In These Arms
by Melissa Flores
A sequel to "Hazard", C/A
Part of the Tainted Love Series

Notes and disclaimer on main page.

Chapter One - Chapter Two - Chapter Three
Chapter Four - Chapter Five - Chapter Six

--

Chapter One

--

It was awkward as hell.

Angel heaved an involuntary sigh as he looked around the room, feeling slightly anxious over the turn of events that had landed him back in Sunnydale.

Cordelia had returned, a year and a half ago, for a brief two days to attend Willow's wedding. Angel had purposely made himself busy, knowing that Cordelia would have rather attended it by herself anyway. Neither had been quite ready to face all of their old demons and loves, and when they had discussed it, they had both decided it was better that Cordelia not mention their new relationship.

It had been hell on Cordelia. She said she had enjoyed herself, but being constantly watched by Buffy and Xander and having Willow, Giles and Oz giving her those looks that made her feel she was the guardian of some terrible secret had been an unforeseen problem that Angel now regretted not facing with her.

They had been very distant with the group from Sunnydale, but the obligation to Willow and all she had done for them won out, and both had agreed against their better judgment to come to Sunnydale for her wedding anniversary.

He had been prepared to show up and let all cages out.  He loved Cordelia, and wanted them to know it, but Cordelia had asked him not to say a word.  It had hurt him, until she had explained that among other things, this day was very special for Willow, and she'd rather not have Willow's anniversary spoilt by such unexpected tidings.

But they suspected.  He could see it in their eyes. He was standing in the corner, alone, a wine glass in his hands, and all he wanted was to desperately get out of the room.

This wasn't right. Though everyone was civil to him, even Willow held a slightly guarded look in her green eyes as she came to greet them.

It was clear. He didn't belong here. But then again, maybe he never did.  Raising the wineglass to his lips, he took a drink as his roving eyes caught Buffy's blue eyes.

She was still beautiful and he felt himself momentarily freeze as she studied him, her eyes unnervingly clear from the crook of her boyfriend's arm.  He swallowed the drink, and looked away.

He couldn't handle this alone.

Turning away, he walked out into the hallway, adjusting the black suit that Cordelia had insisted he wear. At that moment, he was quite ready to kill her for leaving him out there in the throngs by himself.  They had made an agreement to get through this together, and she wasn't living up to her end of the bargain.

Granted, her hazel eyes held a worried, tired look. Her beautiful face, despite holding the plastic smile she was so adept at giving, was haggard when she thought no one was looking, and she stood so close to him he wondered why she even bothered to keep up the pretension that they weren't a couple around them.

She was worried. Very, very worried. And it worried him.  His choice had been made the day he had asked her to make love to him. That night had meant everything to him. It hurt him that she still had doubts, that she still had fears.

He found her on the balcony.  The sight of the lavender gown hugging her body's curves like liquid made him go still, the primeval instinct that still managed to engulf him surged within him, as he once again realized that this beautiful creature was his. She belonged to him.  His eyes lingered, waiting for a moment to just take her in.

The door was half open, showing only half of her body, her back to him as she leaned against the railing.  He didn't move, as his eyes floated to her neck, and followed the backless dress with the deep plunging line that barely hid the tattoo he knew painted the small of her back.  He could see her shivering in the night air.

Suppressing a fond smile he looked around the hallway, checking to make sure no one had seen him before slipping through the doorway.  Shrugging off his blazer, he was careful not to make a sound as he walked up behind her.

He leaned forward, hoping to surprise her as his lips descended to her shoulder.

"Don't think I don't know you're there."  He froze, millimeters from making contact, a smile coming to his lips as he noticed she didn't even bother to turn around.  He continued on his journey, placing his lips firmly against her skin, feeling her skin tremble slightly from the contact.

She turned her head and graced him with a lazy, sexy grin as he placed the blazer on her shoulders and slid his arms around her waist, pulling her against him.

"I don't know why I even bother anymore."

She chuckled as she leaned her head back against his chest.  "Because you never do know when to quit."

He said nothing, merely laid his chin against the top of her head as he held her close.  "You know you left me in there all by myself."

"Oh, come on, Angel." Cordelia moved away, looking at him as she turned to lean against the bars. "You've faced demons and Wolfram and Harts and pissed off detectives alone. All I ever do is the research. Only sometimes, do I venture out in the manual labor bit. And even then I give you hell for it."

He rolled her eyes, but kept his face stern.

"Well I could only take so much of Buffy giving you the moony eyes before I had to get some fresh air."

"And my best friend Xander isn't doing his darnedest to seduce you in there?" Angel cracked leaning against the railing and looking sideways to study her.

She gave him an even stare. "Xander has barely talked to me all night, Angel." She said softly. "He and I are just friends now.  It's not like I meant anything to him."

"He meant something to you."

She rolled her eyes at the implication. "Angel."

"I know. I know." He grumbled, sighing.  "It wasn't my idea to keep us a secret, Cor." He reminded her. "It was yours."

"I know. I don't regret that decision."  Her voice was slightly unsure as she looked down at her hands, the wind playing with the wisps of her hair, threatening to loosen them from their confines of bobby pins. For a moment, Angel wished they would. He loved to see her hair loose.

"Hey." She looked up as he traced a finger down her chin to cup it tenderly. "I love you."

She gave him a smile. "Well, duh." She kidded. "I know." She said more seriously.  "It's just... Angel when they find out.... I kind of have the feeling I won't be so welcome in Sunnydale. I KNOW I won't be."

His smiled faded, as he listened to her talk. She didn't look at him, her eyes focused on some unforeseen point as she continued to speak.

"I mean, this is where I grew up. These guys... I did things with them. I became who I am because of them. And all I can think of is wanting to be back in LA, with Doyle smarking away and you and me and the idea just hit me... that maybe I don't belong here anymore.  That maybe I never did."

She sighed, chuckling grimly.  "It just... it scares me is all."

"You know you don't." He said seriously. She looked at him, her hazel eyes sparkling with surprise.

"What?"

"Belong here. You don't." He reached forward and slowly took a hand, running a thumb across her palm tenderly, taking in every line of her hand, tracing the softness of her skin.  "You belong with me. And Doyle.  And you always will, Cor." His eyes met hers in an intense gaze.  "Always."

She watched him for a minute, and suddenly her eyes grew misty.  Her throat was slightly hoarse when she replied, "Get over here, cryptic boring soul guy." He smiled, only too happy to oblige as he slid his hands around her waist and leaned his head down to touch his lips to hers.

The sounds of the door sliding open caused them both to still, and Cordelia's face held an expression of slight panic as Angel turned to see who had disturbed them.

Willow gave them a shaky smile from the entrance.

"Hi guys."

"Hi, Will." Cordelia returned, relief evident on her face that it was she that had caught them in such an intimate situation and not Buffy or Xander. She looked at Angel's eyes and saw he was thinking the same thing.

Willow came forward, hands wringing together. "I was hoping to find you guys alone."

"Well, we were... alone." Angel said, slight regret in his face as Cordelia smirked.

"Oh! Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt or anything, it's just... Buffy has an announcement in the foyer, she kind of wanted everyone to be there."

They cast her curious eyes and she shrugged. "I don't know what it's about, but I figured I should let you guys know. Since you know... you disappeared."

"Right." Cordelia slipped out of the blazer and handed it back to Angel, helping him pull it on and adjusting the shoulders.

"Guys." They turned to see Willow still standing hesitantly in the doorway.

"Yeah, Willow?" Cordelia asked, coming forward. Willow blushed but looked up.

"Thanks." She gave them both meaningful glances. "For coming. I know it's hard."

They both gave her a tight smile, and she continued. "You know... you don't have to... Um... hide it." At their surprised glances she shrugged. "I think they kind of know."

"How?" Cordelia breathed.

Willow blushed. "Well, um... you guys kind of have this vibe.... it's hard to miss. But it's okay!" Willow's hand rose when she saw their faces. "Really! I mean, come on, guys. It's okay. You guys have been together for 2 years now. Its kind of time they figured it out, don't you think?"

They didn't answer, but Angel reached over and squeezed Cordelia's hand. She didn't look at him, but her grip held his tight.

--

"Cordy." Xander Harris spotted her with a wide smile, and Cordelia returned it, though the tension between Angel and Xander was enough to keep her from smiling too widely.

"Hey, Xander. What's the big news that Little Miss Likes to Fight made us all gather around for?"

He shrugged, pointedly ignoring Angel as he turned to her.  "Not sure. She's been keeping mum, but I'm sure it's got something to do with David. He's been attached to her at the hip all night.”

Cordelia shot Angel a glance, but he seemed to pay no attention, his eyes were on Buffy and David. Xander watched the interaction and frowned before turning back to Cordelia.

"Hey, Cordelia. I was thinking, how about breakfast tomorrow? You know, catch up?"

Angel stiffened, and she gave him a nervous glance. "Well, I would but-"

"Xander."  Willow appeared at their side, her smile wide. "Come on, I need your help."

Cordelia gave her a thankful glance.  That redhead sure was useful when she wanted to be. Thank God they had managed to get over their little problems and become semi friends, even if it was in secret.

Biting her lip, Cordelia did her best to put on a disinterested smile as she crossed her arms and watched as Buffy and her beau made their way to the front of the crowd.  She and Angel stayed purposely hidden in the very back of the room, just watching silently, Cordelia eyeing the door anxiously.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like Buffy…. Actually maybe that was it.  Or maybe she didn’t like the affect she had on her and Angel. Cordelia felt apprehensive around the Slayer, had always felt inferior, and although she knew Angel loved her, there was always going to be the knowledge that Angel had loved HER first.

That scared her. It seemed to Cordelia that she had always been second best to Buffy Summers, and it always astonished her how insecure that made her feel.

She hated coming back to Sunnydale, she hated feeling this way.

Thank God for her demon lover. He must have sensed her tension, because after a second she felt the pressure of his hands on hers, giving her a light squeeze. She smiled at him briefly and then turned back to the front, feeling the crowd quiet when David cleared his throat.

