Cordelia woke with a start. She blinked in the half-light, for a moment unsure of where she was. The sheets were heavy with Angel's smell, and as her eyes focussed on the pillow beside her, she realized she was in his room, and that she was alone in the bed.
The events of the previous night came flooding back. Okay, don't freak. Things had gotten a little, well, intimate. Oh God, she'd even kissed him. Just a little bitty peck, but a kiss all the same. And there had been -- touching. His arm around her waist, his cheek against the crown of her head, their bodies curled together.
She waited for the 'ick' factor to set in -- that uncomfortable thing that happened when best friend relationships got touchy-feely. After all the times she'd warned him about her personal bubble -- last night she'd let him climb right into it and go to sleep. Good move, Cordy. There was gonna be big time ick. Any second now.
She waited. Nothing. It wasn't there. Why wasn't it there? Of course, she liked that he'd opened himself up to her, really talked to her about things. God knows she'd been trying for long enough to get him to do that. So, that was of the good. And she liked his admission that he needed her help. But, most of all, she liked falling asleep in his arms.
Today, waking up without him felt empty and wrong. She wished he was still there beside her, holding her close. And that scared her more than any of her other revelations. Oh, crap. Not of the good. Those are not good things to be feeling about a vampire who's barely hanging on to his marbles.
Too much to process pre-coffee. She was thirsty, and she needed to pee. How was that right? Sometimes the human body made no sense.
"Angel?" she called. No reply. Smoothing her hair back from her face, she slipped out of bed, and headed for her own room in the hotel. Perhaps after a change of clothes and a quick wash, she'd feel a bit more like herself.
It was around nine am when Cordelia finally made her way to the lobby. Her colleagues were already there, but somehow she could only look at Angel.
"Ah, hello, sleepyhead. Angel made us breakfast," Wesley said, looking up from the front desk, which was covered in plates and mugs, and several large platters of food.
"How can a dude who doesn't eat be such a good cook?" Gunn marvelled as he shovelled scrambled eggs into his mouth.
"And how can a guy who ate half the menu at Caritas be hungry again so soon?" Angel said, eyeing the mountain of food on Gunn's plate.
Cordelia smiled as he beckoned her to sit beside him. Her cheeks burned as she allowed herself to glance at his lips. The lips she'd kissed... No, don't think about it. Blush any harder and everyone will know. She began to load her plate with bacon and toast. "Where's Cara?"
"Probably driving the porcelain bus," Gunn said.
"Pardon?" Wesley looked up from his food.
"Barfing," Cordelia explained. She wasn't surprised.
"Yes, she did drink rather a lot last night," Wesley said.
"And she was still drunk when I found her wandering the halls at 4am, like the Lady of the Lamp," Gunn added, reaching for more bacon.
Just then, a rather red-eyed Cara appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked at Angel cautiously as she descended, taking a seat as far as possible from him when she reached the makeshift breakfast table.
"We were just wondering where you were. Bacon?" Wesley held the platter towards her.
"Ugh, no thanks," she said, holding up her hands in disgust. "Just coffee please."
"Hung over, are we?" Cordelia asked sweetly. She wasn't sure why, but she hoped the girl was suffering.
"Not too bad actually, it's just -- " Cara wrinkled her nose. "Look at all the grease."
"It's the only cure for a hangover," Gunn said, through a mouthful of toast.
Angel examined the platter, frowning. "My bacon's not greasy."
"All bacon is greasy," Cara insisted. "Hangovers don't kill you, but all that cholesterol will. Like the Host said, the body is the temple of the soul, and I must look after it."
There was a loud clatter as Wesley dropped his fork. "What did you say?"
"Cholesterol will kill you?" Cara replied, puzzled.
"No, no, after that." He rose out of his chair, eyes widening. Cordelia knew that look. He was definitely on to something.
"The body is the temple of the soul..." Cara trailed off as Wesley thumped his fist on the table. They all stared at him as he shoved back his chair and dashed into his office.
His voice rang out triumphantly. "Eureka!"
"He's got it." Angel looked up from inspecting the bacon, a look of hope plastered across his face.
