It was almost seven when Angel descended the stairs at the hotel, his search of the upstairs rooms proving unsuccessful in locating either Connor or Cordelia. He moved easily and quickly, his wounds from the previous night mostly healed, leaving behind only the smallest amount of tenderness. Even the gash on his face had lessened to only a faded red line.
“Have you seen Connor?” Angel asked briskly, the slightest twinge of anger still simmering below the surface as he crossed the marble floor of the lobby.
At the sound of Angel’s voice, Gunn looked up from the desk where he sat sharpening a lethal looking saber. He thought for a moment before he replied. “Nope. Not since last night.” Briefly he wondered what Connor had done, the irritation obvious in the vampire’s tone and posture, but he choose not to pry.
Angel nodded in response and continued on through the lobby to search the downstairs, the training room and the basement. His luck proved no better downstairs than it had upstairs; neither Connor nor Cordelia were anywhere to be found.
Returning once more to the lobby, Angel wondered with brief cynicism if they were off together somewhere, and how often had this happened in the past and he had simply had not noticed? Stopping at the counter, Angel paused, feeling the strain and fatigue of the last few days catching up with him.
He was now faced with an ending and a new beginning. Before he committed to a path however, he was going to hie himself away for a respite…. He needed some time to think, to clear his head. He wanted to make the right decision this time for the right reasons.
Shifting his thoughts back to his immediate concern, his mind sorted through places that Connor was likely to be at this time of the evening. Reaching for his keys, he murmured something to Gunn about going out then headed through the doors and into the cool evening air.
Cordelia shook the blanket, attempting to remove some of the sand, before folding it carefully and packing it into her large duffel bag. She shook her head when Connor offered her the last sip of wine from the bottle of Merlot they had brought, so he finished it off himself before taking it and the rest of the remains from their picnic to the garbage.
Connor watched her with interest, feeling somewhat disappointed when she pulled on her jacket to cover the red bikini top that so perfectly displayed her full, lush breasts. He smiled as he thought of the attention he had lavished on them this afternoon, much to his beautiful lover’s delight. Even though it was December and still cool, Cordelia had elected to wear the bikini to the beach along with a long denim skirt, both of which had made it extremely convenient to indulge in amorous play. And given that the stretch of beach that they were on was largely deserted, indulge they had. He buttoned his shirt, thoroughly pleased with their afternoon outing.
Watching the sway of her hips as he followed her to her yellow jeep, Connor grinned again. Cordelia was not only beautiful, but also incredibly smart with brilliant ideas. She had been the one to suggest the beach for many an afternoon rendezvous over the last three years, lamenting how Angel could never take her there and how much she loved it. Eagerly wanting to please her, Connor readily agreed and they had since spent many pleasurable afternoons basking in the warmth of the sun.
Cordelia’s thoughts were in some way coincidentally similar to Connor’s as they climbed into the car. She was congratulating herself for her restraint in not mentioning Giles in her conversation with Angel that morning, acknowledging it as a stroke of brilliance to simply avoid the topic and instead demonstrate her care and concern for him. He still appeared to be distracted or perhaps simply tired, but his brief hug had reassured her that she had nothing more to worry about. Of course, she thought smugly, Angel’s affections were well in hand. She was smart and beautiful, not to mention part demon vision girl with an impressive connection to the Powers that Be. What was there not to love?
Noting that the sun was fast dropping below the horizon, Cordelia pressed a little more firmly on the accelerator. They were later today than usual and Angel would likely be up and about already. She wasn’t concerned about being caught returning with Connor, since after all Angel had encouraged her to be part of Connor’s life – although she thought with a sardonic smile, he might have meant in a less physically intimate more step-motherly capacity – but avoidance of any possible questioning was simply easier. She also wasn’t confident about Connor’s ability or even willingness to lie should they ever be subject to scrutiny.
As was typical of their afternoon outings, Connor and Cordelia entered the hotel from different doors when they returned, Connor waiting patiently for a brief interval after she went in so as not to appear conspicuous.
Seated on the floor behind the settee playing with baby Amelia, Fred was hidden from view as Cordelia crossed the lobby. She paused at the counter to pick up the mail and check for any phone messages from clients before she started up the stairs. Minutes later, Connor came through the opposite door.
After a quick glance around the room, he followed Cordelia at a jog, a grin on his face. Fred watched as Connor caught up with the dyed blonde just at the top of the stairs, stopping her with a loud whisper. Having seen no one about when he crossed the lobby, he reached in his pocket then held out his hand. The red object dangling from his fingertip appeared to be the bottom of a red bikini. Cordelia snatched it from him quickly, glancing around as if to ensure that they were alone. Fred couldn’t hear the seer’s words, but she appeared to be chastising him angrily before she turned and continued up the stairs.
Fred was seated at her desk, Amelia asleep in her baby basket next to her, when Connor came back down the stairs, showered and dressed in jeans and an over-sized sweatshirt.
“Hey, so where’s Dad?” Connor alternated his names for Angel, at times calling him by his first name, other times calling him Dad, depending on his mood and the usefulness of the term at the time. Right now it suited his purpose for Fred to think that there was a genial and pleasant relationship between them.
“I don’t know, Connor. Charles said he went out a while ago.” Fred glanced up absently, her concentration largely focused on the article she was studying on Haitian voodoo.
“Oh. And where’s he at?” Connor came around the counter to the desk where Fred sat. He needed information and Fred was just the perfect person to help him out; even better that Gunn wasn’t around…
“Went to pick up more diapers. She really goes through them.” Fred smiled affectionately at her baby daughter as she gurgled in her sleep.
He too smiled slightly at Amelia, gently lifting her socked foot and marveling at the tiny size. She stirred a protectiveness that he’d not quite felt before, despite the fact that she wasn’t directly related to him. Dismissing the feelings he didn’t quite understand, he turned his attention back to Fred. Schooling his expression into one of wide-eyed innocence, he asked, “So, Dad lived in Sunnydale before he came here, huh?”
“Yes.” Nodding, Fred studied his face for a minute before she lifted her glass and took a sip of water.
“Cordelia too, huh?” Connor plopped into the chair next to the desk, as if he struck up idle conversation with Fred every day when in fact, he rarely talked with her about topics outside of their work.
“Yes, I think so. Why?” The young mother glanced at him curiously, recalling the earlier scene between he and Cordelia on the stairs.
“I dunno. Just curious I guess. Where is that anyway?” Connor sat up and pointed to the computer screen, “Can you show me?”
“Um… I guess.” Fred turned back to her computer screen and typed in the address for the MapQuest Internet site. She then entered the necessary parameters and submitted her query to return the map showing Sunnydale’s location.
“You just so good at this. Way better than I could ever be.” Connor complimented, his eyes trained on the resulting page appearing on the small screen.
Fred blushed slightly, unused to compliments from the young man. “Oh. Thanks. Well, you know I work at it a lot. And it’s not that hard. I could show-”
“Is that it?” Connor interrupted and pointed to the star that appeared on the page. “That’s not very far, is it?”
“Uh, yes. And no, not far. Two hours maybe?” Fred frowned in consternation, glancing back at Connor’s face.
