m seeing is a reflection of what I feel about you, of the feelings that are growing inside…I don’t know,” Angel explained, his voice raspy as the dryness in his throat subconsciously reminded him he was without blood. All his refills were downstairs. “But I’d prefer to hold onto that small piece of hope I have to think that you do feel the same way. That subconsciously, you’ve always felt this way about me, and the same with me for you.”

The Seer responded by shifting in her seated position, looking neither uncomfortable nor annoyed, just possibly searching for an adjustment in her place. Angel didn’t focus too much on it, his main application on wording his thoughts and feelings correctly.

“I don’t know how long it might have been going on between us,” Angel continued, his eyes not blinking for the longest time in expectance that he might intimidate her into showing emotion, any emotion. “The small hand grazing up against the other, the clinging, the guiding you through a doorway by the small of your back…”

If Cordelia would have been speaking, she knew that her voice would have broke at the moment. Hearing Angel so eloquently describe what had been going on between them was a shocking moment in her life that she knew she would cherish or despise for the rest of it. Then again, it’s only about 360 days.

“I’m betting that deep down, deep deep down, way down, subconsciously, we’ve been wanting to just break out of our shells and just run outside and scream at the top of our lungs that we love each other… or at least that we have feelings.”

Angel pushed himself up onto his feet and leaned against the wall, his face now illuminated by the dim bulb, causing Cordelia’s control over her emotions to slip a notch.

There was no way out, Cordelia knew. She has to be honest and it was just something that needed to be done. For her sake, and for Angel’s. No matter how much it hurt either of them, she required herself to do it, to get it out of the way so that when the day came and she would die, there would be no regrets. “You’re right…I do love you.”

***

Ignoring the numbing pain in his neck as a cramp took affect, Wesley remained slumped down on the floor, looking like a bored ten-year old waiting to be picked up. Tapping his fingers on the rug lightly, he let out an exaggerated sigh, something he desperately needed but took no affect to any of the feelings he had.

The thought of Fred and Gunn no longer being a couple weighed deeply in his thoughts, sneaking in every so often and egging him to take a chance, to ask her out on a date. But the ramifications were ones that he wouldn’t want to live with.

If I’m not willing to take a chance for her, than maybe I shouldn’t even be thinking of a possible romance between us. A somber thought it was, and Wesley knew it, deep down, was true. Knowing it was true was one thing, accepting it and moving on was an entirely different and more difficult thing to accomplish.

“You look tired…” came a soft observation from the end of the hall.

Wesley smirked, not tearing his eyes away from the wall as he motioned for her to retain a slumped on the ground position like his. “Is that how we’re going to greet each other from now on?”

“Only if you don’t have a problem with it,” Fred replied, openly wry.

At that, Wesley let out a chuckle. “Just confirming it, is all.” His words were slurred and for a moment, Fred figured he was drunk. Ecstatic at the thought of seeing the former Watcher drunk grinned brightly. But then she noticed he was simply exhausted.

“I’ll take over…go get some sleep.”

“Nope, you are not tearing me away from this position, I’m adamant about this now.”

“Oh, you’re adamant are you?” Fred teased.

“Why, yes. I am.”

“You’re always adamant, not much of a difference, Wes.”

“And you’re always beautiful, but there isn’t a rule that says you can’t tell yourself and others that more often.” What was meant as a lesson to teach Fred about confidence turned out to be a bit-too revealing compliment that practically laid out his feelings for the woman on the ground. “I mean…uh…”

Fred shook her head and laughed, noticing his struggle. “It’s a compliment, Wesley. Try not to retract it so fast next time.”

Before Wesley could stutter and further his embarrassment, Fred saved him by offering a change of subject. “I took your advice.”

“You spoke with Gunn?”

“Yes, I did.” She was extremely curt about it, and it was obvious to herself and to Wesley. “I guess me and him, we’re just not good at the couple thing. I’m willing to admit it. And there are other things…” she kept herself from admitting anything too revealing. She wanted Charles to tell them he was leaving, for quite some time it seemed.

“Sometimes a pair of people aren’t meant to love each other that way,” Wesley tried to explain, lifting his hand and gesticulating it as he, with difficulty, tried to explain it in good words.

“That’s the thing, Wesley,” Fred hoisted herself against the wall and faced him. “I don’t want to be in a relationship where all of a sudden we’re in love and plan on getting married, or moving into a different state. I want to be in a relationship where it moves at a slow, steady pace and eventually, we’ll love each other, and eventually, we’ll get married. Not in three weeks!”

Wesley smiled comfortingly and wrapped an arm around her, letting the woman rest her head on his shoulder as they joined each other to stare off in the distance at the wall. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be young, Fred.”