“First off, I want to thank Willow and Oz for letting us make this little announcement at their event.” He smiled handsomely at the couple, who only smiled back.  “And that said, I guess I should say it, huh?”

Murmurs echoed his sentiment.

“Alright, then, I’ll just come out and say it.” He paused dramatically.   "I'll be the happiest man in Sunnydale in about four months, which is when Buffy Summers has agreed to become my wife." David smiled and nuzzled Buffy's neck, who smiled graciously as the audience hooted and clapped.

Cordelia felt her heart heave, and she forced herself not to move, not to look at her lover so she could see what expression the words filled him with.

For a moment she just stood by him, crossing her arms as she let Buffy's words sink in.  Finally she sighed, nudging him.

"Hey." She gave him a soft look. "You okay?"

His gaze was slightly distant but his answer was immediate. "Why wouldn't I be?"

She raised an eyebrow. "You want me to spell it out? The love of your life just got engaged, nimrod."

He glared at her.  "You know that Buffy-"

"Yeah, yeah, no lying, Angel, remember?" She said, one hand raised pointedly.  "I was your pal before I was your lover. I know how you felt about her, and trust me; there is no jealousy here, just pure concern. Okay." She amended after a minute. "Perhaps a slight bit of jealousy."

He gazed at her for a minute, his eyes darker than before, but he still smiled reassuringly.  "Yeah, Cor. I'm fine." He kissed her palm before letting go.  "Let's just get out of here, okay?"

She nodded, a smile on her lips.  "I could use some sleep, and then back to LA, and Doyle."

He gave her a nudge. "Just as long as you don't get too attached to the guy. He is only a friend."

"Says who? Oww!" She swatted him after he pinched slightly. "Okay, okay. Geez."

-- 

Chapter Two

--

"Tell me something." Angel gave her a grin as he opened the door and allowed her to saunter in past him. "Why on earth did we book two rooms if we only need one?"

She gave him a glare before putting down her purse. "Willow booked them, not me, and it was damn smart of her."

"Why?" He asked, pulling of his jacket and putting in on the chair.

"Because if anyone comes here and finds out we're staying in the same room, the cat is out of the bag."

He rolled his eyes, leaning against the doorway and with crossed arms, watching as she took her necklace off and sitting on the bed, rolled her thigh high nylons off of her legs, showing him a rather delicious portion.

He could see the concern etched into her eyes, but Angel chose not to comment. He felt odd. Not as affected as he thought he might be.  Sure it hurt, Cordelia was right, it had hurt to see Buffy pledge herself to another, but there was a major difference.  He had already pledged himself; a long time ago, and it hadn't been to Buffy, it had been to his vixen. The obsession he had held for Buffy although special and always cherished, seemed almost minute to the love and partnership and pure intimacy he shared with the brunette.  The announcement had caused a peculiar stirring in his heart, a hunger, but strangely enough, it wasn't for Buffy.

It was for the true feeling of homecoming that he knew resided in Cordelia.   The pang of want had accumulated into something else, and he felt himself smile when she looked over at him and winked.

He felt a stirring within him, but didn't move, satisfied for now to only watch, until her hand went to her intricate knot on top of her head.

"Wait, wait." She paused, her hand inches from her head. He smiled sheepishly when she gave him a curious look.

Walking up to her, he gazed at her hair, his eyes darkly intense when he lifted a hand to a bobby pin.  "I want to do it." He explained gruffly. "I've been wanting to do it all night."

Her whole body still, she was so full of emotion she couldn't even smile as she watched the delicate precision he went about his job with.  His face etched in concentration, he pulled out the pins one by one, depositing them on the nightstand next to her bed. She felt her hair fall down to her shoulders, and then her heart skipped a beat when she saw the love and wonder in his face as he gathered her mane in his two hands, running his fingers through it.

"God, you are beautiful." He whispered, his eyes roving and then stopping at her eyes.

She felt herself still, every emotion concentrated on looking as deeply into his eyes as she could. "Uh, oh." She teased huskily. "I think someone wants to get lucky tonight."

He grinned, leaned down and nuzzling her neck. She gasped when she felt his teeth graze her beating pulse and raised a hand up, sliding her fingers through his silken hair.

"I have no idea how you manage to do this to me." She whispered, her voice shaky as she felt herself tremor from the contact of his hands on her bare back.

"Likewise." He murmured, his lips trailing the line of jaw as his hands slid beneath her dress, sliding up her back and moving down her shoulders, taking the slim straps of the dress with him.

Not to be outdone, Cordelia's hands were already moving along his unbuttoned shirt, helping him shrug out of it as she sighed under his lips.  With a wicked grin, she leaned forward and nipped him just under his jaw.

He sucked in an unneeded breath of air and crushed her to him, his growl low and primeval as he kissed her ravenously.  Her chest was falling up and down as she almost gasped for breath, but that didn't stop her from returning every kiss just as hungrily.

"I love you." She whispered, in a voice that almost undid him.  He froze his actions, his eyes moist as he cupped her face in his hands, gazing down at her tenderly.

"Well, duh." He answered softly, a smirk on his lips, a scant second before they descended on hers. This time the kiss was slow, deep, and lazy. Angel was taking his time, exploring every crevice of her mouth as if he was touching them for the first time.

Scooping her up, he laid her on the bed, and then his eyes opened in shock as she grabbed his open shirt and pulled him down roughly.

He retaliated accordingly, and the last audible sound that came from the bed was a squeal.

--

Angel had never been a cuddler. In his years as Angelus, his experiences with woman had been to have sex, and move on, but it was different with Cordelia.

He couldn't get enough of her, he couldn't stop touching her, feeling her body against him, breathing in her scent, seeing her eyes flutter as she fought between falling asleep and the urge to stay awake and watch him, as he felt her breath on his arm, on his neck.

She was everything to him, and he could never tire of holding her.

It was no different tonight, she lay on her stomach, her skin flushed and pink, the marks of his lovemaking still on her body.  His eyes were filled with wonder as he slowly traced a finger over each spot, feeling again the surge of possession as his finger lingered on every one.  She was still, not touching him, just watching with a serene expression on her face as she watched his face.

His hand trailed down her shoulder blades, stopping at the tattoo that graced her body, leaning forward and pressing his lips against it briefly. He softly moved down, traced the scar that was a scant two years old, and leaning forward, kissed that, before finally sliding his hands around her waist and pulling her against him.

Her eyes closed when his fingers continued to her face, trailing the line of her lips.  Watching her, he suddenly felt his heart grow full.

He had never been more in love than at that moment.

"Marry me." He breathed.

Cordelia's eyes flew wide open, and for a moment her body just completely froze. She looked into his eyes, she suddenly laughed, breaking the moment and causing Angel to blink in confusion.

"Oh, please, Angel. Yeah, tomorrow. I'm tired. Let's go to sleep."

His face betrayed his shock when he realized she thought he was joking.  "What? No, Cor-"

"Enough, Angel." She leaned forward and kissed him once tenderly, before turning around and pressing her back against his chest.  "Sleep, baby. Okay?"

The fingers against his lips forced him to silence, and all he could do was stare at her long brown hair as it spilled against his chest.  He felt himself bite his lip, but he said nothing, only held her tighter, kissing her shoulder once before laying his head against the pillow.

His lover felt the shudder that went through him, but she said nothing, merely buried her head in her pillow, within seconds asleep.

Angel only watched, his heart full.

--

By the time her eyes fluttered open in the morning, he had come to one extremely important conclusion.  What they had wasn't enough anymore. He wanted more. He wanted to marry her.

Angel had never been married.  The one person who he had actually considered it with had been Buffy, and she had moved on.

In this moment, Angel knew that there was no other place for Cordelia to be than in his arms. Forever. He'd do anything to keep her there, and marriage was something he suddenly wanted from her, more than anything.

He didn't know what caused this sudden need for it, but it was apparent, in the stirring in his stomach, in the way he couldn't stop looking at her, mulling over the last seven years.

This was his best friend, he would never tire of her, and he would always love her, for as long as he could.

She was mortal.

As much as Angel hated to think about it, he knew the blatant truth, their future together would become all too short for him.

He was still mulling his thoughts over when she suddenly sighed and turned over, the morning rays peeking through the closed curtains.

Yawning, she stretched lithely, her grace rivaling that of a cat before she setting more comfortably against him, her eyes blinking sleepily.

"Hey.," She whispered, her throat husky from sleep.

"Hey.,"

She smiled at his voice and yawned again. "What time is it?,"

"Not even nine. We got time.," He whispered softly.

"Well you do, soul guy. The sunlight kind of doesn't affect me.," He winced a hurt pout and she giggled, leaning forward and brushing her lips softly against his.

"Meet me in the shower, crypto." She whispered against his lips, sliding out of bed and slipping on a silk robe. He watched her go, and smiled, pushing the bed covers aside and sitting up.

He grabbed a fluffy white towel that hung from a rack near the doorway and slung it on his waist. He wanted to talk to her, tell her this was serious. She hadn't mentioned his slip of words, and usually she would, if only to rub it in his face. It was her thing. She loved to torment him.

His hand on the doorknob, he could hear the shower starting, waited a moment, gathering his courage to force Cordelia to talk about it. The girl could be the most stubborn and annoying person on this earth, and if it was one thing she could do, it was weasel him out of a conversation. But not today.  Today, Angel was going to win. He was going to make damn sure of that.

Just as he began to turn the knob, someone knocked. Damn. Angel gave the door an annoyed glare, feeling a growl work it's way to his throat from his stomach.

"Cor?"

"Yeah?"

"Did you order room service last night or something?,"

"Why?,"

"Someone is at the door.,"

"I just woke up, you moron. How the hell could I have ordered room service? You have a brain, use it.,"

"Right back at you, hon.," He responded, chuckling he walked to the doorway, pulling it open.

Xander Harris stood in the doorway. His eyes met Angel's and both men froze.

The silence was deafening as both men merely started at each other.