“Cool. Thanks.” Connor stood abruptly. “Well, I’ve got some things to do. See ya later.”
Fred frowned worriedly as she watched Connor climb the stairs. She hesitated only a few minutes before she scooped up the baby and quietly followed him.
Fred was once again seated at her desk when Connor descended the stairs and crossed the lobby whistling, his backpack over his shoulder. He took the keys from the desk and opened the weapons closet, still whistling a happy tune. He locked the closet back up and returned the key to it’s place behind the counter. Waving jauntily, he exited the hotel.
Despite watching him covertly under her lashes, Fred was unable to see what he had taken. She chewed at her fingernail worriedly as she watched him leave, wishing that Gunn or Angel would return soon. She was troubled by what she had seen and heard upstairs and by Connor’s questions. Besides, the last time she had seen that look of practiced innocence on Connor’s face, Angel had ended up locked in a box at the bottom of the ocean…
When Angel arrived back at the hotel just before dawn the lobby was quiet, only a single lit lamp breaking the complete darkness. After checking a few places that he thought Connor might hang out, he’d simply gone on patrol again, anxious to occupy his mind with thoughts other than his current home life or Buffy.
After battling nearly as many vampires and demons as he’d found the night before, Angel tiredly wondered if things were as bad for Buffy in Sunnydale. Did she have to face strong and vicious foes night after night? Of course, with it’s mystical energy the Hellmouth would draw the worst of them there… Angel sighed, not liking the obvious conclusion to his own question: if things were this bad in LA, they were likely worse in Sunnydale.
As he crossed the threshold of the hotel, he wearily realized that at some point he’d largely lost sight of his quest for redemption. When had the fight against evil become about clients and money, instead of making amends for the horrible wrongs he had committed as both man and demon?
Buffy was the Chosen One, yet she received no payment for the battles that she fought and won, the apocalypses that she prevented… In fact, she fought in the battle against evil largely unaided by those very Powers that had chosen her, if not directly then through their emissaries at the Watchers Council. While he… he not only received monetary compensation but he had a seer with visions!
The injustice struck him then and he shook his head, a bitter laugh escaping his lips. When had the simple and important act of patrol been replaced by acting purely on visions? For that matter, why had he become so dependent on Cordelia’s visions?
At this particular juncture in his life, things now suddenly seemed wrong. It was as if somehow he had taken a wrong turn and had gone so far down that wrong path that turning around to makes things right now appeared incredibly daunting. But not impossible, a small voice whispered to him, a voice that was strangely familiar, strangely similar to that of a certain blonde haired green eyed girl…
Sighing heavily, he knew that he had to at least try. Perhaps it was yet another test, another opportunity to prove himself worthy of redemption.
Lorne’s voice rang out in the quiet, breaking into his thoughts. He’d been so preoccupied that he hadn’t even noticed the green demon on the settee as he crossed the lobby.
“Angel-cakes, something’s bothering you. You’ve been edgy and tense nearly all week. I can feel it. It’s giving me hives. What’s up?”
Angel put his weapons away and walked over to Lorne. “It’s nothing.”
“C’mon. You’re aura is fairly screaming, dumpling. Talk to me.” Lorne patted the settee next to him, encouraging Angel to sit.
Although he wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to disclose anything to Lorne, Angel sat down.
“So talk. Or better yet, sing.” The green demon studied the vampire carefully.
“I think this is something I need to figure out myself, but thanks.” Angel said after awhile. It’s was largely Lorne’s prodding that had led Angel down the path to Cordelia. How would the demon react to his suspicions about her now? Of course, he couldn’t blame Lorne alone. Everyone in the team seemed to think that he and Cordelia had been meant for each other. He simply – and wrongly – had accepted that they had been right.
“Puddin’, you know I don’t like to interfere…” At Angel’s raised eyebrow, Lorne shrugged unapologetically. “Well, if I do it’s because I care. You’ve been stewin’ on something powerful now for days.”
“And what do you think that is?” Angel wasn’t adversarial, merely curious about how much his demon friend knew or could sense.
“Well, sing a few bars for me and I’ll get a better read.” Lorne settled comfortably back against the settee, crossing his legs and resting both hands on his knee. He looked at Angel with an expectant expression. When the vampire didn’t immediately reply, Lorne patiently prompted him. “Sweety-pea, I’m not getting any younger. Besides, this is for both of us. My skin looks horrible with hives. Red on green. It’s not pretty. Help me out here.”
Angel debated again, before finally giving in to the Host’s insistent demand. Awkwardly, he began to sing the first thing that came to his mind. It was the chorus from the song that had been playing at the ice rink the other night when he had watched the girl skate.
Babe when I can’t feel your touch
and we’ve lost another day
Seems like I’m a million miles away
I wander in the dark
Looking for somewhere to stay
Seems like I’m a million miles away
What am I looking for ?
What am I dreaming of ?
When you are the woman that I really love
Babe when I can’t feel your touch
And we’ve lost another day
Seems like I’m a million miles away
I wander in the dark
Looking for somewhere to stay
Seems like I’m a million miles away
When he finished he looked at Lorne expectantly. He was also somewhat surprised that he had remembered as much of the song as he had.
Lorne shifted uncomfortably, stroking his cheek nervously and fidgeting. Finally, the Host cleared his throat and said. “Angel-hair, sweetie… It’s like you’re missing something, some part of yourself. You’ve got a yin/yang thing going on. I see darkness, which I’d have to guess is you but there’s a gaping hole where there should be light.”
“The light is… well, let’s just say it appears….” Lorne pursed his lips, confused by the reading. It didn’t quite make sense. “Well, frozen. I see a big blue iceberg. And it appears like it’s about to break off.”
Shaking his head, he continued. “Something has wedged you apart, my tall dark and delicious marzipan. If I didn’t know better I’d say that your soul is fairly screaming for its mate.”
Lorne was genuinely perplexed. How could the vampire appear to be missing something so significant in his life, when he had Connor, his son, and Cordelia, his destiny, his love, his soul mate? The green demon furrowed his brow in confusion, attempting again to make sense of what he had read. Perhaps he had been misread something. When he looked at Angel’s face, he was more confused. The vampire seemed to have accepted his words without the slightest confusion or doubt.
“I’m going to guess cupcake, that this doesn’t appear to be news to you?” Lorne questioned curiously.
The only acknowledgement to Lorne’s words was the almost imperceptible shake of Angel’s head. Angel suddenly wondered, what, if anything, the others at AI knew about Connor and Cordelia’s relationship. With perceptive eyes trained on the Host’s face, Angel softly asked, “What would you say if I said that I thought that someone has been lying to me?”
The green demon pursed his lips, opened his mouth and started to speak, then hesitated. The question had been unexpected. When he spoke, his surprise was evident. “Lying? As in, not telling the truth? Are you sure?”
At Angel’s nod, Lorne gave a low whistle. “What are you going to do?”
After a moment’s consideration, Angel stood. “What I should have done years ago.”
Lorne shuddered involuntarily from fear at the look of cold determination in Angel’s eyes. He hoped that he wasn’t the one that the vampire suspected of deceit.
