Second Date by Psychofilly


Summary: This is the second of some short fics based on the premise that Buffy and Angel try and keep a connection after Angel comes to LA, but the purpose of the stories as they are written is to illustrate the change in *Angel* and the C/A dynamic over a period of time.


Spoilers: Post-Hero, Season One.


Notes: I still plan on four stories, but I don't know when I'll be writing them.



Buffy liked a certain degree of simplicity. She didn't like too many surprises. Surprises meant demons jumping from dark corners intent on killing you for food or sport. Surprises meant waking up one day to find that daddy had a new girlfriend or your boyfriend turned into a homicidal creep after you slept with him for the first time. Surprises were psychotic slayers waking up from perfectly good comas to sleep with your current boyfriend and then run to play victim with your ex, making as big a mess as possible before turning themselves in to the police. In Buffy's experience, most times surprises equaled bad.

She took a deep breath and got out of the cab, shaking off the doubt and guilt that had plagued her all the way from her father's house. She hated lying to Riley --though she hadn't lied. More like she'd omitted a few facts. She had come to LA to visit her try and explain why she was also paying her ex-boyfriend a visit was beyond even her highly developed skills of rationalization. Especially since Angel would always be more than just an ex.

Angel had surprised her last month when she'd descended on LA and his home full of rage and a need to even the score with Faith. At the time she had been angry and hurt that Angel had chosen a side that wasn't hers. Faith had proven her wrong by doing the right thing as Angel had believed she would. Truth be told, she had acted like a complete and utter bitch. He'd floored her when he'd showed up in Sunnydale the next evening to apologize--even though he'd been in the right. She owed it to him to keep their "date" even though the last one had ended with Angel's face between her legs, and her head spinning in confusion.

Despite her unease over her weakness when it came to Angel, his heartbreaking confession of how hard it was to love her while she moved on put an ocean of distance between herself and the desire to get physical with him again. Riley didn't come with so many confusing complications. Besides, at this point in her relationship with him, there would be no way to justify intimacy with Angel as anything other than cheating....

She sighed softly to herself, the sense memory of warm golden skin sliding against hers brought an easy smile to her lips and a warm tingle to the base of her spine. Finding Riley had been one of the few nice surprises she could remember, like a new puppy or coming home to find that your mother hadn't forgotten your birthday after all.

She entered the outer doors to the office building, pausing on the short landing that passed as the building's lobby. She wanted to give herself a moment to get in complete command of her reactions. Her "friendship" with Angel was fragile enough that she didn't want to confuse him with mixed signals of nervousness and arousal. [i]And wasn't it nice not to have to think anymore about the smells she gave off all the time.[/i]

Once the flush had cooled, she headed down the short steps towards Angel's office. She rolled her eyes at the unmistakable sounds of Cordelia Chase's voice as it drifted out into the hall. She hadn't been here last time Buffy had, which had been a relief. She hadn't relished the thought of hearing Cordelia's cutting commentary of the humiliation she had suffered at Faith's hands.

Of course it had turned out that Cordy had her own run-in with Faith. Though capable of being brave, Cordelia had always been the type of person who thought of the safety of her own ass first. She had cleared out before she could suffer more than what Angel had described as a truly horrendous shiner.

"Stupid TV director...He said I didn't look *scared* enough in my screen-test...Can you believe it?" As Buffy neared the door she could hear the soft click of Cordy's heels as she paced the worn linoleum. "Is it *my* fault that their stupid monster wasn't fright- worthy??"

"I suppose not." Angel's masculine voice ventured.

"Pfft...NO!" There was a slight pause. "For which I blame the demon population of LA, our very own now thankfully imprisoned slayer...oh yeah, and you! How can some guy in gory chicken-suit be scary when I've seen the real monsters that run around in the city?"

"Faith isn't a monster, Cordelia, and why am I on your list?" he replied in a hurt sounding voice. Buffy slipped noiselessly through the door, noting how homey and lived in the outer office had become. She could see Cordelia clearly as she paced in front of Angel's desk, her thick strait hair falling over her bare shoulders. Through the blinds she could just make out Angel behind the desk, chair half turned, feet propped up and a book in his lap, which he was trying rather unsuccessfully to read. Cordy had stopped and was giving him a long speculative look, her hands planted on her hips.

"Uh, uh...don't even try it. Faith may not wear a monster face, but she's plenty scary. As for you, hello? I'm not going to forget you going all Angelus-for-a-day anytime soon." She pointed an accusing finger in his direction. "It's just a good thing you severely underestimated the size of Wes's huevos...not to mention my stellar, albeit raw, acting talent." She grinned, and rested her hand over her heart as she extolled her own talent. Her smile turned to a frown when she noticed a chip on her nail.

Angel shifted, his feet dropping from their perch with a thud. "That wasn't my fault. I was drugged." He looked up, dark eyes searching, nostrils flaring slightly. He glanced at Cordy distractedly. "It's not like it can happen again..." His search ended as Buffy approached the doorway to his inner office.


Angel hopped up and hurried to where she stood, a genuine smile breaking across his features. Buffy returned it with one of her own. "I'm not interrupting anything am I?" she asked with a nervous chuckle. Angel looked good. He was actually wearing blue, and though he was visibly nervous there was an ease which he carried himself that was new. He had established this city as his domain, and for the first time, Buffy felt like the outsider.

"No," Angel reassured. "Cordy was just telling me about her audition this afternoon." He gestured to the brunette behind him, who was staring at Buffy, her face unreadable. Buffy realized that Cordy was waiting for her to set the tone, and knowing that she didn't want to get within thirty feet of Cordy's defenses she went for neutral.

She nodded and dredged up a small smile as she gestured to the outer office. "I kinda heard. So, the big scary wasn't that scary huh?"

Cordelia's face twisted into an expression that told of her complete and utter contempt for know-it-all directors and latex-inspired big uglies. Something inside Buffy unclenched; apparently she had been classified as a non-threat this visit.

"It was all I could do not to laugh...." Cordy continued as if Buffy had been a part of the conversation all along. Angel seemed to relax, tension easing out of his shoulders. Angel's eyes met hers then drifted to Cordelia. His expression was a mixture of amusement and relief. The only one who seemed unaware of the sudden release of nervous tension was the woman currently talking....

"You know what the worst thing was?" Cordy's eyes narrowed, flashing dark amber in indignation."That skinny little freak of a Spielberg wannabe had the nerve to tell me I stunk!" She threw out her hands in a gesture that asked them to consider who the slight was directed towards and judge accordingly. "I mean really...stunk!"

Buffy looked to Angel to field this one but his expression had suddenly gone blank.

"I do not stink!" Her eyes begged the question of her friend. "Do I?" Angel's poker face was good, but Buffy knew him well enough to notice the beginnings of panic. He swallowed, his face going a whiter shade of pale. "Smell me!" She held her wrist under the vampire's nose.

Angel leaned forward and took a cautious whiff. Cordy executed a little hop in triumph, her hands pointing excitedly at his nose. "See! It's not b.o.! Can I help it if I got some Di'kini musk on me when you killed it the other day?" She rubbed her hands on her jeans. "I took like, four showers...I thought I got it off, but I got nervous...."

"I can't smell anything." Buffy offered.