Angel was the first to recover. Crossing his arms over his bare chest, he cocked his head. "Not with room service, I take it?"

Xander stood still for a minute, and then shook himself. "Um... I think I have the wrong room." He mumbled, but his feet didn't move.

Angel merely kept his arms crossed, staring at him evenly, suddenly tired of the farce.  Cordelia belonged to him.  It was time everyone knew it.   "No, you don't." He answered evenly.

Xander could only stare, not quite understanding, until the bathroom door creaked open, and Cordelia emerged in a puff of steam, wearing nothing but a towel.

"Angel, I'm not going to keep that thing hot forever." He turned, and Cordelia's face froze as she saw Xander's face.  "Oh, God.  Umm… Hi, Xander."

Feeling her heartbeat quicken, her eyes quickly shot to Angel's nearly naked body, then to her state. Her eyes locked with Angel who merely leaned against the head post, watching her with a placid expression.

He didn't want to hide it. She could see it in his eyes. Cordelia closed her eyes for a brief second before turning to Xander.

He had frozen stiff; his eyes kept opening and closing, like if maybe he closed his eyes one more time what he was seeing would disappear.

For a moment his face was blank, then realization rose on his face, and his face turned livid.

Cordelia felt a lump grow large in her throat.  Seconds ticked past as she tried to still her beating heart, her growing panic, her torn heart at loving Angel and knowing what that meant, of always having known what that meant.  "Xander-"

"Can't you see what you're doing?" He hissed, backing away from the door.  He looked furious, and when she tried to touch him, he jerked away as if electrocuted. Shooting a murderous glance at Angel, he whirled from the room.

Cordelia felt panic rise in her heart, and in her haste and surprise, was almost about to follow him.

"Don't." Angel said, catching hold of her wrist. Cordelia shook him off, glaring at him.

"Angel-"

"Number one, you're in a towel. Number two, they were going to find out sooner or later, Cordelia." He said softly, soothingly. "Come on, you knew that this would happen."

She stood still, breathing in deeply, closing her eyes in an effort to concentrate.  "Oh, God. I know, Angel. I know... but... "

Seeing the true anguish, Angel forced his anger away, sighing as he clasped his hands on her shoulders, pulling her closely against him. She leaned against him, sighing softly.

"It's started, Angel. I'm never gonna be a part of them. I never even thought I wanted to be until just now." He kissed the top of her head, feeling her trembling slightly.

"I want them to know, Cordelia. I want him to know that you're mine. That I'm yours. That it's going to be that way. Forever."

At the last word, she stilled, turning to look at him with an unknown spark in her eyes.  He slid his hands to her face, cradling it lovingly.

"Cordelia. Marry me." He whispered, urgently.

Her lips parted, her eyes wide and sparkling as her face dawned the realization.  "Oh, God, Angel, you're serious.," He nodded fervently.

"Never more about anything in my life.," He released her, sliding down on his knees as he took both hands in his, rubbing at them softly.  "Cor, please.,"

She watched him for a long time, felt her heart beating tremendously fast, but her face was placid, even, betraying no sign of emotion. Her eyes, they dulled, and for a minute, Cordelia didn't say a word, she only watched him.

Then she licked her lips, and opened her mouth, and the one word that came out made Angel freeze.

"No.,"

There was shock in his face, utter shock. His lips parted and he could do nothing but stand there looking into her eyes for any hope that this was a joke, that she didn't mean it.

Cordelia's eyes turned darker, and her heart began to beat loudly in her ribcage. The look on his face killed her, the rampant hurt and rejection, but she stood firm. Her eyes roved to the door that Xander had just left through; the deliberate way Angel had made it clear that he and Cordelia were lovers, the distracted expression the night before.

Clarity had come, and Cordelia Chase now knew exactly what her lover was doing.

The sadness turned into something else, and Cordelia knew immediately what it was, and embraced it, completely.

In that moment, Cordelia got angry.

"What?!," He breathed.

"You don't think I know what you're doing, Angel?," She whispered softly, watching his tense, bare back as he turned away from her, her eyes riveted on the tattoo.  "Less than eight hours after Buffy announces her engagement, after we've been together for two years, all of a sudden you want to get married. Please. Spare me. How lame can you get?,"

He whirled, his eyes widened as he read the accusation in her voice.

"How can you-"

"How can you?," She bit, her eyes suddenly flooded with moisture, as she rose and pushed past him, closing the door to the bathroom.

Tears flooded over, and for a moment she had to bite her hand to keep from sobbing entirely.  Oh, God, Cordy, just don't think about it. Don't think he could do this. Please, just don't think about it.

But despite every effort she made not to allow that one betraying thought, it happened. Cordelia thought about it, and locked in the bathroom, Cordelia Chase cried.

--

Chapter Three

--

He was bored. Completely and utterly bored.  Alan Francis Doyle figured that this vacation that Angel and Cordelia had taken would have been a great opportunity for him to catch up on those things with which he had been extremely lax.

He hadn't been to a pub in ages, preferring instead to spend time with his annoyingly mushy couple of best friends.  He complained about it constantly, and rubbed it in when they left, telling them that he was going to make as much out of their absence as possible.

He had lasted in the pub one hour. Exactly one hour. The rest of the weekend had been spent missing both of them terribly.  Doyle sighed; he really was turning into a whipped boy. All the problems of being married without any of the benefits.

He fiddled his thumbs and impatiently looked at the clock. This place was a dull as dirt. He needed some spark; he needed Cordy doing her usual thing that involved talking until he got a headache.  Even Angel, granted, the guy didn't say much, but Cordy had loosened him up considerably.

They were his damn family, and he wanted them hurry the hell up and get home.

He slid back in Angel's leather chair, and propped his feet up on the desk, practicing Angel's broody look that had caused Cordelia to fall so in love with the guy in the first place.

What was the charm? The guy didn't know how to have any fun.  He fingered the book that Angel had been engrossed in and cocked his head.

Hmm.

Taking a swig of coffee, he sighed, leaning back against the desk, and opening the book.

The slamming of a door opening so overtook him with surprise that the book went flying across the room, and his arms flayed.

He wavered in mid air for about two seconds, and the chair toppled backwards.

He lay on his back, stunned for a second, when he heard the office door open and loud voices coming in.

"What is this to you, then, Cordelia?! What did you expect this to lead to?,"

There was a loud huff. "Hey! Don't look at ME?! Okay, this whole thing is YOUR fault .,"

"MY FAULT!?,"

He raised an eyebrow, feeling himself smile as he raised himself on his elbows.   Angel appeared into view, his face furious as he looked at the yet unseen Cordelia Chase.

"Look Cordelia…," He trailed off when he noticed a pair of black boots sticking up in the air. Coming around the desk he squinted at Doyle.

"What happened to my chair?,"

"Doyle?," Cordelia came around the other side.  "Good, you're here.,"

He gave Angel a sheepish grin, scrambling up.

Cordelia gave him a soft, tired smile, and then turned to the direction of the freight elevator. Angel caught her arm. "We're not through here, Cordelia.," He said angrily.

She gave him a glare. "Oh, we SO are, Angel.,"

Doyle rubbed at a pain at his elbow as he watched the two of them with wide eyes.

"I'm fine, by the way.," He ventured.

Angel and Cordelia barely even looked at him.

"Let me go.," She said evenly.

"Not until we talk.," He breathed.

Doyle's eyebrow rose.  What the? Cordelia and Angel both glared daggers at each other, neither willing to back down.

Doyle walked between the two of them, waving a painful arm in their faces.   "Someone want to tell me what happened between Friday and today?," He inquired.

 "The moron went and proposed!" She hissed, walking past him and slamming the office door.  Doyle's jaw dropped, now completely befuddled.

He cast confused eyes to Angel whose face had reached epic brooding proportions.  "Hey, mate. Isn't that like… usually what the girls want?,"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?," Angel snapped, rubbing at his neck as walked to his desk and picked the chair up. "Don't sit in my chair.," He said, grabbing his book and sitting down.

Doyle stared at him for a full minute, before looking to the closed door.

Sighing he walked to the door and opened it, following the former head cheerleader downstairs.
 

When he found her, she was tossing shirts into her bag, her face so muted with anger he hesitated in the doorway.

Looking up at the elevator, he had a hard decision to make, talk to a pissed off Cordy or a brooding vampire.

Not an easy choice.

Well at least with Cordy, he was looking at something nice.

"What's wrong?," He said immediately.  She glanced at him, shrugging and kept packing.

"Nothing.,"

He motioned to her bags.

"What are ya doing!?,"

She huffed, giving him an incredulous look. "What does it look like I'm doing?,"

He looked taken aback by the tone, but answered in his Irish way, "It looks like your packing.,"

"There you go, Sherlock.," She retorted.

"You're movin' OUT!?!,"

"Well, not entirely.," She stopped suddenly, and sighed.  "I just need to breathe for a few days, is all, till Angel and me work this out. It's cool if I stay with you, right?"

His eyes widened, and his throat went dry. Immediately impure thoughts of Cordelia floated through his mind and he shut his eyes against him. "No." He choked.

"No?" She repeated, a pout coming to her perfect lips as she turned to survey him. "Why the hell not?"

"Well first off, it's not fair to me."

She raised an eyebrow, her hand on her hip as she turned to face him. "I thought you said I was always welcome in that rat infested dump of yours."

"Well that was before." He insisted, his Irish accent noticeably thicker.

"Before what?"

"Before you and him. He'll kill me."

"Doyle, come on."

He felt his temperature rise when her voice went whiny. Damn, he really had to start learning how to say no to her. Wiping off the sweat on his forehead, he moved away.

"What did he do that was so wrong?"

"He proposed."

He shook his head, no thoroughly muddled. "Damn the bastard." He muttered dryly.

She glared at him, pausing in her actions. "You don't get it either, do you? You know what happened the night before?,"

"Besides the usual sex?,"

She glared at him. "Perv. I mean at the party.,"

"Wine and sport?,"

"DOYLE!," She looked ready to kill him.  His hands went up in surrender immediately.