The rich, musky scent of her perfume warned him even before he entered his room, but then it had been expected. Cordelia was sleeping soundly in his bed where she had slept night after night for almost three years. He watched her for a moment, her dyed blonde hair matted and pressed to her face, which was turned toward him. He wondered then how he had deceived himself for so long believing that he was in love with her. There was no doubt that he cared for her, that he was fond of her… he just didn’t love her nor did he trust her, not anymore.
Quietly he undressed in the dark, pulling on his favorite pair of black sweats and a white t-shirt. As much as he wanted to collapse in *his* bed and lose himself in sleep, he found the idea of lying beside her extremely distasteful. Nor did he want to wake her up for a confrontation. That would come soon enough.
Tiredly, he returned to the small living room and dropped on the couch. He still didn’t know exactly what he was going to do next, although if Lorne’s reading was to be believed his soul mate was crying out for him.
Buffy. He turned the name over almost reverently in his mind. It had been years since he’d allowed himself to think of her so freely, without guilt or censure. It was almost a heady pleasure. It was equally likely, if not more so, that his soul was the one crying out for her.
Giles’s words as well as his own recollections over the past few days left him feeling steeped in guilt and betrayal. He had allowed subtle revelations and lies by a certain jealous former cheerleader to work their insidious purpose, tainting his memories and turning him against the only woman that he had ever loved.
It had been easy, really. He wanted a relationship, an end to the loneliness that he had long felt. He wanted acceptance. He wanted love. And it was true that he had never felt worthy of Buffy’s love – which made it easier to accept or believe that he never really had it. All of which had made him an easy mark for the shrewd and beautiful woman that now slept in his bed.
Not that she was solely to blame, not at all. He had blindly ignored the truth about her self-centered and narcissistic personality because it had been easy and convenient to do so. It was his own damned fault that he had been so stupid. And now that he knew that, things would change. He’d make sure of it.
Angel sighed and stretched out on the couch. He lay there for a while, tossing and turning, unable to sleep despite his exhaustion. He could sense the slow creep of the sun across the horizon as dawn broke over Los Angeles, the increased sounds as the nearby residents went about their day.
Now that he had made a few decisions about his life, he was anxious to set things in motion. Rising abruptly, he strode into the bathroom without so much as a glance at the woman still sleeping in his bed.
He brushed his teeth while the water of the shower warmed, briefly wondering if there was a chance in hell that things might actually work out the way he had only just begun to hope.
When he stepped into the hot spray of the water, his mind once again drifted to thoughts of the blonde Slayer in Sunnydale. Conveniently, Giles’s visit provided him an excuse to see her, one that he would eagerly take. It was a first step.
What was she doing now? Did she still live in the house on Revello drive? Did she still look the same as he remembered? As the thought crossed his mind, the dream he had the other day came back with vivid clarity. He recalled each and every curve of her body as she moved in his dreams in the pale blue light, her hips moving in invitation, the diamond in her navel glittering, beckoning him. Her full lips cried out for his kisses; her rigid nipples made his mouth hunger for a taste of her, stirring a powerful longing to run his tongue around the rosy peaks and lower…
His hand skimmed down over the now hard erection between his legs. His eyes closed as his hand began moving up and down with practiced expertise.
In his mind, his lips descended on hers tasting the sweet minty taste that had been pure Buffy. His hands circled her waist, his thumbs meeting in the middle near the tiny secret of her navel as her tongue curled around his, sucking him deeper into her mouth. He pushed the tiny skirt off her hips and it pooled at her feet leaving her bare to his gaze. His eyes swept over her in his imagination, drinking in the site of the taut rosy nipples, her firm flat abdomen, the dark gold patch of hair above the precious gates of her femininity. Lifting her leg, she opened for him, hooking her still booted calf behind his knee as he guided his aching, hard erection to her swollen wet and pulsing core…
Angel gasped when he reached his explosive climax, groaning deep in his chest as he released his seed into the powerful spray of the water. He leaned heavily against the wall, recovering from the last shuddering remnants of his orgasm. It has been years since he’d resorted to jerking off in the shower, he thought with a small smile.
When he stepped out of the shower a short while later, Cordelia greeted him with a towel. “Hey there.”
She had awakened to the sound of the shower running, frowning when she glanced at the undisturbed side of the bed where Angel normally slept then at the clock. Her earlier bad feeling about his disappearance both from the hotel and their bed for the last few nights returned. A feeling which was further compounded by his unusual early morning activity; Angel normally slept through dawn and the early morning hours yet this morning he was in the shower. Tossing aside the covers in frustration, she rose. No better time like the present to deal with whatever bug was up his ass now.
Angel jumped almost guiltily, relieved that she hadn’t come in just a few minutes earlier. No doubt that would have resulted in an uncomfortable discussion while she took him to task for not seeking her out if he was ‘in the mood’. In all honesty, he’d grown somewhat tired of making love with Cordelia; she usually laid back passively and acted as if she were doing him a great favor by allowing him access to her body. She often hurried him along when he would have liked to leisurely bring them to pleasure, and she discouraged his kisses, particularly on her neck or breasts as if she were afraid the temptation to bite would suddenly overwhelm him and he would give in to his demon urges. At the thought, Angel resisted twisting his lips into a derisive smile.
He took the towel from her almost cautiously, glancing at her face. There was an intense and unattractive frown marring her features. Since she was normally so careful about how she appeared, he doubted that she was even aware of her expression.
“So where were you last night?” Cordelia studied his half naked body with disinterest as he wrapped the towel around his waist. After her mini-sexual marathon yesterday with Connor, she wasn’t particularly interested in sex with Angel. Not that she ever really was, although she was sure that it must be incredibly mind-blowing for him, since he took so much time whenever they made love, as if he wanted to leisurely worship her. Oh, there was no doubt that the experienced 250-year-old vampire was exceptionally skilled in carnal activities; he easily manipulated her body to unimagined heights of pleasure, but he was too controlled, too reserved. He never had that desperate need, that compelling urgency or nearly uncontrollable craving for her that Connor seemed to possess. It gave her such a feeling of power, of desirability. And sex with Connor had shown her that she also liked control; that she preferred being the more experienced one able to dominate and direct her partner… And Angel, well, she couldn’t imagine that he’d ever be submissive. She shivered as her thoughts shifted back to her day at the beach yesterday: her young lover had worshiped her with his lips until she finally allowed him his own release…
“Out.” Angel flatly declared, his voice jolting her out of her reverie. He looked at her with new eyes this morning, as if seeing her for the first time. Despite the fact that she had obviously bathed, he could still detect his son’s scent on her and he knew without a doubt that they had been out together yesterday. If scent alone hadn’t been enough, the look in her eyes and the faint blush on her cheeks told him that she was hiding something.
“Out? That’s all you’re going to say? Out?” Cordelia followed him into the bedroom and sat on the bed while he began to dress, letting Angel know less than subtly that she wasn’t through with their conversation.