"You should have used mustard...." Angel began helpfully. Buffy had a sneaking suspicion that he'd dodged a thorny subject between them and was vastly relieved. "Besides being yellow and spicy it takes out the smell of Di'kini musk."

Cordy shot him a look that probably sent half the male population of LA running in fear of their manhoods. "And *why* didn't you tell me this before I walked around all day smelling like the love child of a wet goat and a demonic sewer slug?" She poked him once in the chest...hard. "Don't think you won't pay for that later."

"I didn't think you smelled that bad." He began but she waved him off.

"You didn't think? Gee, that's a shocker." She turned to Buffy, ignoring Angel. "Good to see you Buffy, you two have fun. I'll wait for Wes and we'll lock up."

"You sure?" Angel asked, still rubbing the spot where Cordy had jabbed him.

Cordy rolled her eyes in exasperation, "Go already."

Buffy smiled, relieved that they seemed to be leaving. "It was good to see you, and tell Wesley I said hello." She could do nice. Willow would be proud.

"Will do." Cordy was already halfway to her desk. "You think Wes would be up for something more exciting than word puzzle? I was thinking of asking him if he wanted to get some dinner." She opened a desk drawer and pulled out a nail-file and some polish.

Angel picked up his coat and shrugged it on. "You know Wes, the only thing he likes more than food is..."

"Those musty books he always has his nose in." She turned and gave him a wide smile that Buffy had never seen before, full of good humor and affection. "Are you still here?" She dramatically waved him off. "Shoo...I have a date with a mustard bottle to contemplate."

Angel grinned back, his eyes crinkling. Buffy couldn't help the brief flash of jealousy at their easy friendship...not when she had a night of awkwardness and frustrated desires to look forward to. If only they could learn to be so easy with each other. If only they had had that before...maybe seeing each other now wouldn't be so damn hard.

Cordy pulled her chair out. She looked up, eyebrow raising. Buffy was still watching her instead of heading out the door. "What?" Cordy stiffened. "Oh no...NO!"

Angel dove past Buffy so fast she didn't even see him move. Suddenly he was just there, in front of Cordelia. He eased her convulsing body into a chair, kneeling between her legs as he held her head firmly between his palms. Buffy went into full wiggins mode as Angel patiently called out, "Cordy, Cordy!"

"What the hell is going on?" Buffy demanded, not liking the ozone sharp smell that hung in the air, or the way Angel leaned over Cordelia, using his bulk to keep her from thrashing right out of the chair. "Is she having a seizure? What I need to call 911?"

"No!" Angel gasped as Cordy kicked him in the shin. "Ow, dammit!" His jaw clenched, the pain registering in the roughness of his voice. "She's having a vision."

Buffy circled around beside him. " Are you *sure* it's not a seizure?" she asked him incredulously.

"He's sure!" Wesley barked from the doorway, causing Buffy to jump. His sharp blue eyes took quick measure of the action. He rushed towards the desk, grabbing a pen and paper. "Their friend, Doyle passed them on to her. Sort of a parting gift...She's Angel's seer now."

Buffy turned back to the scene in front of her. "If that was *my* gift, I'd exchange it." She murmured, knowing all to well the burden of supernatural "gifts." Angel still held fast to Cordelia. His face - -no, his entire being-- focused on Cordy. The beginnings of unease knotted in Buffy's gut. Angel was watching Cordelia with a mixture of horror, guilt, curiosity and...compassion.

Slowly Cordy's body stilled and her eyelids stopped twitching. The veins on her forehead throbbed and jumped just under the skin as the storm of images still raged inside her head. Her hands were fisted in Angel's grey-blue shirt. Neither of them seemed to notice. Angel brushed her long hair out of her face and then grabbed a Kleenex off the table and dabbed at the drool on her chin as she opened her eyes.

Wes rushed to the water-cooler, returning with a cup and some pills. Angel smiled reassuringly as she popped the pills and took a drink. Cordelia leaned her head back and massaged her temples. Buffy wanted to help but the business of taking care of Cordy seemed to be well in hand. She was beginning to feel like a third wheel until Cordy's eyes met hers.

"I guess the Powers heard you were coming to town." She winced and Angel helped her lean forward as she reached for her water. The two men fussed over their charge like mother hens until she shooed them away. Angel hovered nearby, a protective hand sneaking on to the arm of her chair until she smacked it off. "I hate to be the one to ruin whatever fabulous *thing* you two have planned but it looks like you have a case." She cleared her throat, taking a couple of sips of water.

Angel strode to the small weapons chest that he kept upstairs and opened it.

"What did you see?" Wesley asked holding his pen at the ready.

Buffy could sense Angel's impatience to get going but he seemed to be content for the moment to let Wes press Cordy for information. Finally the other woman's words sunk in. "Wait, a case? Now?" She met Angel's eyes.

Angel opened his mouth but Cordy spoke. "Brownies, Wes. I saw Brownies." she croaked, rubbing her eyelids her attention shifting to Buffy. "The karmic joke that is the Power's timing is not lost on me but yes, you have a case."

"A demon is attacking a bake sale?" Wes nibbled on the tip of his pen. "Is the demon attracted to the baked goods or do pastries piss him off?"

"Not those kinds of Brownies know" Her hands circled the air as she searched for the word.

"Girls Scouts," Buffy interjected, getting it.

"Oh, well that *does* make a rather huge difference doesn't it?" Wesley mused.

Angel paced. "What kind of weaponry should I be considering here?"

"Your sword, an Uzi if you have one." He raised a brow and began to rummage through the chest. He held out a good sized axe to the slayer. Buffy shook her head.

"Take it." Cordy insisted.

Thrown by the flat certainty in her voice, she did.

"Wesley, I want you to stay with Cordy." Armed to his satisfaction Angel returned to Cordelia.

"Are you sure?" he asked wistfully. Off Angel's concerned look he dutifully nodded and sat down in one of the office chairs with a disappointed sigh. "Blast."

"Nice to know you care, Wes." Cordelia huffed with as much sarcasm as she could muster.

His face flushed. "I didn't mean...of course I'll stay."

Buffy crossed her arms, then uncrossed them, shifting her weight. The prospect of a battle was beginning to make it's presence known with the buzzing need to *do* something that zinged along her nerves.

Angel squatted in front of Cordelia, who was steadfastly refusing to look at any of them. "Cordy?" He reached up and took hold of her chin, forcing her head around so he could catch her eye. "What exactly did you see?"

Buffy bit the inside of her cheek to keep from saying anything. Cordy was stalling and Angel was pawing all over her. Maybe pawing was an exaggeration but the hair smoothing and the cheek cupping was knotting her muscles in that place between her shoulders where she carried her tension.

"Little girls." Cordy whispered. "At the park. Oh, God." She gulped, her hand flying up to cover her mouth. "Ohgodohgodohgod." Angel's pale hands closed over her tanned shoulders, keeping Cordy from squirming out of the chair. "The demons are going to rape them." Her eyes snapped to his, their golden brown deepening to a muddy green. Her face was a heartbreaking mixture of desperation and determination. "There is a pack of them, eight...maybe ten. You've got an hour, possibly a little more before they get there."

"They won't." Angel assured softly, but there was steel behind his words and a dangerous glint in his eye. "I..."