"Sorry. Go ahead. I'm vent guy.,"

She waited a minute, making sure he wasn't going to say another word before sighing and starting again. "Okay, so we're at the party, doing the let's just sit there and get through with this thing, right?,"

"Right.," He said, sitting down.

"So, my BEST FRIEND Buffy gets up and announces her engagement!,"

Doyle's eyes widened, and his jaw fell slightly open.  "THE Buffy?,"

"Yeah.," She said quickly. "Buffy, Angel love of his life, Buffy. Okay?,"

"Wow.,"

"Yeah!  So Angel goes and pops the question within one hour after. What the hell was I supposed to say?,"

Oh. Doyle winced, immediately seeing the hurt in Cordelia's eyes.  Angel was such an idiot sometimes.

Sighing he looked up at the elevator, and suddenly lunged forward, grabbing her hand.

"Come on.," He demanded, pulling her to the door.

"What are you doing?," She said, her eyes wide.

"Come on.,"

--

Angel now knew exactly how it felt to have your heart taken out and mashed to a bloody pulp, even if the thing wasn't beating anymore, it still hurt just as much.

He had reacted badly, he knew that, but he had been so overwhelmed with hurt and frustration there was no way he could look at Cordelia and not lash out.

He was still a demon inside, and he had said things he knew had hurt her, but it didn't seem to matter now. Right now all that mattered was that she had said no.

There was a large clank and suddenly he saw the half demon dragging his lover into the office. Angel sat up, looking at them both curiously as Doyle swung her around and plopped her in a chair.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?," She asked him, loudly.

"You two are sitting down and you two are talking!," He said firmly, his Irish accent thick with anger. "I can't stand it when the two of you fight. It's always about stupid things.,"

"Stupid?," Angel breathed, glaring at his mentor   "You think getting your heart ripped out of your chest stupid?,"

"See?" She murmured, looking at Doyle for sympathy. "I can't win with this guy, because he turns everything into a brood fest." Her eyes flashed as she turned back to her lover. "It's always about you! Have you ever wondered why this is affecting ME?"

"Cordelia, it's always about you.," Angel snapped.

She narrowed her eyes, and shut her mouth, crossing her arms and looking away.

Doyle sighed, mentally counting to ten before trying again. "Angel why did you propose?"

Angel looked at him, surprised. "Why the hell did you think I did? I love her!"

Cordelia snorted.  "I'm sure that was the only reason love struck puppy boy there proposed.,"

Angel growled at her.

She retaliated by sticking her tongue out at him.

Doyle stood between the two of them, his hands up. "Why am I always the mediator between you!?," He breathed. "I ain't your mother!,"

"It's okay, we don't have to fight, I can leave.," Angel said, getting up.

"Don't bother,," Cordelia said, rising at the same time.

"STOP!!," Doyle shouted, so angered that for a moment his demon visage emerged.  Both people jumped, and Doyle growled for a full minute, before finally forcing himself to breathe. "Sit down, the both of you.,"

Unsure, Angel and Cordelia both sheepishly lowered themselves back into their seats.  "Now, both of you, calm down.," He said softly. "Can't you see how stupid this is?,"

There was silence, and the Irishman sighed as he watched both Angel and Cordelia look down, trying to find any other place to look at except each other.

"Cordelia, come on.  You adore that brooding loser.," He said softly.

"Hey.," Angel spoke up, looking offended.

"And Angel, come on, you know she's your reason for living.,"

Cordelia pursed her lips, crossing her arms.  "Still shouldn't have proposed.," She muttered.

Doyle rolled his eyes, but raised his hand again before Angel could respond.

"You two love each other, okay? And it's big. You're going to talk this out, and if not, at least shag it out man.,"

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Oh, Please.,"

Angel let a smirk float up to his face.  "Actually I like of like that last idea.,"

"Even undead, they think with their dick.," Cordy muttered, shaking her head.  Doyle turned to her.

"Cordy, I'm trying to place peacemaker here, you're not making it very easy, so shut -" He was instantly cut off by an intense migraine to his head. Doyle stumbled, crying out in pain as Cordy and Angel stood, watching him.

"Oh, god. great timing." She muttered as she leaned forward, sliding her suffering friend's head into her lap.

His eyes opened to see both of them staring at him in concern.

"New victim. Now. Let's go." He breathed. He scrambled up as  Angel nodded, pulling on his coat and walking to the doorway.

"Cordy stay here." He called behind him without a backward glance.

She rolled her eyes as she watched the two most important men in her life leave her in the office.  For once, she didn't complain. She was truly puzzled now, that the anger and the hurt had receded by her ability to release her frustration with a few good insults.

Angel was such a moron. And she still adored the dark vampire. It was annoying. Extremely annoying. He didn't deserve that. What he deserved was a whole lot of pain involving a nether region and a big, long spike.

Sighing she closed her eyes for a minute, and then rose when she heard a knock. Morons, probably forget to get the key or something.

"Wha'd you forget-" She trailed off when she opened the door.

And found herself staring at a barrel of a gun.

--


Chapter Four

--

For a moment she found she could say nothing.  Quickly her eyes studied him, looking past the gun at the man who dared point it at her. He was an ordinary looking man, small, wiry, not entirely ugly but not too handsome.

Good taste in clothes, black on black really never did go out for some people. Still, he looked… tacky. Like a wannabe.

She would have pondered the origin of the black trench coat had he not been holding the gun directly in her face.

"Hi.," She finally said, a fake smile quickly emerging.  "Can I help you?,"

"You're Angel's gal.," Came the ragged response.

Her eyebrow rose, and for a moment she forgot her fear in her irritation. "Excuse me? I am NOT anyone's girl, okay? I am  my own person, and-"

The gun cocked, and she felt her voice suddenly stop. "Or just Angel's.," she amended quickly, chuckling nervously.  "Um… you know, you REALLY don't need that. Angel's not here, and I'm not the best when it comes to-"

"Shut up!," He hissed.

"Boy, you're tense.," She couldn't help muttering, her hands rising in the air obediently.  She watched him silently, trying to still her beating heart to see if there was anyway she could knock the gun off of him with a  good swift kick. Her years with Angel hadn't left her with nothing, she knew how to put up a good fight when she had to.

If she could just bring the guy closer.

"Boy, is that a .44? Nice, you know, regular guns are so passe, I prefer the crossbow myself-"

"I said shut up!," He hissed again, coming forward. Cordelia felt a sunny smile float on her face, fully intending to irritate him further, if only to bring him closer.

That's right moron, come closer.

"Hey Jim! Coast is clear!," Damn. Cordelia sighed as a younger, stockier man came running into the office.  He nudged the other man, who gave him an annoyed glare. The younger one smiled happily and then did a double take when his eyes landed on her. "Whoa, is that her?,"

Stocky guy rolled his eyes. "No, it's the OTHER hot brunette that sleeps with him and does his filing.,"

Young Guy's eyes grew round. "You mean there's two?,"

Jim elbowed him. "Dammit, J.C. If you weren't my best friend's son, I'd…. keeping an eye out means keeping an eye out… outside!,"

JC smiled widely at Cordelia. "Hi. I'm JC.,"

Cordelia almost rolled her eyes when his eyes roamed up and down her body. Drool, much?  She made her expression freeze when she realized the potential. Twisting guys around her little finger was not a new sport, she was good at it, maybe she could use it for powers of good.

"Cordelia Chase.," She said, returning the look with a sexy grin. JC continued to grin stupidly back until Jim slapped him upside the head.

"Don't get any ideas, nimrod. Here.," He thrust a bag at him. "Tie her up. Hurry, before they come back!,"

At this her smile fell. "What? No! I get stretch marks!," JC paid her no attention as he grabbed her roughly and slid the knots over her arms and legs.  "No!," She yelled. "My boyfriend will kick your ass!!,"

Jim smiled. "That's what we're counting on, sweetie. Here.," He handed JC a knife. Cordelia's eyes grew wide and she was about to scream when a gag was quickly pressed over her mouth.  "Tap her lightly.,"

Cordelia struggled, as hard as she could, until a harsh blow to her head cause a mind numbing pain, and suddenly, the lights went out.

--

BAM!! Angel ducked from the swing and growled, smashing his elbow into the vampire's face.  "Sorry about that.," He shouted above the din, kicking and burying his heel into another's neck. "You were saying?,"

Doyle jumped on a table and yelled charging into another's body.  He landed with a thump and with his spiky face showing, grinning, and punching as he replied. "So she was packing.,"

"PACKING?!," Angel roared, and punched again, this time sending the vampire flying. Angel growled his game face seething as he looked at Doyle.  "What the hell?!,"

"Well wha'd you DO to- OOMPH- her?,"

"NOTHING!?!," Angel roared, grappling with another and slamming a stake with such force into another vampire that he seemed to float with it.

"Well, she's pissed.,"

"I'm always pissing her off.,"

"Not this pissed.," Doyle replied, groaning when he was hit again. "Dammit!," He kicked at the vampire, and barreled into him.

"So what do I do?,"

Doyle gave him an incredulous look from his position on the floor. "What am I? Dear Abby? How the hell should I know?,"

Angel drove his stake into the last of them, and then sniffed, straightening his leather jacket as he came forward, pulling his friend up.

"You always know what to do.," Doyle rolled his eyes, catching his breath before shrugging off his coat to cover the young woman who was cowering in the corner.

"Shh.," He whispered. "It's alright, darlin'. It's over.,"

"Oh, thank you.," She whispered, her blue eyes shining as she clung to him. "Thank you.,"   Doyle's surprise was evident as she buried herself into his arms.

Angel just shrugged, half smiling as he helped pick her up.  "Come on.," He said.  "Let's get you home.,"

"Thank you, thank you.," She whispered.  She clung to Doyle, her tears staining her jacket lapel as she tried to regain control of herself.

Angel took a breath as he watched her.  "Its times like this I'm glad that Cordy's safe and sound in the office.," He whispered to Doyle.