He wasn’t attempting to evade her; he simply wanted to be dressed in something more than a towel while they had this discussion. Selecting a pair of boxer shorts from the bureau, he pulled them on and moved to the closet where he choose a pair of pants, and pulled those on as well. After a brief pause his eyes flitted back to the dyed blonde on the bed. He studied her carefully for her reaction to his next words.
“I went to see Giles.” He softly declared. It might have been several nights ago, but he saw no reason to clarify that detail.
“Oh. And?” Cordelia attempted to conceal her interest, absently plucking imaginary lint off her skirt, but her heart began to pound wildly.
For a moment Angel didn’t say anything, reaching in the closet for his shirt. As he buttoned it, he once again focused his attention on her, waiting to see if her body language would reveal anything that her voice did not. As it was, he could sense her increased pulse rate so he already knew that his words were making her nervous.
“Did you know that the clause in my curse no longer exists?” He inquired, his voice utterly calm, his dark eyes watching her intently.
“Oh. Is that all he wanted to tell you? ” Cordelia sighed, her spine nearly sagging with relief. If that’s all the former watcher had to say, then she had nothing to worry about. Angel’s broodiness this last week and made her suspect that there had been something more dramatic and more directly Buffy related.
“You don’t seem surprised.” He stated mildly, although there was a hint of anger in his tone. He knew from both her answer and her eyes that the news hadn’t been the least bit surprising to her.
“Oh! No more happiness clause! That’s good right?” Inwardly Cordelia rolled her eyes and called Angel a moron in her thoughts. Of course there was no more happiness clause – else how was it that they had been able to have sex these last few years? Had he really believed her lie that her status as a higher being had protected them? There certainly was no doubt in her mind that sex with her would most certainly have resulted in perfect happiness for him, which meant that Angelus would have returned three years ago.
“Did you know?” Angel probed, noting that her attempt to now appear surprised made it obvious why she had never made it as an actress.
“Of course… not.” With his dark eyes studying her so intently, she found it almost difficult to lie. Almost, but not quite. Her ego didn’t allow her to even consider that she had already given herself away.
“But you were a higher being, a goddess. Surely you knew. Someone with that kind of power would know, wouldn’t they? How could they not? Especially when you saw everything else about my life as both demon and man. And you, well, *you* would, of course, would be a powerful, gifted being – one of the more knowledgeable, the more connected, the most in the know…” Angel commented in a deceptively casual tone, the only sign of his agitation in the sight clenching and unclenching of his jaw muscle.
Mistakenly, Cordelia preened under the compliments, running a hand over her hair. Of course she had been a powerful higher being, of course they had shared their knowledge and power with her, of course she had known.
“So why didn’t you tell me?” Angel smoothly questioned, not above using the very same flattery tactics that he was unaware his son used when attempting to extract information from the vain and egotistical seer.
“Because I wanted you…” Cordelia blurted, then stopped. “Oh…” Realizing the he had tricked her she looked at him with a guilty expression. She sprang to her feet and paced briskly, attempting to think of an excuse.
Angel lifted an eyebrow at her, piercing her with his gaze.
“I couldn’t tell you – it was something I learned as a higher being and I was told that I couldn’t tell you.” Cordelia sputtered as she spun around again to face him. It was the first thing she could think of in an attempt to cover her own ass. “I wanted to… but I couldn’t. They wouldn’t let me. The Powers that is.”
“I see.” Angel walked casually across the room and picked up one of the boxes that he had sat just outside the bedroom door earlier this morning. Just as casually, he sat the box on the bed.
Cordelia felt that flurry of panic again, watching him as he walked to the closet and began pulling out clothes, packing them in the box.
“Where are you going?” Her eyes wide with alarm she watched him calmly move from the closet to the bureau and back.
Angel ignored her question only to ask her one of his own. “Why did you lie about Buffy sending me to hell?”
“What?” Her voice was shrill now, giving away her panic.
“What part of the question do you not understand?” Angel stopped his packing to look at her.
“I didn’t lie.” Attempting to brazen her way out, Cordelia persisted.
“Buffy didn’t know that they were attempting to restore my soul when she sent me to hell with Acathla. Giles told me the truth.”
“Well, he’s lying.”
Angel crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. He lifted his eyebrows in question.
“Well, I suppose I could have misheard.” Cordelia gave ground on this one since Angel clearly had made up his mind to believe the former Watcher. “If I did – and that’s an if because I’m not saying that I did for sure – then it was an honest mistake. Besides, you can’t say that it didn’t help you forget and move on. Which you needed to do.”
“But you lied to me. And you didn’t tell me about the change in the curse. What else have you lied about Cordelia?” Angel coolly replied. He felt betrayed.
Now Cordelia was beginning to get angry. How dare he act as if she had been wrong?
“I had to. You would have brooded us all into our graves had I not taken it on myself to help you move on and forget about little darling Buffy. It was your self-pity that had you screwing Darla in an attempt to lose your soul – tell me you forgot about that already? Oh wait – how could you? Connor is here to remind you. And I already told you, I couldn’t tell you.”
“This is about you lying to me. Not about Darla.”
“That’s the point! I had to do something so you’d move on. Do you not get that?! Christ, time and again I bail you out, keeping you from wallowing in self-pity or stupid selfish anger.” Her voice rising, Cordelia jabbed her finger at him. “You’ve been around almost 250 years – do you not understand the phrase ‘the ends justify the means’? I did what I had to do.”
Angel looked at her briefly, a flash of anger in his eyes, before he went back to packing.
Cordelia softened her voice, attempting a different tact. “You know I love you. I would do anything to keep you from harm. And Buffy… she wasn’t any good for you. You needed to move on. I hated doing it, but telling a few small white lies was the only way that I felt I could protect you.” Jabbing her nail into her eye to force a tear, Cordelia wiped at her eyes as if overcome with emotion.
When he didn’t appear to respond to her emotional appeal, the seer gritted her teeth and forcibly softened her voice again. “At first I just wanted to keep you and Buffy apart. You know, to keep you from getting groiny. Or don’t you remember?”
Cordelia clenched her fists in rage as she thought about those first years. How jealous she had been over Angel’s devotion to the blonde Slayer. Of course, she had won him over eventually and now she knew he was more in love with her than he ever had been with Buffy. He had to be. So what was his fucking problem? Her anger and arrogance overriding her attempt at emotional appeal, she shouted. “There were times in the first year or two when I’ll bet you would have said to hell with the world just to screw that stupid tramp and then it would have been “hello, Angelus” all over again and then you’d only have more dead bodies left in your wake to atone for. I’m the one who didn’t let that happen. Me. I’m the one who kept you from doing something you’d only regret. Don’t you ever forget that!”
“I know what it was like, I lived with the pain every day. But-”
“But you’re happy! Before you get all self-righteous and tell me that I shouldn’t have done what I did – tell me you’re not happy now. That things haven’t worked out for the best.”
“Yes, there have been times when I have been happy. But that’s no excuse-” Angel didn’t admit that he knew the reason he could make love to Cordelia these last few years had been because it wasn’t perfect happiness. It was nowhere near close.