"Don't promise." Cordy interrupted, her voice barely audible. A hand gripped his forearm. He reached over and covered it with his own. "Just go kill them. I don't want this one stuck in my head." Angel nodded, his lips pressed in a thin grim line. He stood. Buffy picked up her axe. Their eyes met. After three years of fighting the good fight in Sunnydale, neither needed to say a word. They were ready.

Two hours later

Two bruised and weary warriors sat side by side on a park bench watching a group of about fifteen young girls playing...completely oblivious to the epic battle that had taken place just behind the line of trees where the now-dead demons had lain in wait.

They had walked to the nearby convenience store so that she could get something to drink. Angel had surprised her by braving the washed-out glare of the fluorescents and getting something as well. Now they sat in semi-comfortable silence as they watched protectively over the fruits of their labor.

"Wow." Buffy took a sip of her cherry Icee. "That was intense."

"Yep." Angel agreed, his fingers picking at the paper wrapping of his straw.

"In a way it's kind of nice." She squinted into the night, scanning the line of shadows at the edge of the field. She tried to imagine the night the way Angel must see it, and found that she couldn't. She could sense his eyes on her, waiting. "They have no idea what's really out there." She turned and looked at him. "We got to preserve that...innocence."

Angel shrugged. "At least as far as demons go," he replied. "Now they just have to avoid the pitfalls of growing up. Human predators, drugs, sex, teenage pregnancy...what?" He asked, obviously not sharing her optimism. "Sure we saved them from being raped and possibly eaten, but the world's still a scary place." He hesitated, eyes snapping in the direction of a little girl's peal of laughter, "Even without the demons," he finished softly.

"Way to bring down the post-slayage high," she grumbled. An uneasy silence descended. Buffy watched the children as they crawled all over the jungle-gym. She heard Angel jab his straw into his drink. She turned and stared as he drank the contents in one breathless draw. She wondered if that's how he drained a victim, throat working without the need for oxygen. "Angel?"

The dregs rattled at the bottom of the cup as he swallowed his last, then pinched the bridge of his nose. "Whoa...head rush." He blinked rapidly, pressing his palm against his forehead. He laughed with almost child-like wonder. "She was right...son of a bitch. Ow!" His laughter faded, but he was still smiling a rueful little half smile.

Buffy scooted close, brushing her fingers across his temple. "Did you hit your head during the fight?"

He pressed both palms against his forehead, then let them drop. Moonlight sparkled in his eyes causing Buffy's breath to catch. Amused Angel was damn sexy.

"Brain freeze," he said as if *that* explained everything. "Ow."

"I'm still going with the concussion theory. How did we go from your utterly depressing world view to...brain freeze?"

"I've learned the joys of non-linear thinking," he deadpanned, smiling again. "The last time Cordy came with us to kill some vampires she talked Wes into getting an Icee with her, only she got Coke not cherry. Anyway she drank it too fast and got brain freeze and I asked her what *that* was like...."

Buffy had to wonder if maybe he really had hit his head during the fight. The sides of her mouth twitched upwards.

His all seeing eyes caught her expression. "Forget it," he sighed, his humor evaporating. "It's stupid."

Buffy's lips drew down. Angel stared out across the field, his expression distant. She wasn't sure exactly how but she had hurt his feelings. She reached out and touched his arm. His head whipped around and she jerked away. "It's not stupid. Tell me."

"It's just one of those things you take for granted when you are alive. Like sneezing," he began.

"Sneezing is overrated." Buffy observed dryly.

"Is it?" He asked, his dark eyes serious. "Wes was laughing at Cordy and Cor was bitching about her head, but she was laughing too and I just felt...."

"Left out?" Buffy suggested, not liking the offhand way he'd shortened Cordy to Cor. As if he hadn't even been conscious of it.

He frowned. "No...curious. She tried to get me to buy one, told me that if I drank it down fast enough I'd probably feel it since it didn't have anything to do with the lack of circulation in my brain." He threw his cup into a nearby waste basket.

"I didn't believe her, plus she was just using it as an excuse to tease, but as it turns out she was right." He turned, his arm stretched along the back of the bench and he grinned. Buffy found his good humor infectious and the atmosphere once more turned comfortable. "My first brain freeze in two hundred and forty eight years," he mused.

"An important milestone." Buffy said with mock seriousness.

"I told you it was stupid."

"Life lessons from Cordelia?" She teased. "I guess she *is* the guru of all things inconsequential." Buffy forced down the flash of Cordy, her emotional control short circuited by an event that thanks to Angel and herself, never happened.

"Maybe," Angel hedged. "Funny thing matter how insignificant the things she shows me seem at the time, they have a strange way of becoming relevant somewhere down the line."

Again, Buffy wasn't liking the soft smile or introspective eyes. Much as it pained her to admit it, she still viewed Angel as hers. As easy as it was in Sunnydale to tell herself she had moved on with Riley, being with Angel drained her of all sense of logic and resolve. She loved Riley in her head, but in her heart she wanted to crawl on top of the vampire next to her and make him forget the existence of any other women in his new life.

Instead she asked, with only the slightest trace of sarcasm, "So exactly what insightful lesson is buried in the mysterious brain freeze?"

"That maybe I don't know as much as I like to think that I do. That I still have a lot to learn about myself."

Her fantasy Angel came crashing down around her ears. She could feel her face scrunch into a very Cordelia-like expression of confusion.

"Are you sure you aren't reading too much into a drink?" Again Angel laughed, a deep carefree, sound that warmed her to her toes. She'd never heard it before tonight.

"Maybe I am." He stood and held out his hand.

Buffy allowed him to pull her up. For a brief moment they were toe to toe and Angel had a dangerous gleam in his eye. She knew that look. He wanted to kiss her.... She tilted her head upwards. For just the slightest moment she allowed herself to think that one kiss wouldn't be such a big deal. Time slowed. Angel swayed forward, his lips only a breath away. Her traitorous thoughts flashed on Riley and she pulled back. "We can't."

Angel's hands fisted at his sides. He looked as frustrated as she felt. As much as she didn't want to be, this time she knew she was right. She wanted to be able to look Riley in the eyes when she returned home. She wanted to enjoy her relationship with Riley without the same guilt and trust issues that had slowly killed her relationship with Angel. "I'm sorry."

"No, I...shouldn't have." He backed up a step, his dark eyes refusing to meet hers. "I'll drive you to your dad's." He turned on his heel and headed back towards the parking lot. She had to hurry to catch up, almost running into him when he stopped.


He was frantically digging through his coat pockets. "Dammit!" he cursed when he finally fished his cell phone out only to have it stop vibrating. He flipped the thing open and glowered at the keypad. "I missed the call." Angel held the thing up, his eyes narrowing. Buffy had the distinct impression that he and the phone were not on good terms.

Buffy gently took the phone out of Angel's too-tight grasp, her eyes shining with amusement. It took her about ten seconds to figure it out. "All you have to do is press this button and it pulls up your call-log." Angel crowded into her space, his gaze flicked between the tiny phone and her. "Then you just hit menu then talk....See?" She handed it back and he pressed it to his ear, smiling at her when someone picked up on the receiving end.