Wesley returned with the crumpled scrap of paper Cara had given him the night she arrived. "Of course, the body is the temple of the soul!" he exclaimed.
Gunn looked confused. "Okay, still not making any sense here."
"The prophecy -- 'She alone can consign to eternity that which is fleeting. By the joining of the temples, so shall it be'. The body is the temple. That which is fleeting must be soul. Oh, my." He looked around the group in awe. "Cara is here to anchor Angel's soul."
Cordelia felt like someone had dropped a dumpster on her. All the air rushed from her lungs, and she could barely inhale to replace it. She gripped the edge of the desk, hoping it would stave off the rush of emotion and confusion. Everyone else was silent for a moment as they digested the implications of what Wesley had said.
"So, no more evil Angel?" Gunn said cautiously.
"Yes, that's right." Wesley sank down into his seat.
"Wow." Gunn added his to the collection of stunned faces. "How?"
Wesley reviewed the piece of paper once more. "By the joining of the temples -- er, bodies."
"Joining?" Cordelia narrowed her eyes. She didn't like the sound of this.
"Oh, yes, I believe it means Cara has to have, er, 'relations' with Angel," Wesley said.
Gunn raised an eyebrow. "Relations? Didn't he already eat one of her relations? Speak English, bro."
"It means he has to make mattress music with Little-Miss-Spooky-Birthmark here," Cordelia said, feeling both alarmed and disgusted. Angel getting horizontal with anyone was a bad idea. Very bad.
She glanced at Cara. The girl looked like all the blood was draining out of her face. Her mouth hung open and she appeared to be frozen in her seat.
"What if it don't work, man? Doesn't the wild thing make Angel -- the wild thing? Can we risk him going all evil on our asses?" Gunn sounded worried.
"No, I don't think that will happen," Wesley said, getting more animated as he warmed to the theory. "I think at the moment of -- consummation, as it were, the magic will be activated, and Angel's soul will be permanently attached. A lot of these prophecies have a risk-reward factor. It all fits perfectly. We'll never have to worry about Angelus again, and Angel can finally experience true happiness. This is huge." He smiled widely, satisfied with his summation.
"Are you all deficient?" Cordelia yelled, rising. "What the hell are you thinking? How do we even know that crusty old prophecy is right? For all we know, Angel could boff Cara, get a bit too happy, and hello, meet Angelus and his big scary fangs! For God's sake, she could've written the damn thing herself!"
"Cordelia, really," Wesley admonished.
"Back off, book boy." She waved her fork angrily at him. "Of all the possible ways this could work out, I can't think of one that's any good. Either he turns into Angelus, and we have to stake him before we all get tortured and killed, or it works, and he goes straight back to Sunnydale to marry Buffy. Either way, we're screwed!" she shouted, slapping her hands down on the desk to emphasize her point. The motion brought her face-to-face with Cara. "Anyway, the likelihood of either of those things ever happening is nil, since he can't get within two feet of you without wanting to eat you."
"What?" Gunn and Wesley both cried.
"Wh... what?" Cara stammered, finding her voice, and turning even paler than before.
"Yeah, sorry, honey. If he touches you, his brain goes bye-bye and he thinks you're a buffet dinner. If I hadn't cut your dance short last night, you'd be minus most of your plasma by now," Cordelia snapped. Okay, so maybe that last part wasn't strictly true -- Caritas being a haven and all, but it had the desired effect.
Everyone swung around to look at Angel. He'd been silent and motionless throughout, his face showing no reaction at all.
"Is it true?" Cara asked, small beads of perspiration breaking out on her top lip.
"Angel?" Wesley surveyed the vampire with concern.
Angel nodded slowly. "I -- I can't touch her, or I end up back in Romania, reliving the moment when I... I can't control it."
"Why didn't you tell us?" Gunn asked.
"I wanted you all to trust me again." Angel looked at the two men with such undisguised pain in his eyes that Wesley appeared quite moved.
"We do trust you Angel. You just have to be honest with us," he said, adjusting his glasses with a trembling finger.