After Buffy he was always aware of the dangers of his existence and with that doubt poisoning his mind and his contentment, he’d never allowed himself to be completely happy. The threat was always there, in the back of his mind. Although, apparently he and Cordelia had been working at deceiving themselves together. She convinced him her deity status protected them even while she knew the truth about the clause, and he had simply agreed. He felt guilty now that he had been so complacent. That he had wanted a normal life, that he wanted love so much that he had simply settled for what was in front of him rather than seeking out what his heart really wanted.
“Were the other things lies too, Cor? Did you lie about Buffy’s feelings of revulsion about vampires?” He queried, his voice etched with flinty coldness. Each little thing that Cordelia had told him had been etched on his heart. When she had said that Buffy hated his kisses, saying that she expected to taste blood or that she resented that fact that he couldn’t go out in sunlight – a part of him had died. It reaffirmed that he had done the right thing by leaving her. He leaned back against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.
“No, of course not.” Cordelia pursed her lips, refusing to answer further.
“She never confided anything to you during your little ‘Slayerfest’ excursion in the woods did she?”
“Of course she did.” The former brunette insisted. “She told me about Scott, about all the things that they did. While you thought she was pining over you, she was out screwing his brains out.”
Angel sighed. He knew Buffy had never been intimate with Scott. She had been coming to see him every day, bringing him food. He’d never detected so much as the faintest trace of another scent on her. He would have noticed. The irony was not lost on him. Here he had failed or had simply chosen not notice the scent of his own son that was often on Cordelia, yet he had at one time a stalkerish familiarity with Buffy’s scent that was so detailed he could practically have charted her hormone fluctuations. Cordelia deceived herself if she thought a quick shower and spritz of perfume was enough to hide it from him. He had simply not wanted to know.
So why then, did he ever let Cordelia convince him otherwise? Pushing away from the wall to resume his packing again, he mentally began to go through the long list of lies that he’d been fed over these past years, beginning as early as the first year that he had been in LA. He sighed disgustedly that he hadn’t seen Cordelia’s deceitful tactics even then.
With casual deliberation, Angel continued his questions. “She never complained that I wasn’t there during her Crucamentium, did she?”
“She did too! She said that you should have helped her but that you didn’t. That you should have been there instead of Giles.” Cordelia bluffed, having no idea what had really happened other than the fact that Buffy had appeared at school several days later with major bruises and that she had been seriously pissed at Giles, who had then been fired from the Watchers Council. She extracted the information about the Crucamentium from Xander but he hadn’t been of much help with any details.
Angel knew that Giles had not, in fact, been there when Buffy defeated Kralik. She had done it alone. Both he and Giles repeatedly cursed themselves that they had left her alone that night, both grateful that Buffy had turned out to be as resourceful as she had.
Shifting his attention back to Cordelia, Angel asked with lazy indifference. “She never claimed that I had sex with Faith, but it wasn’t true happiness so I didn’t lose my soul, did she? You told me that she bragged that only she had that power.”
“You did sleep with the little tramp, didn’t you?” Cordelia screeched. She had started that little lie in her attempt to find out how deep the vampire’s feelings ran for the brunette slayer after Faith had shown up in LA. She never liked the fact that Angel visited Faith in prison. And of course, while she never doubted that sex with her, Queen C, would have made him lose his soul, sex with Faith… well, perfect happiness was highly unlikely.
Angel didn’t answer but cast a cold look over his shoulder at her as he picked up the full box from the bed and set it outside the door. Taking another box into the room, he sat it on the bed. Turning to face Cordelia again he once more crossed his arms over his chest.
“You never heard her Buffy confessing to Willow that she had been tempted by the demon…That she wanted Angelus sexually.” He murmured softly. That had been one thorny revelation that Angel found difficult to handle. He hated to think that Buffy might have wanted Angelus. It was irrational to be jealous of himself as a demon, yet he was. He was also ashamed to admit that he felt a guilty pleasure in believing that she might have wanted him despite what he was. It also gave him wicked sexual thoughts regarding the blonde Slayer that he wasn’t sure it was at all appropriate to have.
“You think that’s so unbelievable? You think she’s too good to want a demon or something? You think you’re precious little Buffy would never do the nasty with a demon? That’s she never *fuck* one? Well, I do hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but she ended up fucking Spike.” Cordelia replied spitefully, rankled that she somehow had lost control of the conversation.
“Or is he technically not a demon with that chip thing?” She asked with saccharine sweetness, tapping her finger on her chin contemplatively.
“I don’t know if I can believe anything you’ve told me.” Angel suppressed the flash of anger and jealousy that her words sparked and walked across the room and retrieved the last empty box from near the door. Once again, he began filling it with clothing.
“But Angel…” Cordelia started to cry, watching everything she had worked so hard for starting to disappear in front of her eyes.
“Guys? Hey – sorry to interrupt…” Gunn knocked at the door to the bedroom with an apologetic expression on his face, Fred hanging back slightly behind him. They had been hesitant to knock earlier, Cordelia’s loud voice in no way hiding the fact that an argument was taking place, but when it appeared that it might continue for a while, Gunn took a deep breath and intruded.
“What’s up?” Angel glanced at the couple in the doorway, knowing that they would never have interrupted unless it was important.
“Connor’s gone.” Gunn replied flatly, glancing at Cordelia then back to the tall vampire.
“Gone? Gone where?” Angel’s eyes flared in surprise.
Gunn reached for Fred’s hand, gently pulling her forward and squeezing it lightly, silently offering his support for her to speak.
“Sunnydale.” Nervously, Fred looked at Angel then at Cordelia before quickly averting her eyes.
A pin could have dropped in the room and been easily heard by more than those with preternatural hearing in that instant.
Angel’s head whipped around and he pinned Cordelia with a look. The timing was too coincidental in his mind. He growled, “Why?”
Cordelia shrugged in annoyance that he obviously expected her to know before glancing at Fred. “How do you know?”
Dropping her eyes, Fred look down at the floor then up at Angel. She refused to make eye contact with the seer. “He a-asked me about Sunnydale yesterday. Where it was. I-I-it gave me a bad feeling so, I spied on him. Angel, I’m sorry – I know I shouldn’t have.”
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed as she noticed Fred’s sudden aversion to making eye contact with her.
“I heard him calling the bus station for times.” Fred continued in an embarrassed stammer.
She knew Angel wouldn’t countenance her spying on anyone in their small family; it didn’t make for good relationships especially when they all lived together in the hotel but she’d had a bad feeling when he’d asked so she’d followed up at a discreet distance. She’d been surprised when she heard him call the bus station, but she was literally shocked when she saw him kissing Cordelia just outside of Angel and Cordelia’s room just after that… It changed her perspective on confronting Angel about his possible affair. Although, she wasn’t certain what, if anything, she was going to say about that now.
“It’s okay, Fred. You were worried, that’s all.” Angel replied gently, his voice soft. Even so, he glanced at Cordelia again with a cold expression in his eyes.
“When did he leave? Do we know?” Angel asked tersely, his temper on edge.
“Not exactly. Best guess is just before midnight. Last bus to Sunnydale leaves about then.” Gunn replied matter-of-factly. “You want me to go after him?”