"Wes? Yes." His grin abruptly faded. "No, Buffy had to help...tell Cordy this thing is possessed, and when did it start vibrating? I did that?" He shifted, half turning away. Buffy walked a few paces, giving Angel the illusion of privacy. "How's Cordelia. She is? Do you think I should? No, I will. She just acts so guilty in the morning. Ok." He hung up.

"So?" Buffy inquired. "Is everything all right?" She tried to sound nonchalant, but Angel had to be able to hear the curiosity in her voice.

"Everything is fine. Wes just asked if I would pick up some ice cream on the way home." He resumed walking towards the car.

"Ice cream?" Buffy couldn't help but chuckle.

"For Cordy." He shrugged, slipping the phone back into his pocket. "This vision seems to be worse than normal. Usually after they are taken care of they fade but for some reason she's still feeling the effects."

Buffy didn't understand but the worried look on Angel's face spoke volumes. "What do you mean, by 'feeling the effects?' Other than the irony of the..." her mind dredged up an image of Harmony and the vapid utter waste of an vampire that she had become, "Okay, second shallowest person in Sunnydale being forced to see other people's pain, what's the big?"

Angel stared at her for a moment, his expression inscrutable. She wondered when she had lost the ability to read him. She knew it pre- dated his move to LA. She fought to keep the scowl off her face at the realization that it went back as far as the first Faith debacle when Angel had gone undercover as Angelus to lure information out of Faith. There had come a point where she hadn't wanted to know, fearing that if she looked deep within the man, she'd come face to face with his demon. She and Angelus weren't exactly on speaking terms.

He took a deep breath, his brow knitting as he struggled to explain. "You saw what they do to her." She finally saw an emotion she could read: guilt. "She doesn't just see other people's pain...she feels it. But since it was Doyle that gave them to her she sees the visions as a gift, one that took her a while to appreciate, but..." They resumed their walk towards his car. "The visions are meant to be my guide. Doyle was half demon and better able to withstand them, plus he had things in the past he needed to atone for." He opened her door, standing well to the side as she got in. "Cordelia doesn't."

A soft disbelieving "pfft," escaped Buffy's lips before she could stop it. Cordy had plenty to atone for. They just weren't the type of things someone like Angel would ever be able to understand. Angel had never attended high school. She felt real sympathy for Cordelia's pain, but she could sense an old pattern emerging. "Or maybe she just has you and Wesley wrapped."

"What do you mean?" Angel hazarded a brief glance at her as he started the car and eased into traffic.

"Oh, come on! Did you ever stop to consider she might be playing you, getting you to wait on her hand and foot and eating up all the attention? I mean, she always wanted you to notice her...She's totally taking advantage."

He frowned, his voice registering mild irritation. "I don't mind."

Buffy's eyebrow's shot up in surprise, "You don't mind being taken advantage of?"

"I don't mind taking care of her," Angel amended matter of factly.

"Oh." Buffy breathed, his admission catching her off guard. They rode in silence for a few long moments as Buffy fought the irrational sense of betrayal that threatened to claw its way to the surface. Angel divided his attention between watching the road, and stealing wary glances at her.

Angel sighed heavily. "It's not like that," he began. "Between us, I mean. Cordelia is a beautiful girl, sure." Buffy glared daggers. He stumbled over his words. " I, I mean you'd have to be...blind, not to notice but I don't look at her that way."

"It's not you I'm necessarily worried about," Buffy retorted sarcastically. "She was always after you back in high school." Buffy smirked giving him an appraising once over. "If I remember correctly she used to refer to you as 'Salty Goodness' and she used to brag about how she was going to steal you because when it came to dating *she* was the slayer."

Angel kept his eyes glued to the road ahead, refusing to look at her. His grip on the steering-wheel had tightened to the point that his knuckles stood out bone white in the moonlight. Buffy was getting under his skin, and she couldn't deny a certain feeling of satisfaction in the fact. She'd rather have him angry than looking at her like he was earlier when he'd almost kissed her. This way she held a certain degree of control.

Angel was shaking his head, his jaw working from side to side, his voice strained but even. "Whatever she might have said or done in high school is really none of my business. We're just friends...." His eyebrow rose and his lips quirked slightly upwards. "In fact, Cordy is normally anything but impressed with me."

Buffy snorted. "And you know this how?"

Angel's tiny grin broke into a full-fledged smile as his irritation dissipated. "Besides the fact that she tends to say *exactly* what's on her mind?" His eyes did a slow seductive sweep of her body, causing her nerve endings to fire in warning. "I can smell when a woman is finding me attractive."

"Right," she croaked, her throat gone suddenly dry. "Handy sense." She crossed her legs, deciding that now would be a good time to drop the subject. She couldn't help her body's reaction to his presence and she hated that he could pick up on its betrayal.

They rode in silence the last couple of miles to her father's house. Angel pulled into a spot about half a block away and cut the engine. For a moment silence reigned. The only sound was the sound of the motor as it began to cool down.

"Well," Buffy said, sliding around to face Angel, her arm draping casually over the back of the seat. "Tonight was interesting."

"Buffy...." Angel's tone had turned husky. His hand snaked out, fingers entangling with hers. His touch was as electric as she remembered, the shock of it jolting her from fingertips to toes. For a second all she could do was stare numbly as Angel's thumb swept across her palm. His grip tightened and he pulled her close, bridging the gap and meeting her halfway across the bench seat.

"Angel, what are...." Before she could say more he had pulled her face up and was kissing her soundly. His lips were as skilled as ever and the cool sweep of his tongue made her insides clench in remembered ecstasy. Instinctively, her body melted into his, which he took as consent. His all-knowing fingers slid up her thigh, over her hip and down under the waistband of her jeans. The cool hand cupping her ass sent alarms screaming through her brain.

She wanted this...but it was wrong.

She tore her mouth away from his. Angel's free hand fisted in her hair, dragging her back down. "Please..." his tone was desperate and ragged, "Let me." His lips latched on to her neck. "I'll make it so good..." he murmured between nips.

"No," she gasped, pulling back. "Angel, stop."

A growl ripped through his chest and his arms wrapped tightly around her, pulling her close. "Please?" He pleaded once more.

Buffy pushed him away, resorting to her slayer strength to break his hold. She scrabbled out of his lap and over the side of the door, not bothering to open it in her haste to get away.

Angel jumped out and stalked after her. His hand closed around her arm and he jerked her to a stop. "Don't run away from me!" he snapped.

Buffy's fist snapped out without conscious thought. Her momentum to adding force to her swing. The punch knocked Angel back a step or two. She stood panting, aroused and angry. Angel held his nose and glared, his deep-set eyes gone gold. Some internalized sense warned her that he was likely to pounce. She held up her hand in warning as she backed up a step. "You stay away!"

Angel ducked his head, half turning away. After a moment he faced her, his expression wary. His eyes had reverted to their normal brown and were glittering with unshed tears.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Buffy demanded.

"I don't know!" Angel barked. "I just..."

"Just what?" she shouted, disregarding the neighbors. "Did the curse disappear since the last time I was here? Did I miss the memo?" Buffy lashed out, refusing to feel guilty when Angel's features crumpled in defeat, but she did soften her tone. "Angel, what happened at the end of our last date was a fluke." She could practically see Angel trying to shut down on his powerful emotions. She took a cautious step forward. "Neither of us should have allowed it to happen. It's too risky for us, you *know* that."