“I am young, and I want to act young, you’re right, there’s nothing wrong with that.” It seemed as if she was finally accepting the situation, in her own way of course. “I wand a guy who knows that.”

I know that, Wesley wanted very much to say.

“A guy that knows and accepts I want to fall in love on my own terms in my own time…”

“I get that…” Wesley replied honestly, the only response he knew he could honestly stand by, that Fred deserved.

“So…” Fred cleared her throat and took in a deep breath. “Would you like to go out and see a movie with me sometime?”

***

Charles Gunn edged into the lobby, his bag slung over his shoulder and the engine of his truck still hearable even through the closed doors. His hands were firmly gripping the letter in his hands as he edged to the counter; repeatedly looking over his shoulder to make sure no one was coming up behind him.

What he was doing needed to be done and he hoped there would be no interruptions.

Unfortunately for him, Lorne popped out of Wesley’s office, a warm smile greeting him. “Hello.” His unenthusiastic greeting would have caught Gunn’s attention he hadn’t been already too damned distracted.

“Hey…” Gunn whispered slowly, fingering the letter in his hands. “What you doing up this late?”

“We’ll fill you in about everything once morning comes and whatever we’re doing is done,” Lorne tiresomely and cryptically promised the man before him.

It was enough for Gunn, even if the prospect of the next day, seeing his family wasn’t there anymore, he knew that he simply had to agree. “Cool. Hey, um…could you…give this to Fred?”

Handing the envelope over to Lorne was something Gunn had a hard time doing, as if handing over his entire life. But it was done once the green hand snatched it from him slowly. “Tell her to read it alone, alright?”

At this, Lorne nodded, accepting it for what it was at the moment, too tired to look too much into the former street-fighters intentions.

When it was done and confirmed, Gunn lifted his hand and patted the demon on he shoulder, the only friendly gesture he had the strength to offer. Then all he did afterwards was turn to the door, slowly moving towards it. Once his hand was gripping the handle with all its strength, he threw a glance back at his friend. “See ya later.”

And then he was gone.

***

“You love me?” Angel reiterated it breathlessly, a wistful look spreading over his features as he took a step closer to Cordelia.

It seemed a painful admission to the woman, emotional torment painted over her face as she pushed herself further into the corner, recoiling in what looked like agonizing fear. Angel saw it and froze on the spot, his heart falling from the high place it had been moments previous. A small tear streaked down Cordelia’s bruised and battered face as she strained herself to look the Vampire in the eyes. “But that doesn’t change anything.”

Angel knelt down, his face overshadowed by the darkness, hiding the pain as he listened to her speak. He edged closer on his knees, every second or so moving him inches closer, his thoughts drifting back and forth in between what to say and what he desired to do.

“Your curse keeps anything between us from happening, and I can’t let myself fall even more in love with you if nothing between us can move forward. If nothing can happen than what’s the point, Angel?”

The Vampire’s soul ached as silence followed the woman’s question, his own argument being plundered by her achingly realistic summation of their situation, his situation.

“I don’t know, even if we happened to try, if we could actually be a couple,” Cordelia explained, lifting her hands, pale from the loss of blood she experienced from her glaringly unforgettable incident with John Rowe, to wipe the tears streaking down her gaunt face.

To Angel, no matter how many scratches, bruises and how thin she looked, the woman would never be able to look any less beautiful than how she looked then as his eyes remained on her. The only path he could take was to agree with her, his strength dissipating as the seconds passed the pair by, each moment elongated to the point that each one felt as though it were an eternity. “I guess…people like us don’t get to…have that.”

His voice broke as he spoke, and he wasn’t ashamed by the sparkling exterior his eyes took on as his shoulders slumped and he fell against the frame of his bed, growling quietly to himself.

“Angel,” Cordelia forced out, her voice ambiguous. “There are no people like us.” There were so many things she wanted to do, so many things she wanted to start. But …she couldn’t start anything without risking hurting those she loved when she wouldn’t be there to see the finish, the completion of those things.

“Why pave a road that can never be treaded, right?” Angel deeply thought out loud, his voice flooding with ragged emotions.

Cordelia sighed, her eyes moving to the rug, focusing on some unimportant feature as an excuse to avoid Angel’s gaze that she knew was on her, even if the darkness of the room forbid actual physical evidence. Merely his own eyes could convince her to break apart and admit anything, everything. She knew that she was falling for Angel, and falling for him hard; she loved him, it was obvious, or else she wasn’t sure she would have made the sacrifice of her entire future for the Vampire.

Angel, his heart breaking more and more, was showing a side of himself that no one else had seen before. Not Buffy, Wesley, Darla, not even his own family. It was one full of pain that only Cordelia could bring to him, just as she could only bring such a happy one also.