--

The first thing she became aware of was the blistering headache.  She groaned, and for a minute, she allowed herself to commiserate with Doyle and his visions. This pain was horrible.

Her eyes fluttered open and then she shrieked as she realized she was inches away from a face.

JC yelped, and scrambled back. "Sorry.," He blurted. "Sorry. I was just watching,  to see if you were okay.,"

She glared at him, gathering her wits as she sat up, grimacing at the ropes, as she looked around. She was in some sort of warehouse.  It was dark, and she could barely see, but the doorway was clear enough, and it was padlocked. There was no way she was getting out of here.

"What the hell are you doing?," She snapped.

JC looked stunned at the sharp tone. "Kidnapping you.,"

She gave him an incredulous look. "Okay. Duh. Why?,"

He blushed, and smiled. "I don't know really. Something about your boyfriend doing something to my uncle's friend way back when, killing someone. We're gonna use you to get to him.,"

"Oh, great. Another perk of dating Vamp Killer guy.," She muttered under her breath, sighing. "Okay, and so what? You two are just going to KILL me?,"

JC looked horrified at the thought. "Me? No!," She felt herself relax slightly. "Jim's gonna.,"  Oh, there it was, inner stomach plummet.

Dammit Angel, save my ass.

--

"So you think she'll have calmed down?," Doyle shrugged as he sipped from his bottle, looking around at the streets.

"Doesn't she usually hide in her room when she's pissed at ya?,"

"Usually.," Angel agreed. "You know… I don't get woman.,"

"Oh, man.," Doyle tapped him on the shoulder in sympathy. "Me neither.,"

"I mean, she loves me, right?,"

"More than anything, pisses me off.,"

‘Right! So what's the deal? I love her, she loves me, I propose! She says yes, we get married, end of story. That's what happens, right? I mean, am I so behind on relationships? That's still what happens right?," Angel had a genuinely worried expression on his face.

Doyle only gave him an incredulous stare. "You still don't get why she said no, do ya?,"

Angel shook his head distractedly, then stopped when his wandering eye landed on a display case in front of a jewelry market.

"Hey.," He stopped Doyle with  a distracted hand.  "Wait. I want to stop and get something. "

Doyle peered into the story, and smiled.  "Really you shouldn't man, I'm fine without a gift. "

Angel glared at him before pushing the door open and walking inside.

Doyle watched, on his face a slightly amused smirk, "Alright, if you insist.," He called out.  "But remember, I'm more of a silver man, myself.  And no necklaces. A nice bracelet might do.,"  He stopped when a couple of woman walked by, gazing at him strangely. Feeling slightly goofy, he grinned sheepishly. "It's our third year anniversary.,"

They laughed and walked on. Doyle just shook his head and leaned against the lamppost

Angel came out a few minutes later, both hands clasping a small black bag as if his life depended on it.

Doyle's eyebrow rose.  "That was fast.,"

Angel gave him a nervous grin.  "I knew what I wanted.," Carefully he shook the bag, and a small velvet box came tumbling out.  With trembling hands, Angel opened it with a creak, and showed it Doyle.

A beautiful gold ring lay nestled inside. A diamond of ample size shimmered from the top.

Doyle gave it a peculiar look.  "That ain't my size.,"

Angel rolled his eyes, nudging him hard. "It's for Cordelia.  What do you think?,"

Doyle whistled, cocking his head as he took the ring from the box and inspected it properly.  "It's big enough.  Ain't gold plated, is it? Cause you know, Cordy can spot that a mile away.,"

Angel nodded. "It's twenty-four carats.," He said breathlessly, his gaze transfixed on the ring.

Doyle's face turned, his eyes wide.  "Twenty?! How on earth did you afford that?,"

"I've got money put away.," Angel said, taking the precious ring back and redepositing it on the satin before closing the box.

Doyle squinted at him.  "Well how come we ain't seen it? Huh? "

Angel paid him no heed he carefully wrapped the box in the plastic bag and stuffed it in his pockets.  "Come on, I need to talk to Cordelia.,"

"You're serious, aren't you?," Doyle asked suddenly, his face straight.  Angel turned, giving him a quick look. "Of course I'm serious.,"

Doyle's smile faded, and for a moment, he just stared at Angel. "You're doing it cause you love her. Cause you want to spend the rest of your life with her.,"

Angel gave him an incredulous stare. "Of course.,"

Doyle nodded, blowing his breath out. "Then tell her that. And mean it.,"

Angel gave him a confused look, but nodded.

--

She took  a breath, and tried to move again, the ropes hampering her ability yet again.   "You know.," She began, trying desperately to keep the fear and annoyance out of her voice as she smiled as pathetically as she could. "These ropes are really hurting my wrists. I think I might get a bruise.,"

Immediately his face looked concerned. "Are you sure?," He came forward to inspect them, rubbing at her wrists. "They look okay, to me.,"

She sighed, extra heavily for added effect. "No, they really hurt. I have delicate skin.," She attached a whiny pout to her voice, one that made Doyle go weak kneed and  purposely let her breath fall on his neck. He stiffened, looked at her once, but she only blinked back innocently,  moist droplets on the tips of her eyelashes.

"Oh, you can't be hurting that bad.," He responded, straightening away from her.  His back turned to pick up a magazine and she sighed.

Damn. Okay, see if you can resist this, perv.  

"You know, you don't really seem the kidnapping kind, I mean, you look at you.," She sighed softly, leaning back on the sofa to a more flattering position and pretended to eye him innocently up and down. "You look so… sweet.,"

He raised an eyebrow. "Sweet?,"

She gave him a dazzling smile. "Uh-huh."

Now untie the ropes moron so I can kick your sweet ass.

-- 

"Cordy!" Doyle opened the office door, his eyes roving for the vixen.  "Cordy."

Angel entered after, a strange flushed look on his face as he searched for her.  "Not here," he said tightly.  "Dammit. I told her to stay put."

Doyle rolled his eyes. "Since when has she done anything you've told her to?"

"Good point," Angel sighed, shrugging off his coat and putting it on the hanger before walking to his desk.  "You know. I still don't know what the problem with the proposal was.," His face looked pensive for a moment, and then a flash of insecurity came over his features.  "Do you think she doesn't want to marry me?"

Doyle watched his mentee for a moment, the look of childish innocence something he rarely saw on the brooding vampire's face, and he almost chuckled, at the genuine worry. Christ, Angel could be such a male bimbo sometimes.

"Well, duh, man." Doyle rolled his eyes. "Even I'm not as stupid as all that."

Angel looked completely lost.  "What?,"

Doyle sighed heavily.  "Just.. work with me, man, okay? Think about it. Think real hard. I know you can.,"

Angel continued to stare at him blankly.  Doyle rolled his eyes and tried again. "Think about the circumstances when you proposed.,"

Angel's brow furrowed as he pondered the events, he remember the closeness, the intimacy, the look on her face  and the feel of her body, the heat,  the love.

"It was the perfect moment."

"It was the stupidest moment ya could have picked, you dimwitted soul creature." Doyle finally sputtered.  Angel blinked, his face a total blank.

"What are you talking about?,"

Doyle sank into a chair. "Jesus, man!," He rubbed at his temples.  "Think about it. Buffy had just gotten hitched, an hour later you pop the question. What the hell is she going to think?,"

"That I love her.,"

"No, you idiot. That she's  second choice! That you're using her to get back at Buffy!,"

Angel's jaw dropped, and then he just stared. Doyle let his eyes bore into Angel's head, waiting for it to sink in.

Angel was mentally replaying the moments before his proposal in his head.  Buffy's engagement, the way he let Xander find out, the way he told Cordelia he wanted them all to know.

Oh, God.

"Dammit.," He groaned, burying his head in his hands. "Why the hell didn't she just stake me?,"

"Cause she doesn't listen to my advice.,"

"Damn.," Angel's hands flew away from his face and his face took on a pensive, brooding face. "She knows I love her.  Look at all we've been through.  How can she think like that?,"

Doyle shrugged. "I don't know. She's a woman. They do that.,"

Angel gave him a pleading look. "So how do I fix it?,"

Doyle sank back into his seat and closed his eyes. "You're on your own there, man. My visiting hours are over.,"

The phone rang, and without looking Angel picked it up. "Angel investigations.,"

"Hi, Angel.," A throaty voice replied, smug, sarcastic.

 Angel's smile drifted off his face. "Who is this?,"

"You don't know, but I'm betting I have something you really want.,"

Angel's face lost all color, at the ominous tone, and immediately Doyle rose, a concerned frown on his features as he strained to listen.

"That girlfriend of yours, mighty nice, isn't she? Nasty scar on her stomach though.  Wouldn't want anything else to happen to that luscious body.,"  Angel's body froze, and his eyes connected with Doyle's in wild fear.

"He's got Cordy.,"   He whispered, his voice caught in a horse whisper.

Doyle's eyes widened, and for a moment, he could say nothing. Then his heart began to beat fast, so fast, he wondered if Angel could hear it.

"You killed my brother, Angel, and now you're going to pay.," Came the triumphant voice.  "She's everything to you, isn't she?,"

"Don't hurt her.," Angel bit, his throat clogging with anger and rage. "If you hurt her I'll hunt you down like the dog you are and -"

"Angel, Angel. No threats. Doesn't exactly lengthen her lifespan, if you know what I mean. You want to save her? You need to pay.,"

"Fine.," Angel said quickly.

There was a pause, and a laugh.  "Wow. That was fast. You really do love that chatterbox, don't you?,"

"Just tell me what to do.," Angel growled.

He chuckled. "Okay, here's what happens. You leave the exact amount of money on the corner from you're house, and leave. Leave man! Remember, I'm watching every move you make.," Angel froze, and then his eyes floated to the window. Doyle followed his gaze, and quickly nodded.

Moving to the window, he looked closely.  Suddenly he froze, and turning back to Angel, he began to wave wildly.

"He's down there!," He mouthed, pointing to a payphone not twenty feet away from the agency. Angel nodded, and putting down the phone silently, stalked to the door, pulling on his trench coat, leaving Doyle to follow.
 