"I just wanted to make you happy." He looked away refusing to let her see his pain. "I didn't want you to forget."

She took another step closer, reaching forward and tugging him close. Immediately he wrapped himself around her and this time she didn't fight it. "I could never forget you." She choked back her own tears. "But I can't keep coming back if it's always going to end with us crossing the line."

"You didn't mind before," he muttered bitterly.

"I wasn't with somebody else then. What kind of person would that make me if I went along and let you do what you wanted?" She felt the rise and fall of Angel's chest as he sighed and she squeezed him tight but there was no comfort in it. "I hate it. I really do. But you know that for us to be anything other than friends is too dangerous." She tilted her head up to catch his expression. He looked angry and hurt. Her heart broke in sympathy but for the first time since she arrived, she felt a tiny fraction of peace.

She pulled herself out of Angel's arms, standing on her toes to place a soft kiss on his cheek. She could hear the hitch of breath as he tried not to break down in front of her. "We did pretty good until the end.... I'll call you in a couple of weeks, okay?"

Angel nodded, obviously not trusting himself to speak.

"Goodbye, Angel." She stood there for a moment, letting herself memorize every detail of the man standing in front of her. She then turned and headed up the short landing to her father's condo. As she turned the key in the lock she heard Angel say, "I love you," so softly she almost thought she imagined it. She knew she hadn't but she squeezed her eyes shut and pretended she had. She fumbled the door open and stepped inside, closing the door on the night.


Angel knew Buffy had heard him. He had seen her shoulders tense before closing the door on him...on them. Now he stood on the stoop in front of her father's house waging a private war with himself. He wanted to batter in that door and hunt Buffy down. He just had two distinct rationales for doing so. Half of him wanted to find her room, sweep her into his arms and bind her to him through the pleasures of the flesh. The other half wanted what it always had: the taste of Slayer's blood on it's tongue as it ripped out her throat.

Instead of doing either he turned his back on the door and walked stiffly back to his car. He made it three blocks before he slammed on his breaks and hit the Plymouth's dashboard. The old car absorbed the force of his blow, but he just as quickly realized that it wasn't the car that he wanted to hurt. He shifted into gear and went on the prowl.

Ten minutes later he found what he was looking for. He eased the car off the road and slipped into the dark alleyway between an old Laundromat and an adult video store. Neon lights painted the mouth of the alley in a wash of red. Beyond that was moonlight and shadow. The lone vampire feeding on a diseased hooker never stood a chance.

Angel slipped from shadow to shadow, letting the darkness envelop him like the embrace of an old friend. Sharp eyes measured the situation and a sharper mind decided on a course of attack. He wanted to pound something until it bled and whimpered. He sprang into action, barreling into the much smaller vampire. He didn't bother with a stake or a sword.

His first punch broke the thing's nose, not too big of a deal for a vampire. His second punch connected to its cheek and there was a satisfying crunch under his knuckles as he felt the bones give way. He never even checked to see if the hooker was all right. He just hit the vampire until his own knuckles were split and bleeding and the screams and whimpers that had been music to his ears faded to silence. He dropped the vampire, nudging him with his boot. He scanned the alley, noting that the hooker was gone.

Maybe this had been her wake-up call? He doubted it. If anything she was probably looking to score at this very moment. He considered the bloody heap-o-vampire at his feet. He decided to leave him be. If the vampire couldn't get up in a few hours, the sun would do his dirty work.

He checked his watch, grimacing when he noticed his hand. He checked his clothes for blood. Other than a few small spatters he was good, and he could blame the split knuckles on the demons at the park. Ass suitably covered, he headed to get Cordy her ice cream.

Angel stopped at his second convenience store in one night. It was a record of sorts. He loathed the store-fronts of cinderblock and shatter-resistant glass that hogged seemingly every street-corner in the United States. The run down store front of the little shop he stopped at was anything but cheery. In fact, Cordy would probably be pissed if she knew he had gotten her something here. She may have changed for the good, but she was still a snob.

Angel noticed the liquor store right next door when he had pulled in. He planned to get drunk and pull an alcohol fueled fuzzy blanket over tonight's memories. He bought two quarts of Irish whiskey and stashed them in his car before running in to the dingy little store for ice- cream.

The evening's events hit him like a fist to the gut while he was waiting in line to pay. While Angel was grateful that he had a purpose and friends to share it with, without love his entire existence rang hollow. Angel didn't know what he had been thinking tonight, or what he was going to do now, or worse yet, how he was going to fill the eternal stretch of lonely nights before him.

He needed to know that he wasn't fighting in vain. He needed to believe that he wasn't just a cog in some cosmic machine. Was his destiny to be worked until he was world-worn and broken, only to be cast aside when a newer better model came along? He hated the certainty that his days would bleed together one after another while the people he held dear slipped like fine sand through his fingers.

Angel threw the money down and stalked out of the store, not even bothering with his change. Most of all, he hated the fact that his body still hummed with borrowed life at the memory of Buffy's touch. His lips burned from her kisses and his groin ached with unfulfilled need. Even if she had let him do as he'd wanted, he would still have had to deny himself the pleasure of release....

He fucking hated Gypsies.

Angel hurried home. He slipped quietly through the dark offices, opting to use the stairs down to his apartment. As he rounded the corner, the site of Wesley and Cordelia on the couch brought him up short. He stood for a long moment, bags in hand, watching as his friends slept unaware. Easy prey.

Cordelia was curled into a tight little ball and tucked safely into the crook of Wesley's arm. Wes slept with the TV remote in hand, glasses askew, a tiny frown drawn across his brow. His temple rested on the crown of Cordy's head. They were almost picture-perfect except, unguarded in slumber, Cordy's expressive face betrayed her. There was a rumpled and soggy Kleenex in her hand. Crying made her face softer, rounder...the fullness giving her a childish beauty that was usually buried under sharp features. Not that Cordelia Chase was ever anything less than stunning, but seeing her with no makeup, face drawn with pain, made her beauty more real somehow.

Angel took his packages to the kitchen, putting up the groceries with as little noise as possible. He poured a glass of blood, drinking it down in the kitchen as was his habit. He rinsed his glass and headed towards his bedroom, unbuttoning his shirt as he went. He stripped down to his undershirt, threw his soiled garment in the hamper and kicked off his shoes. Deciding he'd shower later he padded softly to the couch, gently nudging Wes' arm in attempt to rouse him.

Wesley jerked away from his touch, his glasses flying off his face as his head whipped around.

Angel held up his hands. "Whoa Wes, it's just me."

Cordy opened one eye to glare at Angel. "Well, I *was* having sweet dreams," she groused.

Angel tried to muster a smile and found that he couldn't. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I got kicked in the head. You?" She pushed herself up and away from Wes' protective embrace. When he didn't answer her, she gave him a sharp eyed once over. "Let me guess; you got your heart kicked around by everyone's favorite slayer."

Angel silently met her frank stare. Whatever she could read in his eyes seemed to be answer enough. She scowled slightly but didn't press. Angel was feeling the need to fix what promised to be the first of many drinks. "I got you some ice-cream," he called over his shoulder as he returned to the kitchen. "Would you like me to fix you some?" He glanced back, catching the evil look Cordy was shooting Wesley.