"So, hang on," Cara said, holding up her quivering hand as a 'stop' signal. "You mean there's a chance that if I sleep with him, he'll go mad and kill us all. And there's a better chance that before we even get that far, he'll go mad and just kill me, right?"
"Yup," Cordelia said. Jeez, it took the girl a while to catch on.
"And you were all going to let me go ahead and risk my neck, just so he could have a sex life again?" Cara's voice started to escalate, a mixture of panic and anger.
"It's more complicated than that," Wesley said in his best diplomatic voice.
"Oh, it looks pretty simple from where I'm sitting. I think I'd rather take my chances with those grey things." Cara began to slide her chair backwards.
"Cara, no, we can work this out." Wesley tried again.
"I don't think so. Thanks for all for your help, but no thanks!" In one swift movement, she leapt up and bolted for the door.
"Cara, stop!" he called, moving to go after her.
"Yeah, stop her, she's wearing some of my clothes," Cordelia said, unable to keep the hint of sarcasm from her voice.
Angel stood and grabbed the Englishman's arm, restraining him. "Let her go."
"But, Angel, there goes your one chance at true happiness." Wesley waved his other hand towards the entrance.
"We can't force her to do anything. Just let her leave," Angel snapped. He released Wesley, turned on his heel and stalked out.
Angel slammed his apartment door and paced the room. What had happened to the good old days, when all he had to cope with was guilt? He'd just come gut-wrenchingly close to something he barely dared dream about, and for some sick, twisted reason he couldn't have it because of his inability to escape the past.
How could he keep Cara close, when it would mean her certain death -- at his hands? He should be able to control the urges, shake them off. He hadn't spent over a hundred years suppressing the demon, just to let it pop out and kill his first chance at something close to redemption. Yet there was no way he could restrain it, the bloodlust was too strong. God, he sickened himself.
And then there was Cordelia. Of all of them, he thought she'd be the happiest for him, and particularly at the prospect of getting rid of Angelus forever. Instead she was angry, and on top of that, he could swear she'd deliberately scared Cara off. It was as if she wanted to sabotage the whole thing. He was as furious at her as he was disgusted with himself.
"Dammit!" He kicked the wall, his boot making a neat, round hole in the plaster.
"I left my purse in here." He whipped around at the sound of her voice. "I love what you've done with the place, by the way." She surveyed the hole in the wall, and the shower of plaster chunks on the floor.
"Cordelia." He ran his hand through his hair in exasperation.
"Don't, Angel. Let's just forget about it." She snatched up her bag and turned to leave.
Angel moved. Fast. He slammed his arm across the open doorway, blocking her exit.
"Let me go," she snapped.
"No, not 'til we've discussed this," he growled under his breath. "No secrets, remember?"
"There's nothing to discuss... Ow!" she cried, as he grabbed her wrist. "Angel, you're hurting me!"
He pulled her further into the room, letting go of her arm once the door was firmly closed. "What the hell was that downstairs, Cordy?"
"Well, excuse me for not wanting to get my jugular ripped out any time soon." She tossed her bag on the chair so hard he thought it would fly open.
He snorted. "It's not about the sex. It's about true happiness. You seriously think Cara could give me that?"
"Let's just say I don't think it's worth the risk," she said, planting her hands firmly on her hips, her eyes fixed on his, unwavering. Damn, she was stubborn.
"I don't think that's your decision to make," he snapped, feeling the anger bubbling closer to the surface, taunting the demon within.
"Really! Who do you think Angelus would come after first? I saw what he did to my friends, and I know what he'll do to me!" she yelled, her face flushing. "How do you think I feel -- last night I promised to stay with you forever, and today I'm faced with losing you, just like that." She snapped her fingers in front of his nose.
"If you turn evil, we'll have to stake you. And if it works, you'll go back to Buffy, and either way, I'll be all alone."
Her words hung in the air, and they both stared at each other, blinking, frozen. She raised a hand to her mouth, pressing it over her lips. Her eyes were wide with horror, as if she couldn't believe what she'd just said. One after another, tears wet her cheeks. Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she began to turn away.
Angel reached out and stopped her, putting his arms around her, and pulling her against his chest, the same way he did when she had a vision. "Is that what this is all about?" he asked, his lips against her hair.