Jim felt his smile grow larger when Angel grew absolutely silent. Aww… the smell of fear. He could smell it.  Oh, man, this was satisfying.  "Just one word, Angel, and she's dead. I can give the signal, and her little dainty throat is cut out, and-"

With a jar, he was suddenly torn away from the pay phone and thrown against the wall. Before Jim had time to think a hand was lodged at his throat, and a furious vampire face staring at him, the yellow eyes murderous and full or rage.

Angel was holding him a full foot off the ground, and he didn't seem to care that Jim's blood was rushing from his head.

"This little plan of yours is about to backfire.," He seethed. "You should have never, ever taken her.,"

Jim's eyes grew wide, and he gasped, struggling against the wall.  Angel shook him violently. "Where is she? Where?,"

Jim tried to speak, and found he couldn't due to the immense palm covering his voice box.

"Augh-"

Doyle stepped forward,  put one hand on Angel's shoulder. "Man, let him talk.,"

Angel didn't look at Doyle, but obediently, the pressure lightened just enough for Jim to gasp for breath.

"Tell me where she is.," Angel whispered, his rage barely veiled in a venomous tone. "Or I will tear your throat apart and drink your blood so fast-"

Jim had regained just enough color to try and laugh a valiant laugh. It came out as a squeak, but he managed an air of pompousness as he said,  "You can't kill me Angel. One word and he'll kill her. Only I know where she is.,"

Angel growled, looking at Doyle, who shrugged, his face tight, and then back at the man.  Finally, he relaxed his grip on his throat. "Then tell me.,"

His feet back on the ground, Jim's face spread into a self-assured smile. "I will. For a price.,"

Angel's grip tightened again, and soon Jim's face was read and sputtering. "How about for your life?," Angel bit.

Doyle cocked his head, and from behind him smiled grimly, before taking a finger and ticking the man in the ribs.

Jim began to cough, and wheeze and laugh painfully.  "No, stop.,"

Doyle menacing fingers continued to tickle.   "Okay.," He breathed, when he felt himself begin to lose consciousness. "Okay.," His resolve dissolved the moment Doyle's finger inched forward one more time. "I'll tell you! I'll tell you!,"

-- 

"Can you believe it?," Cordelia's voice had turned sugary soft, and she was careful to keep JC's eyes on her heaving breasts and pouting mouth.

"No.," She whispered. " I had no idea my Angel could be so…. Cruel.," She heard her voice and almost winced, thankful that no one was here to witness her backward spiral into spineless damsel. She made sure her eyes were wide as she continued to work at her knots, thankful for the small sharpened knife that doubled as a pin for her hair that Doyle had bought her the Christmas before. She had just pretended she was letting her hair go, and the dork thought nothing more of it.  Thankfully, the hard rock music that this moron listened to kept her from being discovered as she gnawed at the ropes.

"Yeah, killed his brother for doing nothing.,"

Cordelia had to bite her lip to keep from retorting.  She remembered Jim's brother. He had run a slave trade in Chinatown, and sent many young girls into forced prostitution. In her opinion, Angel had been a little too kind on the guy. She would have done much more to him than break his neck.

But she merely batted her eyelashes and nodded sympathetically, wondering how on earth this moron could actually buy this act.

He definitely WAS buying it though. His hand was on her knee, and she had to fight to keep from trying to kick it off.

And so she merely pretended to listen sympathetically while she worked the ropes off.  "Go on. And how did you get the job?,"

JC smiled proudly. "I'm an ace fighter, and I'm smart.,"

"I bet you are.," She said, nodding emphatically to make up for the jerk that accompanied the ripping of another rope.

One more to go.

She blinked once, trying to form tears as she eyed the gun two feet away from them. "And now you're killing me, too.," She whispered, her mouth forming into a soft pout.

His gazed lowered to her mouth, then back to her eyes, and his face fell. "Well, now, come on. It ain't me.,"

She continued to pretend to whimper, felt real tears sliding down her cheeks and almost choked on them.

Whoa. She had never been able to cry before. What was up?  Stress. Had to be stress. Damn Angel.

Shrugging, she went with it.

"Hey, no, don't do that." He came forward, wrapping his arms around her in a lusty hug. She had swallow to keep from gagging as his hand slid down her back.

Suddenly he froze, and his hand came back up again, with a part of a frazzled rope.

With a puzzled frown , he turned to look at Cordelia, and found her not only dry eyes, but smiling sunnily.

"Hi." She said breezily, and with that, her hand came around, hitting him full on the side of the head.   He stumbled back, and she rose, grimacing at her sore muscles.

"You were going to let me die?!" She bit, kicking him once in the ribs. "How ungentlemanly is THAT!? God!"  With that she kicked him again, this time in the face, sending him reeling back.

Walking to his fallen form, she sighed, shaking her head.  "Do yourself a favor, bub. Never, EVER try and pick up a vampire's girlfriend. It's murder."

And with that, she stomped on his groin.

Leaving him writhing on the floor, Cordelia Chase sighed, stretching once before walking forward to study the door.

The idiot didn't even have a key. She was stuck.

With an exasperated breath, she turned back to her captor. "Guess we're waiting.," She remarked.

--

"There!," Doyle pointed, and Angel ran, his coat blowing behind him as he ran up to the warehouse that housed his girlfriend. Shaking the doors, he groaned.

"It's locked.,"

Doyle gave him an incredulous look. "Then bust it open, man!,"

Angel gave him a long look, and nodded. With a furious yell, he rushed forward, and the door splintered under his weight.

They ran in on a peculiar scene. Cordelia was seated quite comfortably on a plush chair, her hair tussled, and a small scratch above her eye but otherwise none worse for the wear. She was calmly reading a magazine, her feet propped up on the table.

To her left was a tied and gagged young man.

She looked up to view their astonished faces placidly.  "Took you long enough." She remarked, getting up and walking to the doorway.

Angel's jaw was hanging open, but he recovered quickly enough to grab her as she walked passed and haul her against him.

"Don't you DARE scare me like that again.," He hissed, seconds before his mouth descended on hers, plundering her lips in a desperate kiss.  She felt herself wrap her arms around him, clinging to him as he continued his furious rampage of her mouth, and when he finally raised his mouth to let her breath, she found she couldn't quite let go.

The stress of the last two hours, her exhaustion, along with the intensity of Angel's kiss, and the furious, haunting, fear in his eyes that she had seen when he had come rushing in filled her head and made her weak-kneed.

"Angel." She whispered against his neck, concentrating as much as she could on breathing and talking at the same time.  "I can't. I can't walk."

He looked at her for a  second, and then nodded, tenderly scooping her up, and carrying her outside, leaving Doyle to shake his head and follow.

He smiled as he looked back at the forgotten young man who still was tied to the chair.  Boy did he love that Cordelia.

Maybe now, the two of them had figured out how much they meant to each other. Maybe now they could shag it out, and get this damn marriage proposal out of the way. Maybe now he could have his family back instead of these dripping sops.

Maybe they could stop giving him the blistering headaches. Like those damn visions weren't enough.

No such luck.

Doyle closed his eyes and tried to cover his ears against the argument that had battled on all the way back to the office.

He didn't even know how it started. Oh wait, now he did. Angel had snapped that Cordelia had to watch who she opened the door to. Cordelia had said something about Angel not running her life, which had ended up going into something about Angel was never running her life , which went into the proposal argument AGAIN, and there they went again.

Doyle walked as quickly as he could into the office, hoping to drown out the voices, but they followed him in, arguing loudly.

He went downstairs, but they followed him there to.

Finally he sat down in the armchair and Cordelia and Angel followed him, standing on either side of him and arguing so loudly he wondered if they would shatter his eardrums.

Cordelia's voice reached shrill proportions and finally he couldn't take it anymore.

"THAT'S it!!!," He growled, standing up and glaring at the stunned pair.  With a heaving sigh, he grabbed them both by the hands and dragged them into the bedroom, sitting them both on the bed.

"You two stay down here, and work this out!" he demanded. "I'm going for a drink and when I return, there better be an engagement or at least some heavy sex that' s been done!" He pointed an authoritative finger. "And that's final, dammit."

Cordelia's jaw had dropped, and Angel could only stare at him in shock. But Doyle did nothing, he shook his head in anger and stalked out, muttering inconsistancies under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "why they can't just go and shag this damn thing out is beyond me."

There was quiet in the aftermath, and Angel and Cordelia just sat, neither wanting to look at the other.

Finally Cordelia  sighed. "Angel."

"I'm sorry." He whispered.

Her voice trailed off and she looked at him in shock. "What?"

"I'm sorry."

Her eyebrow raised in wary speculation. "You never apologize."

"Yeah, well I mean it. I mean everything I say."  The last sentence was clipped of and Cordelia felt her heart thump once, loudly.

Sighing, she put a hand on her forehead, trying to cool it with her palm.   "Just how serious were you, Angel?"

He gave her an intense stare.  "This is how serious I am, Cordy."  He whispered, and with that he pulled  a black plastic bag from his pocket.

She watched him in soft bewilderment as he gave her a nervous smile and handed her the black box that fell out of the bag.

"Here," he whispered, handing it to her.

Cordelia felt herself trembling as she opened the box, and for a moment, as she stared into it, her face went blank. "Oh, God," she breathed.

He smiled softly, taking it out of the box and taking her finger. "Cordelia, I love you. Will you marry me?" He waited, readying the finger, and then he felt his stomach plummet when a glazed look came over her eyes, and she pulled her hand away. He stared at her in shock, and then, after a moment of just looking in her eyes,  he turned away. Cordelia bit her lip, willing the tears not to flood her lips and she grabbed his arm.

"Angel, you're always going to be my only lover. You know that. I love you. But-"

"But what?"

She closed her eyes, sighing. "You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

She only shook her head. "Trust me on this, Angel. You don't understand. You didn't understand why I said no in the first place."

"Yes I do." Her eyes opened.

"What?"