It was a power she didn’t want, but still had; no matter what she did to try and dispense of it, it remained within her and she used it without thinking, hurting the Vampire and touching him at the same time with such effortless ease. She may be human, she may be a woman, but she was the more powerful being in the room, and both of them knew it. Neither denied it, neither accepted it, it was simply a reality they couldn’t avoid.

“So what are we going to do?” Cordelia whispered weakly, looking to Angel, he was looking away when she glanced. Finally, he looked up at her, his eyes saddened and doleful.

The Vampire didn’t respond though, remaining dissonantly quiet.

“It’s amazing that no matter how much you can love someone,” Cordelia finally whispered, letting out a sigh, visibly relaxing, even if her stomach was still tied in knots. “It can never be enough.”

“I think it’s enough…” Angel surprised her by replying simply, his voice barely hearable over the deafening silence the two shared between each other in the room. “For people other than us.”

Cordelia shook her head, hoisting herself in a different position so that her beautiful yet saddened features were illuminated by the dimming light bulb hanging from the ceiling. “It’s not like I’m afraid of Angelus resurfacing,” Cordelia admitted quietly. Playing with a loose string from the worn rug, she finished in an even quieter tone: “It’s the exact opposite of that.”

Angel’s eyes shot up immediately at that, even if his body or anything apart of him didn’t react. His voice low and surprisingly unnerving, he said to her, unrelenting in his demanding question: “You don’t actually think I could come out of having sex with you and still have my soul, do you?”

Her lack of response proved to him she did, that her fears were of him not experiencing ‘true happiness’ with her; it was achingly poetic to think that such a beautiful, sexy woman who could practically have any man she wanted was so afraid of not being able to complete a man through sexual experience. “I would lose my soul with you within seconds. And I wouldn’t even have to be having sex with you, Cordy. You make me happy so easily.”

“If you’re trying to make me feel better, you’re not doing a good job. All you’re doing is adding to the fact that we can’t be a couple, we can’t be…together.” Tears once again started to form in her eyes, not at the sound of her realizing she could go no further with Angel, but the sudden realization that she was going to die.

Again and again during the days since she found out, she kept reminding herself she was soon going to die, to cease to exist; yet sitting there, looking at the Vampire she loved with doleful, unfulfilled eyes, she finalized it. In a matter of months her life was going to end; she wasn’t going to be able to open her eyes, to feel the softness of her silk pillows, to thank Dennis for turning off her alarm clock, to come into work and see her family, to bicker with Wesley, to scoff at Lorne, to throw snarky comments back and forth with Angel…

The Vampire noticed the tears and couldn’t force himself to remain strong as he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a hug as she buried her face in his arms, the tears coming full-force as all of her fears, her emotions, exploded beyond a point where she could keep them bottled up anyone.

For the first time, she didn’t want to be strong, she didn’t to be stoic and all heroic and ignore the pain, hide the fact that she was going to die and that was all she was reminding herself of when she so wanted to be with the Vampire. Sure, she was afraid of him losing his soul, and perhaps not losing it, but it wasn’t what was keeping her from him.

Because, lying there in Angel’s arms, Cordelia Chase knew there was nothing that could keep her from being with the Vampire holding her. Except one thing, her own death, that made it both emotionally and physically impossible to embark on a romantic relationship with someone she would die for and someone who would die trying to save her.

“What are we going to do?” Cordelia asked herself out loud, wiping the last of her weak tears on Angel’s tears as she pushed the equally-feeble thoughts to the back of her mind.

Angel, thinking she directed the question towards him, kissed the top of her head and replied in the most comforting, deep voice. “We want something that, at the moment, we can’t have. So I’m guessing we should…”

Cordelia pulled away so that her nose rubbed up against his, their faces only a breath apart. Angel winced as he struggled to suggest the correct thing. Finally, he resulted in offering a simple answer: “What do you think we should do?”

“I don’t know,” Cordelia sniffed, pushing away just a little bit and resting her head comfortingly on his strong, broad chest. “How about Jenga?”

Angel grinned, and though it was bittersweet, he welcomed it, no matter how small and hardly noticeable it was. “That sounds good.” He had the woman he loved in his arms and she wasn’t running and neither was he. It wasn’t a perfect scenario, but he was more than thankful to have one at all.

Looking down into Cordelia’s burgeoning eyes, he offered the smile to her in hopes she would give one back to him, as a gift that both knew was the only way to make the terribly emotional roller coaster stop and cease to exist.

Once the smile appeared on her face, Angel kissed her softly on the forehead and sighed. “Loser has to clean the weapons cabinet.”

“And find us a new car…”


…THE END,…


 

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