“No. I’ll go just as soon as it’s dark.” The frustration of having to wait for dusk was obvious in the vampire’s voice.
“I’ll go too.” Cordelia volunteered. She had no idea why Connor had gone to Sunnydale but she knew she didn’t like it. He’d been far too interested in Buffy’s picture the other night… Was he attracted to her and seeking her out? Did both father and son have some unnatural attraction or fascination with slayers? Damn Buffy, she always fucks everything up.
“No.” Angel replied bluntly.
“What?!” Cordelia snapped, “Don’t be an idiot. I can help.”
“He took something. A weapon. One of the big hunting knives I think.” Gunn stated bluntly, wanting Angel to know that it appeared that his son was looking for trouble.
“Damn.” Angel growled, turning back to Cordelia. “And no.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Gunn and Fred were slipping out of the room to give them some privacy to continue their ‘discussion’.
“Unless of course, you know why he went to Sunnydale…” He asked with a hint of menace in his voice.
Cordelia shivered, despite knowing that Angel would not physically hurt her. He’d so rarely turned his full rage on her, that seeing it, even in small doses, frightened her. “Of course I don’t know. How would I know?”
“Then you don’t go.” He declared, his voice resolute and unwavering.
Picking up the last boxes from the bed, Angel pressed it into Cordelia’s arms. It was only then that she realized that he had been packing her things, not his own. She looked up at him in outrage.
“You can stay in the hotel, but find yourself another room.” He coolly stated, a hand at her back walking her toward the door. Gently he pushed her out of the bedroom, into the living room where he had sat the other boxes with her things.
“And Cordelia? Don’t ever screw my son in my bed again.” Angel closed the bedroom door in her face with a resounding slam.
Cordelia stared at the closed door, her mouth gaping open. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized that he had known about her affair with Connor. He’d been angry about the things he suspected were lies she’d told about Buffy and about her omission in not telling him about his soul, but she detected nothing but indifference in his voice when he mentioned her affair with his son. And that stung.
Buffy walked along the darkened Sunnydale street in search of the vampires that she knew to be in the area. They had managed to stay hidden for the last three days, but she’d find them tonight. She had no doubt.
Reaching in her bag, she looped her headphones over her ears and turned on her CD player. The beat of the song began with a slow steady thump and Buffy adjusted her pace to match. Giles would no doubt have frowned on her fighting with it, but she found that having the music gave her an added boost. The energy, the lyrics – it suited her when she was on the hunt.
“And since birth I’ve been cursed with this curse to just curse…” Occasionally singing along with the lyrics, her voice no louder than a whisper, Buffy moved further down the dark street toward the wharf. “…but at least have the decency in you when you freaks see me out in the streets…” She hummed the rest quietly, moving steadily toward her prey.
With a quick lunge, Buffy turned and plunged her stake into the chest of the vampire that appeared on her right. “I am…” She sang along with the chorus loudly now, the sentences punctuated with blows. “Whatever you say I am…” Shifting her footing, she back-kicked the vampire on her left into the pile of boxes stacked against the wall. “If I wasn’t then why would I say I am…”
Swiftly and efficiently, she retrieved the vampire from the ground. “In the paper, the news every day I am…” The last part of the sentence came out stronger as she timed it with her punch, once more sending him sprawling. “Radio won’t even play my jam…” The stake descended into the vampires’ heart on the last word. Buffy smiled, enjoying the semi-choreographed slayage.
“Cause I am, whatever you say I am…”
“Huh?” The vampire released the girl he had been feeding from and whirled around at the sound of the soft voice singing behind him. The girl fled past Buffy just as she was rounding the corner and moving through the dark alley toward the last remaining vamp in the trio.
“If I wasn’t why would I say I am…” He didn’t even have time to move before she whirled and sent him flying into the building behind him. Slamming against the building, the vampire met her stake as he bounced off with the force of the blow. He was dust before he even had a chance to even attempt to defend himself.
Buffy paused for a second, cocking her head slightly as her senses kicked into gear once again. Another vamp was behind her. “In the paper, the news…” With a roundhouse kick, she spun around and sent the vampire behind her tumbling into the ground. “…every day I am…
Moving quickly she planted her foot hard on his chest, pining him to the ground.
“I don’t know it’s just the way I am…” After a second of consideration, she tucked her stake into the waistband of her jeans. Turning off her CD player, she looked down at the figure on the ground.
Angel had seen her just after she entered the alley. He had hurried forward, intending to help when she walked right into the center of the small group of vampires but she had taken them out before he even had a chance to reach them. He was more than impressed. Her moves were swift and brutal, but honed to perfection. He admired her graceful efficiency as she dispatched the vamps with ease. She was clearly at the top of her game.
He looked up at her in the dark. A memory of a time similar to this drifted through his mind.
“Is there a problem, ma’am?” He hoped it would break the tension. He hoped that she would remember the first words he had said to her as well.
“What are you doing here?” Buffy looked him over objectively; even lying on the ground at her feet she noted that he seemed larger now, stronger than before. Even so, he looked a stranger to her.
“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, I don’t bite.” He smiled slightly, studying her.
Buffy sniffed and rolled her eyes slightly. She remembered. But those days were long past.
“That’s all you’ve got? After all these years, no new lines? And by the way, I know for a fact that you do bite.” She lifted her foot off his chest and turned away.
Angel tracked her with his eyes as he stood, dusting off his coat and pants. She looked much as he remembered. She was thinner slightly; definitely a woman now rather than the girl he had known, but she was still achingly beautiful.
Her beauty always surprised him, he thought, his memory of her less glorious. Even dressed in ripped and faded jeans with a simple v-neck cotton shirt with a high collar she put most of the beauties of LA to shame. Hell, she put all of the hundreds of women he had known in his long life to shame. Her hair was the rich golden hue that he remembered, tousled now in luscious disorder from her earlier fight with the vampires. He found himself instantly involved.
Without a backward glance, Buffy walked away from him toward the entrance to the alley.
“You really shouldn’t be wearing that headset when you-” Angel stopped abruptly as Buffy halted her stride and turned on him with a glare. She arched her brows in inquiry, as if daring him to continue.
“It’s not safe-” He protested, worried about her safety despite the physical prowess she had displayed earlier.
Buffy crossed her arms over her chest. “Did you come all the way to Sunnydale just to critique my slaying and offer pointers?”
“No, I-” Damn. This wasn’t going as planned. Not only did it seem like he was criticizing her he was stammering like an adolescent schoolboy.
“Okay then, so *don’t.*” Buffy spun on her heel and resumed her walk out of the dimly lit alley. “I don’t need your advice, Angel. I’ve managed to keep the Hellmouth closed all these years without your help. Why are you here anyway?”
Duly chastised, Angel fell in step beside her. “I need to talk to you.”
Without even glancing in his direction, Buffy kept up her pace. She turned left when she reached the alley entrance and began to trace her steps through her routine patrol. “So talk.”
“I may be blonde, but I can walk and listen at the same time. Talk.” She didn’t break her stride, moving off down the street.
“Can you stop for minute?” Hard fingers closed around her elbow, halting her stride.