"I said,  I do." He looked uncomfortable, but his eyes were deep and thoughtful as he sat down across from her.   He took both her hands in his and squeezed tightly. "Look, Cordelia, I know…. That I made a mistake. I picked the wrong time to ask you. I know that. But it had nothing to do with Buffy or Xander or anything like that.,"

"Really." Her throat was dry.   "I saw the way Buffy was looking at you, Angel.,"

"It doesn't mean anything," he snapped.

"And I saw the way you deliberately hurt Xander. Like you didn't care how they found out."

"I don't.," He retorted. "I WANTED them to know."

"WHY!?"

"BECAUSE YOU'RE MINE!," he snapped, and then winced.  "I'm sorry," he amended quickly.  "I just... I wanted them to know, Cordelia. Then not knowing, us hiding it,  it's like... It makes this feel wrong, and you and I know it's not.,"

"You could have said this to me, Angel.," She whispered. "Instead of doing what you did.  How am I supposed to know now, if you're doing this because of Buffy-"

"Dammit, Cor.," He closed his eyes, taking a moment to calm down.  "Just because Xander still makes moony eyes at you doesn't mean...." He raised his arms and stopped himself, growing in frustration. "Look at us, we're fighting again."

"Xander wasn't Buffy and you know it. And we AREN'T fighting. We're just discussing." She snapped, and gasped in pain as she lifted a hand to dig into her shoulder.

He noticed the movement, and his eyebrow creased. "What's wrong?"

She sighed, shrugging as she continued to rub at her shoulders.  "Nothing. Just some cramps from my little tussle with that horn dog."

He nodded, getting up and walking toward her. When he went behind her, she finally gave him a curious look.

"What are you doing?"

He only shook his head.  "What does it look like I'm doing?" He brushed aside the hair from the nape of her neck, his fingers grazing her skin and he felt her stiffen.

She shrugged him off. "I can do it."

He rolled his eyes, planting both hands on her bare shoulders to hold her still.  "Stop being a baby, Cor. You know I can fix it."

She stayed quiet, not moving as he slowly began to knead into her skin, using his palms to slide the straps of  her blouse out of the way and continuing his gentle ministrations.

He knew just how to touch her, and she found herself closing her eyes, breathing out in one long breath as she relaxed against him.

He almost smiled as he felt her head resting on his chest, and looked down, keeping his eyes on her face, which was now changed from pain to serene calm, to loving peacefulness.

He continued kneading, his eyes roving to the place on her neck that had started his infatuation with her. With a soft touch, his slid his finger along the curve, and felt her stiffen, saw her chest start rising and falling just a little faster.

There was utter stillness as the desire began to fill the room, and Angel slid both hands down to gently clamp her now bare shoulders and pull her back against him.

She sucked in her breath, and her lips parted, moaning ever so slightly.

He couldn't help it. Leaning down, he pressed his lips just under her jaw, feeling the pulse increase, hearing her breath get faster.

She was quiet, deadly still, but he felt his own eyes close when her hand crept up behind her, up his shoulder and around the nape of his neck, pressing his lips to her body.

Holding her firmly against him, he continued his gentle exploration, taking his time as he rediscovered very crevice of her tantalizing neck, feeling her moan as she leaned her head back to give him better access.

He heard her chuckle, and felt himself smile against her skin. "What?" He whispered, his voice hoarse.

"I'm really an idiot for letting a vampire mess with my neck." She mumbled.

Rolling his eyes, he smiled nevertheless, and leaned farther forward, planting his lips at the corner of her mouth, barely missing it.

"Will you stop torturing me?" she demanded breathlessly as she turned, pressing her chest against his and opening her mouth under his.

He crushed her to him, ravaging her mouth. She moaned, pulling him down to her, and kissing him back hungrily.

The kiss ended slowly, and when their lips drifted apart, he opened his eyes to stare at her, inches from her face.

"I do love you, Cordelia." He whispered.

She smiled softly, her eyes glistening with moisture as she laid one loving finger on his lips.  "I know." She whispered. "I know you do."

He gave a soft smile, and leaned forward, taking her lips in a soft, gentle caress. She moaned softly, closing her eyes and leaning into him.

Pulling away she opened them to find him staring intensely at her, his eyes so dark they seemed black.

"Then why won't you marry me?,"

She froze, and when he saw the fear there, he groaned. "You know what?," He sputtered, getting up. "Forget it. Forget I asked.,"

Cordelia shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes. "You are such a moron. You don't know when to quit.," Her answer was a glare.   "Don't you see? A ring... an engagement, and it means so much, Angel.  I have to know. I have to be sure that you really ... that this is for the right reasons." She took a breath, closing her eyes. "I couldn't stand doing this, putting this ring on if ....." She trailed off, and then looked at him clearly. "I don't deserve that. And Neither do you."

He froze, and then disentangled himself.  Cordelia leaned up, her hazel eyes moist as she watched him walk to the door, his back toward her.

Her heart was beating furiously, she wanted to say anything to keep him from leaving, but she couldn't think of anything that could make him stay. In the end, she could only whisper one word,  "Angel."

He turned, his eyes dark and raw with pain.  "Cordelia." He said heavily.  "You have to just trust me on this. You have to."

She sat up on the bed, drawing her knees up to her chest as she watched him, looking at her 250-year-old lover with eyes that seemed like a child.   "Angel." She whispered. "How can I know you're doing this from yourself, and not because Buffy is moving on?"

He stared at her, his face sad and thoughtful.  "You don't." He finally said. "But we made a promise that we wouldn't lie to each other. I've kept that promise, Cor. You're just going to have to believe that."

She cursed herself silently as he walked out, and lay back on the bed, closing her eyes and forcing herself to breath.

She was acting like a stupid, meek little cry Buffy.

What was wrong with her? She KNEW Angel loved her, she knew it. Why was this so scary?  She loved Angel, Dammit. She always had known she would marry him.

What the hell was wrong with her?

After a minute, she heard the water spurting from the shower, and she allowed herself one soft smile.  He did love his showers.

Despite the urge to join him, she slid off the bed, pulling open a dresser and pulling out a pair of running shorts and a tank top. She needed to think, and the best way to do it, was to run herself into the ground.

--

Chapter Seven

--

He leaned against the tiles, letting the water run down his face, as he shuddered by the heat of the moisture.

This wasn't supposed to happen this way.  It was at these times, when he forgot just how dreadfully young Cordelia could be.

Maybe he should just stop asking.  He should. It was starting to sound pathetic.

He would have. If he didn't want it so damn badly.

Groaning, he lifted his face to the droplets, letting them splash his face, half hoping they'd drown him.

The furious knocking knocked him out of his reverie, and feeling a touch of dejaview, he rolled his eyes, letting a soft smile invade his face before straightening it out.

The doorbell knocked again. His eyes open, and he growled, muttering something about killing the vixen as he stepped out of the shower.

 "Cordelia?" He peaked out of the bathroom doorway, but the house was silent. Sighing, he looked toward the door and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his dripping body.

She had probably stepped out and forgotten her keys. It wasn't the first time it happened.

"Coming, coming.," He growled, grabbing the handle and pulling it open.

He shook his head, opened his mouth and was about to start in on a lecture about keys when he saw who was at the door.

His jaw promptly fell open.

"Buffy.," He breathed.

Buffy Summers smiled, a grim, tired smile,  her blonde hair swinging as she looked at his face, then froze when she saw his state.  "Uh… hi, Angel.,"
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 
He was walking up the steps, a bottle in his hand when he saw her running toward him. Her body was drenched with sweat, and she barely smiled at him when she jogged to a stop, breathing in deeply as she leaned down and stretched quickly.

Doyle watched her with one eyebrow raised.

"How come you're not in there, naked?," He asked pointedly.

She glared at him. "Shut up, okay? Not everything is solved by sex.,"

He grinned wickedly. "Oh, yeah? But you got sweaty either way.," He ducked away from her swinging hand and laughed.   "So what was the running for today?,"

She shrugged, taking in another breath as she raised her arms and pulled her torso up to the sky.

"Were you thinkin'?,"

"Duh. Did you know about this?," She tossed him the black box that had been clenched in her hands.

He caught it deftly, and smiled. "Yeah, I knew.,"

She sighed, running  a hand through her hair.    "I ran fast, and hard, and I came to a conclusion.,"

"Which was?,"

"I'm being a damn baby.,"

"Well I could have told you that.," He chuckled. She glared at him.

"The point is, I'm acting like a baby, and I'm putting Angel through needless pain, and so I should give him my answer.,"

"And you're answer?,"

"I have to trust him, Doyle.," She said, shrugging.  "He's right. I have to. I do trust him. I don't know why I'm acting the way I am, but I love him, and I want to marry him, so….," Looking down at the ring in her hand, she slowly slipped it on her finger.

Doyle's jaw dropped open, and suddenly he smiled. "Well, let me be the first to congratulate Mrs. Angel.,"

"Oh, shut up.," She snapped, although she hugged him back and was unusually misty eyed.

She stared at it with him, turning it so it would sparkle in the sunlight. "It does look nice, huh?,"

He snorted. "Well he spent enough.,"

She gave him a surprised glance. "How much did he spend? No, don't tell me.," She answered herself quickly. "I don't want to know.  Yes I do. No, NO. No I don't.,"

"My lips are sealed.,"

She took  a breath, smiling at the ring. "I guess I should tell him,  huh?,"

"I guess you should, princess.," She smiled, and kissed him once on the cheek.

"Wish me luck?,"

He grimaced, wiping away the sweat as she ran up the steps.  "Shouldn't you be takin' a shower before you go and smooch him?,"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So…. I should probably put something on.," Angel said quickly. Buffy moved quickly, stopping him with an arm.

"Actually, Angel, I just… I need to say something, so it'd be easier if you just let me say it.,"

He gave her a concerned look. "All right.,"

She bit her lip, and continued.