"You called him didn't you?" she accused.

Wesley gathered his coat and a few books, setting them on the stairs. "I thought you could use a little pick-me-up after tonight's vision." He straightened, stretching the kinks out of his back. His features softened into a look of brotherly affection. "From your description, it sounded particularly distressing."

"So you think fattening me up is going to help?" she retorted, as she drifted across the living room to where Wes was standing. "I swear, between the two of you, I'm going to end up the size of a barn." She turned to Angel, "What kind did you get?" She waved him off before he could reply, "Never-mind, just fix me a bowl."

Angel nodded and reached for a mid-sized bowl, plucking it from its perch on the shelf. The sound of a throat clearing stopped him mid- motion. He looked back over his shoulder. Cordy made a circle with her thumbs and forefingers....a wide circle. With a slight shrug, Angel set the bowl down and picked up a much bigger one. She gave him the thumbs up, her attention shifting back to Wes.

"You were *so* my word puzzle bitch, tonight." Cordelia teased as Wes slipped on his jacket.

Wes' shoulders sagged in defeat. "I never would have imagined your vocabulary could extend beyond money, fashion, jewelry, and the latest 'it' person in Hollywood," he mused good-naturedly.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Contrary to popular belief, cheerleaders can and do read. So, you really gonna go?"

Wesley nodded. "I have an early meeting tomorrow. I may have found a better apartment."

Cordelia wrapped her arms tightly around his shoulders. "G'luck," she mumbled, head tucked into the crook of his neck. "And thanks for staying with me."

Wesley hugged her back without any of the stiffness or hesitation that he usually showed then dropped a light kiss on her temple. "Anytime."

Angel ambled up behind them, ice cream in one hand, whiskey in the other. Wes' dark blue eyes locked with his. A silent understanding flowed between them. Wes gave the barest of nods, trusting that Angel would protect Cordelia from the demons without, and the demons within.

Angel thought they both trusted him a little too much.

Cordy let Wesley go. As she turned her face lit up at the sight of the huge bowl of ice cream. "Gimme," she snatched both the bowl and the whiskey out of his hands.

"Cor...." he tried to warn, but she took a big swallow before he could stop her.

She made a face and coughed, almost dropping her bowl. She set the bowl down on the coffee-table, took another big swallow of Angel's drink and sputtered, "Geeze Angel! No wonder you're so well preserved. How much alcohol is in this?"

Angel snatched the glass, downing the rest. "Your under twenty-one." He grimaced as the alcohol burned down his throat. "You have ice- cream, stay out of my liquor."

"Piss-eee," she huffed as she flopped down on the couch. "Someone had a bad night."

"Cordelia." His tone was warning enough. She picked up her bowl and began to eat as he stalked back to the kitchen and fixed himself another drink. After a moment's hesitation, he grabbed the bottle and brought it with him to the living room. He sat down next to Cordelia on the love seat, noting that Cordy was attacking her ice-cream with gusto. He'd hear her whine about it later, but the site of her eyes rolling back in her head as she savored a particularly huge bite eased a the ache in his heart a little.

He really ought to take Cordelia home but he was torn between the need for privacy and the need to watch over her. Seeing Cordy's face tonight as she slept in Wesley's arms had affected him. Whatever she felt, it had to have been horrible for her to allow herself to be held. It only added to the turmoil in his head caused by Buffy, but he couldn't help thinking that it should have been him that she turned to and not Wes.

"So, you gonna drive me home after this?"

Angel snapped out of his reverie to find her looking at him expectantly. "Do you want to go?" he asked, while wondering if she had read his thoughts.

Her focus drifted to a point just over his shoulder. "I know you'd rather be alone." She jabbed her spoon into her ice cream, pulling it free only to stab it again.

"That's not what I asked," he replied. "Do you want to go home?"

Her voice was so small, he almost didn't catch her answer. "Not really."

"Cordelia, are you all right?" He had never seen the effects of a vision linger for so long. It had him genuinely worried.

"I just don't want to be alone with my head right now," she mumbled.

Cordy scooped up a large spoonful of ice cream and ate it. Her eyes cut to his then quickly away. He was still staring, and she was getting visibly uncomfortable. He took a sip of his whiskey, she ate another bite. They continued eating and drinking in thick silence until she slid the bowl onto the coffee-table. She leaned back against the couch, hands drumming absently on her belly. Finally, her head rolled and she looked at him.

Angel set his drink down and slid around until he was facing her, one arm resting across the back of the couch. He waited, and tried not to let his mind drift back to his evening with Buffy. Focusing on Cordelia meant keeping his mind off of the feel of Buffy in his lap, her hands locked around his neck before she pushed him away, her lips moving urgently against his....

"It's just, they were kids," Cordy began, once again dragging Angel back to the present. "The headache is gone, but...I keep flashing on what they did to those girls, how much it hurt." She swallowed, unable to continue. Her eyes were the color of his whiskey, a deep amber-brown that glittered with unshed tears. Her hands were clenched, her whole body tense.

Angel surreptitiously sniffed the air. There was something...not arousal, but the sharp hint of anxiety that made his nose twitch with predatory anticipation. He pushed it down. "Cor, it didn't happen. Buffy and I sat on a park bench and watched those children play until their parents came to take them home."

She smiled and sniffed. "Really?" A couple of tears spilled from her eyes to make their way down her cheek.

He reached up and brushed his thumb across her cheek. He rubbed the moisture onto his pants, resisting the urge to suck his thumb into his mouth and taste her sadness. He shouldn't have allowed himself the gesture. Aside from the occasional hug, he kept a distance, for her protection as well as his.

Maybe it was the alcohol, or the dawning realization that he didn't *like* to see Cordelia in pain, but his other hand slid from its perch on the couch to smooth her hair away from her face. He smiled for her, not because he wanted to, but because she needed him to. "Really. We killed all the demons and then waited to make sure that nothing would happen to the children. They're all safe, probably tucked into their beds sound asleep, dreaming of...." he scowled. "Whatever little kids dream about."

She chuckled. "It's official, you *really* never did have a childhood, did you?"

"Not one that you'd understand," he answered dryly. "Ireland in the seventeen-hundreds...."

"Was very different and very boring. Any time that pre-dates the mall is the ninth circle of hell as far as I'm concerned."

"It wasn't that bad!" he defended, giving her his best wounded expression. He leaned forward and poured himself another drink. He sat back, unconsciously drawing a fraction closer to Cordelia. She snagged his glass and stole another sip, her face contorting as she swallowed.

"You know, I ate dinner out of that," he confided, hoping to discourage her from stealing any more of his liquor.

She just shrugged. "Whatever, as long as you rinsed it out really good." She gave him her patented squinty-stinkeye. "You did, didn't you?" She handed him the glass, sounding more confident than she looked. "What am I saying, of course you did. You are the original anal retentive--"

Angel clamped his hand over her mouth. "Careful now, I'm the anal retentive *what* that signs your paychecks?" He slowly removed his hand.