Buffy froze at the touch of his fingers on her skin. She felt a frisson of something akin to ice run along her spine. It was eerily reminiscent of the icy chill that had descended on her when Nikkos performed the spell for her to protect her heart. Her eyes widened and she jerked her arm, pulling away from him.
“Fine. What?” She turned to face him, crossing her arms over her chest protectively and rubbing her hand over her elbow as if willing the unusual feeling away.
He too had felt the cold, almost icy burn when he touched her. He studied her face with concern, frowning slightly. He was disconcerted; he could feel the whispering presence of powerful magic.
“Well?” Buffy questioned, shaken to the very core by the earlier jolting sensation of his touch.
Angel stared at her blankly, before forcing his concentration back on the reason that he had come to Sunnydale. “Connor- my son-”
At one time those words would have wounded her powerfully; now they simply rolled through her mind without incident. Angel’s son. Angel has a son. Connor. Angel has a son without me. Buffy repeated the words in her head and felt a growing sense of satisfaction that they didn’t cause her pain; she could remain unaffected and objective now. With that feeling also came a measure of confidence that she now truly could deal with anything Angel said or did and it wouldn’t hurt her. It wasn’t that she had lacked confidence in the spell that Nikkos had performed for her; she had simply never put it to the test. Until now. She’d have to say, it was passing with flying colors.
For the first time since perhaps even the first time she had seen him, staring into Angel’s rich chocolate eyes didn’t leave her feeling vulnerable and exposed, braced for the pain that she knew would follow. Instead, she could have been talking with… Xander. Okay, maybe a much, much sexier Xander. A taller, stronger Xander. One that she wouldn’t mind kissing… Or touching…
Buffy’s eyes widened slightly as she realized that there was a subtle nuance to the spell that she hadn’t anticipated… It protected her heart from the pain of love; but it didn’t alter her sexual urges or interests. Those still quite obviously existed. And there was no denying that she’d always found Angel attractive. That was one thing that hadn’t changed. Her lips lifted in a small smile, enjoying the sensation of lust without the expectation of pain that she always associated with the tall dark and gorgeous vampire.
Angel watched the changing expressions on Buffy’s face with bemused interest. She had at first appeared guarded, reluctant – much as he was used to seeing from her – but that gradually shifted to confident, almost … happy. Now however, she was beginning to seem almost aroused. He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. Was that possible?
Noticing that he was staring at her intently, Buffy cleared her throat with a small, embarrassed cough and stepped back away from him as if the extra bit of distance were needed. “So, uh, Connor. Son Connor. What’s the deal?”
“He’s here – why I don’t know – but I need to find him.” Angel said gravely, his voice touched with frustration. While he may have decided to try to find a way to have Buffy back in his life, he hadn’t planned on coming to Sunnydale now under these circumstances. He had wanted the first time he saw her again to be different, planned – romantic even… He sighed. But then things never went as he hoped for the two of them.
After a moment’s consideration, Buffy nodded. Admittedly, the vamps she had taken out earlier had been the first she had encountered in a while. There was no further need to patrol tonight, so she had nothing better to do. “Okay. What does he look like?”
Buffy eventually convinced Angel that they would have a better chance finding Connor quickly if they split up. They could cover more ground that way and besides, they both were equally familiar with the layout of Sunnydale in the dark of night.
So far though, she’d had no luck finding Angel’s wayward offspring. She was rounding the corner on her way back to the Bronze where they had agreed to meet when she saw the faintest glint of a steel blade in the dark.
The knife-wielding assailant moved quickly, slashing out at her with lightening fast speed and slicing into her upper arm. Buffy quickly retaliated, spinning around and knocking the young man backward into the wall.
Although he appeared to be a mortal, he was nearly as quick as a vampire; his fighting skills obviously well developed and finely honed. But he was still no match for the tiny blonde Slayer. Realizing after a few punches who it was that had attacked her, Buffy held back slightly, wanting to subdue him, not kill him. Still, he seemed determined to try to kill *her* swinging the knife wildly, managing to catch her with two more deft swipes of the razor sharp blade.
When he seemed to not be letting up, Buffy lost her temper and knocked him hard to the ground. In a single quick blur of movement, she kicked the knife out of his hand and pressed her booted foot to his cheek, holding him firmly to the dusty sidewalk beneath him.
Panting slightly, catching her breath, Buffy nodded to the figure that was now stepping out of the shadows. “This him?”
Angel glanced disinterestedly at Connor before his gaze returned to Buffy’s arm.
“You okay?” He asked worriedly as he looked at the two cuts on her arm and the smaller one across her upper chest. Stopping, he picked up the knife that had been stolen from his weapons closet and ran his fingertip across the blade. With effort, he resisted the urge to lick his finger, now coated with the trace of Buffy’s blood that had been on the weapon.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” Buffy lifted her arm, glancing at the worst of the cuts. It was a deep gash, across her upper left arm but it would heal like any other wound she’d had over the years.
Angel had seen the fight from the moment that Buffy had lost her temper and turned on Connor in earnest. At first he intended to intervene, but at a small nod from her he purposefully held back, watching from the shadows. Connor deserved to get his ass kicked for attacking her; perhaps it would teach him a lesson.
“Nice boots.” Angel commented on Buffy’s black boot, noting the mud and demon slime along the bottom that was now pressed to his son’s face. His rage simmered just below the surface. He was infuriated that his own son had come here seemingly with the intent to kill Buffy. The question now was why.
“Thanks. They’re new.” Buffy lifted her foot off Connor’s cheek and held it out for closer inspection.
“Er. Uh, at least they *were* new.” Frowning she too noticed the gunk stuck to the bottom. Good god, was that … dog shit? Well, no one ever said slaying was a clean business. Lowering her foot, she glanced at Connor who had now scrambled to his feet.
Angry and embarrassed, Connor wiped the mud and debris from his cheek as he stared hatefully at both his father and the tiny blonde. They were almost making … googly eyes at each other. He’d never, ever seen his father look at a woman, not even Cordelia, the way he was looking at the Slayer.
Taking Connor by surprise, Angel grabbed his arm with preternatural speed and jerked him forward. He stared down into Connor’s face, glancing pointedly at the weapon in his hand then back at his son.
“What are you doing here, Connor?” He demanded sharply, his grip tightening painfully on Connor’s arm.
The young man stared into the angry face of his father, swallowing hard and desperately working to control his expression so that Angel would not see his fear. He’d never seen this cold, deliberate rage in Angel before; it was frightening.
Rapidly and with sly cunning, Connor altered his plans. Finding the Slayer when he arrived in Sunnydale hadn’t been as easy as he had thought, killing her proved to be pretty much out of the question, but with his father making googly eyes at her, he might be able sow a little discord between the vampire and his mate.
“I came here because I thought she was going to try to hurt you again.” Connor meekly replied, looking at Buffy out of the corner of his eye. He wanted his father to believe that he had only Angel’s safety at heart.
The tall vampire was caught off guard by the lie. It wasn’t anything close to what he expected Connor to say. He relaxed his grip on his son’s arm, releasing him. “What?”