"I know about you and Cordelia.,"

Angel nodded, feeling himself back away from her.  "Okay.,"

Buffy closed her eyes, and swallowed.  "I'm fine with it… really. I think. Oh, God.,"

Angel cocked his head unsure of what to do.  Finally he sighed, coming forward, "Buffy.,"

"No.," She held her arm out in front of her, warding him off. "No, Angel.,"

He stopped,  his faced pained. "Sorry.,"

She took a breath, and continued.  "So…. I need to make sure you and Cordy know what you're doing.,"

Angel swallowed.  "What do you mean?,"

"I mean about… the curse.  I need to make sure…. I need to know if you love her Angel.,"

Angel stared at her long and hard, unconsciously crossing his arms.

Neither noticed Cordelia come down the stairs. Neither saw her steps falter, and neither saw her face close up, and neither saw her run back up the stairs.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Doyle was just about to settle down with Angel's book when Cordelia rushed into the office.  He watched her curiously as she moved to the corner of the office, and began dragging things away to reveal the vent.

Doyle cocked an eyebrow. "Might I ask what the hell you're doin'?,"

Cordelia turned, her face livid as she motioned for him to keep his voice down.

Doyle snapped his mouth shut obediently, and then leaned down next to her, sniffing at her sweat, and backing away slightly.

"What are you doing?," He whispered conspiratively.

She clamped her hand over his mouth. "BUFFY is down there!," She hissed.  "And Angel is in a towel!,"

Doyle's eyes widened. "You don't think-"

"Of course not.," She said, rolling her eyes. "I just want to hear. So shut up.,"

He leaned in closer. "Why are we whispering? They can't hear us up here.,"

She sat up, thinking for a moment. "Oh, right.," She said in her normal tone of voice. "But keep it down. I want to listen.,"

He raised an eyebrow, and got up. "You're spying on your boyfriend. That's bad, Cor. Don't you trust him?,"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Don't YOU start in on me.,"

"Tsk, Tsk.," He said softly, shaking his head. "How could you do that, Cordelia. You are just terrible.,"

She fidgeted, battling over her want to eavesdrop and the truth in Doyle's words.

"Dammit.," She swore. "you're right.," She thought for a second. "okay, YOU eavesdrop and then tell me.,"

"Okay.," He agreed quickly, taking her place quickly, putting his ear against the grating.

--

Chapter Eight

--

Angel was quiet, trying to form his words for Buffy, seeing the anxiousness in her eyes. After all this time, it still hurt to see her, he still remembered.

But he felt different, than he had before. A peace had overwhelmed his heart at the knowledge that he could at Buffy and know he would always love her, and  yet, still be completely aware that he loved and belonged with Cordelia.

And so he swallowed, and began to speak.

"You're worried I might lose my soul.,"

"Well some one has to be, if Cordelia's too self involved to think about it.,"

He blanched at the harsh tone, and narrowed his eyes.

"I love her, Buffy.,"  In that statement, he felt, was all that there was needed to say.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"What, what!," She hissed.

Doyle face drifted into a sincere smile. "He said he loves you, Cordelia. "

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There was absolute silence, and Buffy's face was blank, until the realization began to sink in.

"You… you LOVE her?,"

He nodded.  "I'm going to marry her.,"

She stared at him, unbelieving. "Angel how can you love her? I mean, if you did, wouldn't you-"

"The gypsies gave me a permanent soul two years ago, Buffy.," He said softly, his voice gentle, firm.  "I haven't  been able to lose my soul.,"

These words struck Buffy like a whip. Angel felt his heart break at the anguish that passed through her face, as she  realized what those words meant.

"You've… Angel… you've had your soul for… and you didn't-"

He shook his head, tried to come forward.

"Don't.," She whispered, pushing him away.  "Don't.,"

"Buffy, you're engaged to be married. You've got another life. I've got another life. It's okay that we've moved on.,"

"I know.," She whispered, a lone tear dripping from her eye.  "I know…. But Angel… I waited…. I waited-"

He felt himself torn, and he swallowed. "Buffy.,"

She took a breath, "Oh, God. I need to leave. I need to leave-"

"Buffy.,"

"No, Angel.," She whispered. "It's too much. It's too much. I…. I can't….. I need to go.,"

Angel's eyes widened at the state of her emotion. "Buffy, but… you're engaged.,"

She held her hands to her mouth, trying to suppress her emotion, but nodded.  Composing herself, she lifted her still trembling gaze to meet his.

"I am. I have a normal life. I'm happy. But... but I still loved you." She bit off her words, and then turned, leaving Angel to stare after her.
 

--

Cordelia's face was frozen. "Oh, God. He just... he just told Buffy he loves me."

"Oh shit. She's coming up.," Doyle hissed.

Cordelia and Doyle scrambled up, running into each other in their attempt to get away from the grate.

Buffy came in, her eyes moist, and she froze when she saw Cordelia.

Cordelia stood stock still, her eyes never wavering from Buffy's. She wished she knew what to say to her, at that moment, she couldn't think of anything.

Funny. In high school, Cordelia would have LOVED to take Angel away, would have loved to rub it in her face. Now, her face was drawn, and Cordelia found all she wanted to do was say something, anything to make things okay between them.

But there was nothing.

She could see it in Buffy's eyes, the furious glint that entered the blue orbs as they locked with her hazel ones, the sadness and the anger, the hurt,  all indicated that there was nothing Cordelia could say or do to make this situation better.

She had made her choice, and for once, she wasn't ashamed of it. Cordelia knew Buffy was searching for something, a weakness, an admission, an apology, and at the moment, the inner bitch inside of Cordelia knew that she had no reason to give one.

This love wasn't tainted.  It wasn't bad.  And Cordelia wasn't going to back down. Not from this.

In the silence, the stand was clear.

The pulse beneath Buffy's jaw beat, the Slayer's eyes turned hard and dark and in the staring match, Cordelia emerged the victor when Buffy's eyes tore away first.

The severing of whatever friendship they had was clear in the glare that quickly followed.

Cordelia felt her lower lip tremble as Buffy turned, stalking to the door, jerking it open, slamming it closed.

The action caused an almost sob, but Cordelia quickly stifled it, wiping the tear that emerged away in a second.

"Wow." Weak-kneed from the tension, Doyle sank down into a chair.  "That was nice and tense. "

"Thanks, Mister Understater of the YEAR," she whispered, biting on her lip, her eyes still on the closed door that Buffy exited.  "I guess that's the end of that chapter of my life.,"

Doyle gave her a small supportive smile. "You'll be friends again, one day."

She sighed, gracing him with a small meek smile when she shrugged. "I hope so. I'm going downstairs."

He nodded, his blue eyes intense as he watched her disappear down the steps.

"Congrats."

--

Her steps were soft, and Angel seemed so lost in brooding silence that he didn't notice her enter. Watching him for a minute, Cordelia's heart pitter pattered, a small jolt in her chest as uncrossed her arms, finally taking a step into the room, unsure what to do, or what to say.

"Wow, that was a... really long... jog." She blew her breath out and saw him look up, nodding.

He didn't seem surprised to see her, and Cordelia straightened her face, pursing her lips as she came forward gently.

"I... I ran into her," she began, choosing the words carefully.

Settling down beside her lover, Cordelia felt almost absurd, knowing the support he was asking for, knowing she wanted to give it... and completley unsure how.

He swallowed, gripping her hand tightly when she slipped her palm in his.  "Are you okay?" she whispered.

He took an unneeded breath of air, and closed his eyes, leaning forward, his forehead resting against her chest.

"I hurt her. I love her, Cordelia."

"I know," she whispered, tangling fingers into the nape of his neck in an attempt to soothe the agitated vampire, pressing her lips to his wet head. "I know you do."

Angel swallowed.  "You were eavesdropping, weren't you?"

When his face looked up to meet hers after a long pause, she smiled sheepishly. "Can you blame me?"

He closed his eyes, shaking his head. "I'm sorry for springing that on you and Xander.  It was wrong, the way I did it."

She swallowed. "I'm sorry for not understanding. For jumping to conclusions. And for not trusting you."  Her hand squeezed harder, and in a distracted gesture of reciprication, he pressed her fingers to his lips, eyes lost on some unknown thought.

His lips brushed cold metal, and taken surprise by the sensation, expecting to feel Cordelia's soft fingers against his mouth, he pulled her hand back, studying it.

There was a gold engagement ring on her finger.

He froze, his eyes locked onto her hand covering his. Silent, he stared blankly, until the glimmer of realization grew into his dark eyes, and the intense orbs she knew so well locked on hers in open wonderment.

She gave him a small smile. "Hey, Angel. I think we just got engaged."

He was quiet, not saying a word, as if scared that if he did anything she would turn back, take the words away, but at the glint in her eyes and the saucy grin, he finally smiled.

There were no words, just an even stare between them, and suddenly he shouted with joy, plowing into her.

"OH!" she shrieked, laughing as he pulled her into a huge hug, causing them both to stumble, landing on the couch, a tangle of arms and limbs.

"Oh, God, brood boy!" He hugged her tightly, refusing to let her go, and she was perfectly happy to stay there, sliding her hand on his chest as they fell silent.

He laughed.  "You're all stinky."

She grinned back. "Your towel is slipping."

He hugged her to him, and for one breif moment, they allowed themselves to be completely still.

"I love you," Cordelia finally whispered gently, breaking the silence.

"I love you too," he answered back just as seriously.  There was silence, as neither spoke, knowing at that moment, neither had to.

"Okay. Shower!" he roared, and Cordelia erupted in giggles and he pulled her up and off of him, and then slung her over his shoulder, running to the shower.

"NO!! I'm dressed!!! And these are GOOD clothes!!!"

There was a shriek when the water turned on and then the sound was cut off abruptly when he jumped in with her. 

--

Doyle sat at Angel's desk, reading the latest novel Angel had, and was getting pretty engrossed, when he heard a succession of shrieks and splashes from downstairs.

Raising an eyebrow, he reached into the desk, pulled out walkman, and slid the headphones on, turning up the volume full blast.

With that, he leaned back, and reopened Angel's book, a slight smirk on his face.

"Took them long enough," he muttered.

--

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