She bit her bottom lip. "Ummm...the sweetest, manliest, hunk of a vampire in LA?" She shamelessly batted her eyelashes at him, clasping her hands under her chin as she continued in a theatrical voice. "Who just loves his witty and stylish secretary-slash-seer so much that he's going to tell her any second now that he's giving her a raise so that she can get this to-die-for dress she saw on Rodeo Drive...."

Angel gave her his blank face. Her act was ineffectual, if endearing, and he knew from experience, playing dumb was the quickest way to get her to shut up.

Sensing defeat, she heaved a dramatic sigh and smacked him in the gut. Unfortunately it was at the exact same time he decided to take a drink. He was quite lucky that he didn't have to breathe as the amber fluid flooded his lungs, making him sputter and try to cough it up.

Cordelia curled into a ball, rolling from side to side on her end of the couch, laughing that full-on uninhibited laugh of hers. She pointed at his red face and bulging eyes then erupted into another gale of laughter, clutching her sides in an attempt to calm down.

Angel glared at the young woman beside him then couldn't help but chuckle. "See if I give you that raise now," he said, trying to sound stern but failing miserably.

"Ha!" she scoffed. "Like you ever were, you big tight-wad." She nudged him in the side with her big toe. Evidently the alcohol had blurred some of her boundaries as well. "So what's the plan, Boss? We hang out and try to pretend neither one of us had a sucky night?"

"Sounds good to me," he agreed amicably. The alcohol was spreading sluggishly through his system, giving him a false sense of warmth. Cordy's laughter made the darkness invading his heart retreat a fraction. Her presence was comforting, unlike the last two times he'd been on this couch with a woman. Rebecca Lowell had drugged him, releasing his demon, and Buffy had writhed under his hands as he tasted her and pleasured her with his mouth.

The act with Buffy had been hollow, as had Rebecca's interest in him. Cordelia was a friend, someone with whom he shared a connection, however unlikely. She didn't have expectations of him other than to take care of her visions.

Her slit denim skirt fell open slightly, teasing him with an unexpected expanse of toned and tanned thigh. She was also very beautiful....

She sat up. Instead of moving away, she slouched over, resting her head on his shoulder. She shut her eyes and sighed. Angel lay his temple against her head, almost exactly as he'd seen Wes earlier...only Wes had his arm around her. It was a bad idea, but he did it anyway, shifting, pulling her into the crook of his arm until she was nestled against his side. He felt her stiffen but didn't say anything, didn't look at her to check for a reaction. He would have smelled it if he was making her nervous. He lay his head back on hers, smiling to himself as he felt her relax once more.

Angel's mind drifted to his evening with Buffy. He'd made a monumentally stupid move, but whenever he was close to her all he could think of was getting closer. It made him reckless and needy, jealous and out of sorts. He was beginning to doubt that even sex, under such circumstances, would have triggered his curse. He was simply too desperate to prove to them both that no man would be better for her than him. In short he had been a selfish bastard.

He let his own body relax, the day's tension leeching out of his cold skin as Cordy's warm presence lulled his muscles into something close to contentment. He felt her breathing even out, then she sucked in a breath and yawned, her jaw cracking. He pulled away enough to look down at her. She tilted her head up, cheeks dimpling as she grinned sheepishly.

Angel couldn't help but stare. Her dark eyes twinkled, the pain of her vision-memories simply a shadow behind golden brown. Her smile was genuine, and blindingly gorgeous. His body tightened as the atmosphere between them sizzled with possibilities. The rational part of Angel dismissed the very idea, but the part of him that was suffering from a bruised and battered ego gladly admitted there was a crackle of...something, that roiled along his nerves. For the first time since he could remember knowing her, he looked at Cordelia Chase and saw her, not as an employee or a friend, but simply as a woman.

She seemed completely oblivious to the change in the air, that is, until he leaned in to kiss her.

He moved slowly, entranced by the plump swell of her lips. They looked soft and supple even without lipstick. He heard her draw in a breath and hold it. He slid his hand down her shoulder, pulling her closer as he brushed his nose against hers. When she didn't pull away, he slid his cheek across Cordy's, trying to get her to turn, just that last little bit....


"Shhh," he whispered, brushing his lips feather-light against hers. She smelled of uncertainty and arousal. Her lips held just the slightest hint of whiskey, a deep smoky intense flavor. He turned, bringing his other hand up to thread into her hair, and pull her closer.

Cordy resisted, her hands flying to his chest as she pushed him back. Instantly, he let her go though his instincts whispered for him to hold her down and let her fight. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear his head as she scooted to the far end of the couch and stared at him like he'd sprouted a second head.

"What in the HELL!" She swiped at her lips, rubbing him off of her. "Are you forgetting about the curse?" she bit out. She stewed silently for a moment, then comprehension dawned, and her jaw slowly dropped. A look of pure hurt crossed her face. "Of course, that wouldn't be a problem, not with me, would it?" She let out a disgusted huff, her eyes raking over him like with a disdain she usually reserved for those she considered losers. "You know, Angelus is a bastard, but I bet you could teach him lessons...."

"Cordy, I--" Angel reached out to her, but she threw her hand up in a clear signal for him to back off. "I don't know what I was...God, I am so sorry." He scrubbed his hands through his hair, inwardly cursing himself for his stupidity. Her intuition was as always, frighteningly accurate. Leave it to Cordelia to pinpoint exactly which part of him had screwed up.

"I can't believe you would try and pull that crap with me Angel!" she snapped. "You think I want to kiss that mouth after where it's been?" Her hand shot towards his face. Thinking she might actually slap him he jerked back, surprised when her thumb ran roughly over his bottom lip. When she pulled it away there was a slight wash of pink.

She didn't say another word, just let one elegantly arched brow raise. Suddenly he wanted to kiss her anyway, to pull her to him and force her to taste Buffy on his lips, to taste the bitterness that coated his shove his loneliness into the soft cavern of her mouth and make her eat her words. He wanted to make her tremble with want as he had, and then walk away and tell her they could only be friends, always just friends....

All he could do was stare at that greasy streak of pink lipstick as she curled her thumb out of his sight. His lips tingled. Disgusted with himself, he swiped at them with the back of his hand. "Cordelia, I'm sorry. I'll take you home, I'll leave....whatever you want."

Her expression gentled. "I'm just going to take my bowl over to the sink, okay? When I get back, I don't want you to apologize any more or act all weird. We'll just file that under male stupidity and you can brood and get drunk until I fall asleep."

She was letting him off the hook with nothing more than a stern warning. He found that he was deeply grateful. He nodded, not trusting himself to say the right thing when a simple shake of the head was enough for that easy smile of hers to appear. She ambled into the kitchen and he high-tailed it to the bathroom with as much speed as he could muster without actually appearing to break out into a run. He had the sudden urge to wash his face.

Angel had a vision of his future, and in it he saw himself buying someone a to-die-for black dress from a shop on Rodeo Drive, as well as the perfectly matched shoes, and probably a new handbag...and lunch. The thought hit him where it hurt. Cordy was right, he *was* a tightwad. He was also fixing to be broke.

He *really* needed another drink.

When he got back to the living-room, Cordy had taken his spot on the couch. Her legs were stretched out across the cushions, her message clear. Angel had worn out his welcome. She flipped on the ancient thirteen-inch TV, as he sat in an overstuffed chair and tried to pretend he didn't feel awkward as hell. He had just tried to kiss Cordelia Chase....He shivered. She had tasted so fucking good, and for a moment he had genuinely desired her.