“I wanted to make sure that *she*,” Connor spat angrily, turning and looking pointedly at Buffy, “stay the hell out of our lives. She’s caused you and Cordelia enough pain already.”
“Really.” Angel drawled skeptically. The mention of Cordelia reminded Angel of his earlier conversation with the seer as well as her relationship with his son. It wouldn’t surprise him if she were somehow behind the reason why Connor was here.
“I know she’s the one that sent you to hell. I didn’t want her to do it again.” Connor declared with forced sincerity, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
Buffy rolled her eyes at the young man’s obvious act. She could tell however, by the expression on Angel’s face that he wanted so desperately to believe in his son that he was close to buying the lies the boy was spinning. It must be hard to have a son that you can’t trust, she thought objectively, looking back at the young man with the hateful expression on his face.
“How- how did you know that?” Angel queried softly, glancing away from Connor for the first time and looking at Buffy, standing quietly nearby illuminated by the amber glow of the street light just over her head.
“I heard that dying old man tell you. The one that came to the Hyperion.” Connor smirked smugly, his overconfidence in his ability to persuade Angel to believe him making him careless with his lies.
Angel’s eyes snapped back to Connor’s face. Giles had said nothing of the sort at the Hyperion. Either Connor had followed him to Giles’s hotel and had spied on their conversation or Cordelia had told him. Either way, he wondered how much Connor knew. He certainly didn’t want Buffy to find out about his soul tonight, in this way.
Angel’s lips thinned as he pressed them together in irritation. His eyes were cold beneath the dark slash of his brow at he stared at his son. He didn’t believe Connor’s intentions were as noble as he was attempting to make them appear. Nor did he believe that he’d get to the truth here, now.
“We’ll talk about this at home.” Angel pronounced each word with lethal softness. He glanced back at Buffy, afraid that she’d make the connection any moment that the dying old man Connor had mentioned was Giles.
Buffy opened her mouth to speak, then thought better of it. She could feel Angel’s temper, knew he was angrier than she’d ever seen him except perhaps as Angelus – yet to a large extent this was an issue between father and son; she had no right to interfere. Curiously too, she wondered briefly who the dying old man was that had known about Angel’s sojourn into hell and that she had been the one responsible.
Angel’s eyes locked with Buffy’s and for a brief moment, in spite of his anger, he lost himself in the mossy green depths. She returned his gaze, yet her eyes… they were without the familiar warmth.
“Buffy, I’m sorry…” Angel apologized softly for his son’s actions, even though the simple words seemed inadequate in the face of such an act as attempted murder.
“Hey – no big. I mean, no need to apologize really.” Buffy replied calmly. She never thought she’d ever meet Angel’s son much less have him attack her. It was kind of surreal, actually.
His eyes drifted over her face, hoping to commit her every feature to memory in the next few minutes before he would need to leave for LA. He’d be back, he just wasn’t sure when.
“Connor. Let’s go.” Angel curtly ordered, glancing impatiently back at his son.
“Since we’re leaving, here…” Connor pulled the object he’d been toying with out of his pocket and tossed it to Buffy, who caught it easily even in the low light. “Take this back. We don’t want your cheap gifts.”
When she caught the small item, Buffy gasped slightly, once more feeling that small tiny fissure of icy pain only this time in her palm. Opening her fingers, she looked down at the small silver item in her hand. Angel’s Claddagh ring.
“Connor-” Angel snapped, tired of his son’s antics and anxious now to beat the sunrise back to LA.
“It’s not mine.” Buffy interrupted quietly before tossing the ring directly to Angel.
Angel caught the ring then looked at it contemplatively for a moment before he lifted his gaze to Buffy’s once more. Without breaking eye contact, he purposefully turned the ring around and slid it onto his left hand.
Buffy’s eyebrows quirked upward in question. Surely he wasn’t implying that he was interesting in renewing their relationship? She stepped forward, bringing her more clearly into the glow of the street light.
“Look, Angel-” Her eyes met Angel’s with unwavering challenge. Her voice was sure and calm, without anger or emotion. “I know that you’re involved with Cordelia and I’ve heard all about keyrumplestiltskin and destiny and fate and true love and all that. I’d never dream of interfering in your life now.” There. That was mature. And, best of all, it doesn’t hurt.
He stepped forward suddenly, his gaze taking on a sudden intensity as he noticed something that he should have seen earlier. His mark. His mark on her neck was gone. How could it be gone?
Reaching out, he grabbed her chin and forcibly tilted her head. With his other hand, he pulled the collar of her shirt aside roughly. Anxiously his eyes searched her face again then along her neck. His mark was indeed gone; no trace remained.
Curiously, Connor craned his neck to look over Angel’s shoulder, attempting to see what he was doing.
“Dammit, Angel. What the hell-?” Buffy heatedly asked, pushing at him slightly.
At the first touch of his hand on her face, they both felt the icy bite of sensation again, strong and piercing. Angel’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as he recalled the earlier similar feeling when he had grabbed her arm.
“What have you done?” He asked growled roughly, staring down into her face.
Buffy reached up and yanked at his hand on her face, forcing him to release his grip on her chin.
“What do you mean, what have I done?” She hotly exclaimed, her gaze scathing. How dare he question her about anything?
Reaching down, he quickly snatched up her hand, holding it in front of him as he casually examined the intricate vine tattoo on her ring finger. The icy frisson once again traveled through both of them. Magic. He felt it.
They stood inches apart, the tension between them vibrating palpably. Connor watched, fascinated.
“What have you done to yourself?” Angel growled angrily, his eyes flint hard. Underneath the anger, he was frightened about the possible consequences of whatever magic Buffy had enlisted.
Buffy jerked her hand back, panting heavily as she waited for the almost painful icy chill to recede.
“Isn’t Cordelia waiting for you? Better get going, she’ll be worried.” Buffy snapped acerbically. For reasons she didn’t understand, she didn’t want to admit anything to him about her use of magic. “You got what you came for, Angel, so bye now. I believe you’re still allergic to sunlight, aren’t you? Well, it’s gonna be dawn before you reach LA if you don’t get on the road.”
Spinning around on her heel, Buffy began to walk away.
“Buffy.” Angel snarled, grabbing her shoulder roughly and spinning her back around to face him. He wanted an answer to his question.
Without a second thought, she backhanded him hard across the face, knocking him back a few steps.
“None of your business Angel! *I* am none of your business. Remember? That was your choice. Now get out of Sunnydale and take your bloodthirsty offspring with you.”
“And you,” Buffy turned to Connor, “If I see you in Sunnydale and you even so much as look at me wrong and I really will kick your ass.”
Whirling around again, Buffy stalked off.
Angel wiped the drop of blood from his split lip as he watched her walk away. The corners of his lips lifted in a small smile.
“That’s my girl.” He murmured softly, his tone possessive.
Without stopping or looking back, Buffy shot back, “I’m not your anything.”
Her retort touched on something within him, an intrinsic male possessive nerve perhaps or maybe it was simply the possessiveness that came naturally when one took a mate.
“We’ll see about that.” Angel murmured softly, without even thinking.
His voice changed when he turned back to his son; the cold anger returned. “Connor. Get in the car.”