She sniffled into his shirt. "I don't want you to go away again."
Of course, she was scared. Everyone left her. Her parents, Xander, Doyle. His heart broke for her. He couldn't bear it when she cried. Most things he could fix by beating something up, but he couldn't fix this with violence -- only with love. He wasn't entirely sure he knew how to go about that.
"Cordy, I'll never leave you," he insisted, hoping it was enough.
"But, Buffy..." she whispered, so close that he could feel her breath on his lips.
He swallowed hard. "Whatever happens, Cordy, I'm staying here. I won't leave -- I promise."
Cordelia felt the room turn upside down. How could this be happening? How could she be here in his arms, enjoying his touch much more than she should? Why was she so afraid of losing him? Why did she not care that everything about this was so wrong? For God's sake, this was Angel. Not good. And too good.
She wished she could tell what was going on behind those dark, shining eyes of his. It seemed whole minutes passed as they stood there, faces almost touching, the electricity of unspoken attraction crackling between them. She should pull away, end whatever this was, now.
"Cordy," he said, breaking the trance first. "I..." And then his lips descended onto hers, and he kissed her, hard. Her knees buckled, but his strong arms were around her, cradling her against his solid frame. God, his mouth was so sweet, so cool. She knew she should refuse, but she couldn't.
Without warning, he broke away, pushing her back to arm's length, a look of ashamed horror on his face. She stood there, speechless, gaping. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, his fingers trembling. She stared at him, her chest heaving with startled breaths.
"I -- I'm sorry. Cordy, I didn't -- I mean, I did, but I shouldn't... Why aren't you slapping me, or yelling at me, or -- running away?" He looked so terrified, so panicked, like a child caught with his hand in the candy jar, mixed with equal portions of bewilderment and hope.
She opened and closed her mouth, unable to reply. God, this was so wrong, but it felt so totally one-hundred-percent right. What was she doing? Where was the double-barrel Cordy one-liner that was supposed to put him in his place? She had nothing.
"Please don't..." He faltered as she stepped towards him, biting her lip, hands reaching up to press against his chest. She hated herself for it, but she had to finish what he started. Grabbing fistfuls of shirt, she yanked his head back down to hers, devouring him, pressing her body to his. This time he didn't break away, his hands roaming down her back, cradling her hips against his. She felt the fires spark and ignite in her stomach. This was dangerous, but so damn good. And if it lasted any longer she was gonna pass out.
Cordelia turned her head away, ending the kiss, resting her face against his chest. It was so strange to feel her own heart pounding, while his body was still and quiet. They stood there, just holding each other. It was -- nice. And weird. And bad.
"I do want this prophecy to work," Angel murmured against her forehead.
She looked up. "Why?"
"Because I want this -- with you."
"Angel, no. I -- I don't know." She stepped back, smoothing her rumpled clothing, as if it would calm her frazzled nerves. Did Angel just say what she thought he did? She didn't want to look up, see his wounded expression. "But, in any case, it's important, not just because of that. If it did work..." she mumbled, thinking aloud.
Angel tipped her chin up with one finger, bringing her eyes back to his. "I don't want to -- with her. Maybe Wes is wrong. Maybe I don't have to..." He pulled a face.
"But if he's right -- hey! You let her go!" She slapped his arm. "You can't do it without her."
He rolled his eyes. "And I can't 'do it' with her, either. She's safer away from me at the moment."
"We so need a clearer translation." She moved to retrieve her purse from the chair. "Shall we go do the stinky book thing?"
Angel looked embarrassed. "Give me a couple of minutes."
"This is no time to be contemplating your navel, and -- oooh, okay," she said, following his eyes downwards. "You better have a cold shower."
"Yeah. Hey, Cordy?" he asked, as she headed for the door.
"Don't tell anyone about what just happened." He put his hands in his pockets.
"Are you kidding? Wesley would probably bite right through his stiff upper lip if he found out." She said it flippantly, but it was true. She could imagine the lecture on stupidity they'd both get. Rather later than sooner.
Continues in chapter five...