With a self-satisfied smirk, her channel surfing halted when she found a show called Saved by the Bell. Five minutes later, Angel decided she'd make a great vampire. She had torture down to an art- form. Somehow the thought was a comforting one; Cordy trying to get under his skin was Cordy acting as close to normal as she got. Cordy getting on his nerves chased thoughts of a carnal nature right out of his brain....At least she'd taken his mind off of Buffy for a while.


Just fucking great. Now he couldn't get *her* out of his head. He pinched the bridge of his nose. This evening's events had left him with a headache the alcohol had yet to dull.

Halfway into the show Angel heard a faint but distinct sound. Cordelia was snoring softly, the remote precariously balanced in her loose grip. Angel had gone through his drink and fixed himself another. He wasn't as drunk as he wanted to be, but after he put Cordy to bed, he'd have the couch, TV, and alcohol all to himself.

He got up, and gently scooped Cordelia up into his arms. Her eyes opened a fraction, "What?" she asked, as her arms wrapped around his neck. He headed for his bedroom.

"I'm just taking you to bed," Angel froze in momentary panic. "I didn't mean it like..."

In her half sleeping state, Cordelia's tongue was both looser and sharper, "Like let's have pity sex because my ex-girlfriend dumped all over me and I couldn't handle it?"

"Riiight." Angel said warily. He bent easily with Cordy in his arms and pulled back the covers. He set her down but she still had a grip around his neck. She pulled him down with her. He braced himself over her. "Cordy, you have to let go."

"Hmm?" she mumbled.

He balanced himself on one arm while he pried her hands loose. She rolled underneath him, resting on her side. He smiled softly, resisting the urge to kiss her cheek in fear she'd misunderstand the gesture. Instead of getting up and claiming the couch, he rounded to the far side of the bed, and lay down on his side, head propped on his elbow.

Cordy scooted around a bit, kicked one leg out, tucked her arm under the pillow, and slipped soundly to sleep while he watched. Once more he was torn between the need to wallow in private and the instinct to protect. He desperately wanted to live up to the faith that both she and Wes had in him, but inwardly he was just waiting for his inevitable downfall.

He had let his father down, had let his sire down, had let down countless people he had failed to save as he wasted away in despair for years. Freshest of all, and most painful, he'd let Buffy down. He'd failed to be the man that she needed, so he'd left.

It awed, mystified and most of all terrified him that Cordelia and Wesley depended on him for their livelihoods. He reached out and touched Cordelia's hair, twirling a long dark lock around his finger. Cordy however, was bound to him by much more than just a paycheck. Some days that thought had him a ghostly heartbeat away from packing his bags and running as fast and as far as the nighttime would allow.

It was her face that kept him here, the image of her expressive features twisted in pain as the worst acts of both man and demon-kind were forced on to her. Cordelia *needed* him, flaws and all. It touched a chord so deep within that not even his demon reacted to her cries of pain or the occasional times she would bleed from hitting her head or biting her tongue. He didn't understand what that connection meant and still hadn't figured it out by the time he fell into a troubled sleep.

The sharp slightly tangy smell of blood and sweat woke him from his sleep. Sometime during the evening he'd closed the gap between them and now lay with his body molded along the length of Cordelia's. One arm was being used to pillow Cordy's head. His other hand followed a leisurely trail from her shoulder down her arm, grazing her hip, sliding down to find the source of her womanhood. The fact that they were both naked seemed like it should have bothered him a hell of a lot more than it did.

Her hand slid atop his, fingers intertwining as he cupped her heat. She gently tugged his hand away from temptation, settling it comfortably on her abdomen. Her fingers stroked against his in a soothing gesture. She pressed her backside against his growing erection. He rubbed her calf with his foot, squeezing her tight and burying his face in her hair.

He breathed in her scent. She smelled of the bright LA sun, sea-laden air and her favorite perfume. As wonderful as it was, it wasn't the only scent that had wakened him. He leaned up and peered at the open doorway of his bedroom. Wesley was standing there watching, his dark blue eyes soaking up the scene in front of him, missing nothing.

"Can I help you?" Angel said with a lilt of sarcasm, noting that Wesley looked as if he'd just finished a shower. His hair was damp, but he was dressed as sharply as ever in kaki slacks and a powder blue button-down shirt. He took off his glasses and began to clean them with a freshly-ironed handkerchief.

"Will you protect her?" Wes asked gravely.

"Always." Angel replied with absolute conviction.

Cordy rolled onto her back, Angel's fingers trailed across her stomach, tracing circles around her belly-button. Her skin contrasted like sunlight against his moon-pale fingertips. Her warm golden eyes met his and she smiled.

"You trust me, don't you?" Angel asked her.

Her hand cupped his cheek, thumb tracing the outline of his lower lip. "You know I do."

The bed dipped, snapping Angel's attention back to the watcher. He drew Cordy closer, guarding her jealously from prying eyes. "Go away, Wes."

Wes put his hand on Angel's shoulder, pulling him around so he could judge Angel's expression. "Do you love her?"

"I..." Angel hesitated. "No, I don't. Not like that." He looked down at the beautiful, trusting woman in his bed, "But maybe, one day...."

Wes shook his head, his face filled with sadness and regret. "If you love her, you will lose your soul."

"Don't be silly Wes." Cordy admonished.

"I'm afraid I'm not young lady, but mostly I'm just afraid." Wes answered.

Angel woke, eyes flying open, arm reflexively tightening. He heard a soft "Ooof," as he squeezed the breath out of his bedmate. He became acutely cognizant of the fact that his waking position mirrored his dream one. The part of his brain that was still half asleep mourned the fact that in the real world, clothes separated his skin from Cordy's. The other part of his brain that was fully conscious was just thankful he hadn't woken up hard. There was no way Cordy wouldn't have noticed.

Cordy gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. "Afternoon, sleepyhead."

"You're awake."

"I am now," she groused.

He rested his chin on her shoulder. His body was warm with borrowed heat, a rare comfort. Her fingers stroked in and out of his own, bringing his dream and Wes' warning back in vivid detail. "Sorry," he mumbled, fighting the urge to rub his cheek in her hair.

The weight of his curse settled over his soul. This, whatever it was - -mutual comfort, maybe-- was nice. Once they got up, by unspoken understanding, they would pretend as if it had never happened. Neither of them could afford to pay the price of getting too close, not when he was just beginning to realize how precious their friendship was to him. "How's your head?"

"Better thanks. So....did you get so drunk last night that you forgot where you put me?"

"More like I forgot where I put me." He chuckled, giving her a good- natured squeeze, "Besides, you're kind of cuddly for a human."

She chuffed, "You're not going all weird again are you?"

"No weirder than normal."

"Okay." She adjusted her position, sliding her cheek over his bicep until she was comfy. "I guess you should take me home soon, then you can have the whole rest of the day to brood." She tried to pull her hand away but he tightened his grip.

Angel wanted to preserve this reality for as long as possible. "There's no hurry." As Cordy relaxed, snuggling deeper into the shelter of his arms, Angel shut his eyes and willed the outside world to stay away.



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