How to Date a Beautiful Woman (In Less Than One Week!)
By Misty Flores – mistyjox@hotmail.com
Teaser: Lorne has his hands full when three men who love three brunettes reveal three stories that meld surprisingly – and the three brunettes go missing.
Genre: Angel: The Series, Comedy/Romance/Action
Pairing: Angel/Cordelia, Gunn/Fred, Wesley/Faith
Rating: R for sexual situations
Notes: Okay, I feel I had to make this clear. I wrote the majority of this story (i.e. the first twelve chapters) BEFORE Birthday and Provider aired. I can prove it. With um… friends? I just felt like I had to point that out.
Distribution: http://www.wolverineandrogue.com/mistiec
Spoilers: Speculation for Birthday. The one major difference? Cordelia was NOT changed to a half demon. This does NOT mean that she won't in this story line, just hasn't been changed YET. The only reason for this difference, is quite simply, I had NO idea they were going to do that, and my story was left, poor thing, with no half demon Cordy.
Special Thanks to: Vanessa, and her beautiful beta reading abilities.

One more note: This registered at about 240 pages in it's completed form. Therefore I'll be posting chapters slowly, so as not to overwhelm. Thanks again.

--

Prologue – Lorne Explains It All

Krevlorneswath of the DeathWok Clan had a headache.

The demon's lime green skin seemed a little paler under the lights of the Hyperion - the dull color scheme did nothing for his complexion - and cheeks were sunken slightly, not making the shadows under his eyes from lack of sleep any prettier.

Taking in a sigh that went down to his beating heart, right in his left butt cheek, he rubbed fingers in hearty need of a good moisturizer through unruly hair, lingering to scratch slightly around the horns, alleviating the slightly annoying ache that had begun to emerge.

Irritation had given way to calm, passive, not quite so obvious anger, as the self proclaimed 'Host' grabbed the kettle from the stove, keeping his mind purposely closed, ignoring the nagging nudges of the conflicted auras that surrounded him.

"Who wants coffee?" he asked, tone almost singsong, listening for two weary affirmatives and one firm no before pouring the freshly brewed liquid into three cups, setting them carefully on the tray he had managed to scrounge up from under the underused utensils of the hotel kitchen, before adding the sugar jar and cream ladle. He paused to tighten the rope that held his robe together before turning around.

The sight that greeted him was pathetic at best.

Hesitating, he took a minute to study the formerly stoic group of stalwart heroes, each leaning against the counter on stools, staring at him, or nothing in particular.

Charles Gunn, face smudged with dirt and forehead caked with dried blood, looked exhausted, eyes closed as he rested his chin against his hand. His shirt was hanging in rags from his muscular frame.

Wesley Wyndham Price's hair was shorter than it was a day ago, lightly gelled so that it rose into spiky tufts. The black tuxedo was also smudged with dirt, his white collar unbuttoned and bowtie hanging haphazardly in a rough fashion that seemed half James Bond, half Indiana Jones. His glasses, broken and dangling in two separate pieces, were in his fingers, being fussed with as he gazed at some very interesting spot on the counter.

And lastly, his royal badness - a Mr. 'Geraldo' Angel – in what appeared to be khaki's and a white polo shirt – sat nearest to him, looking distinctly uncomfortable – and utterly miserable.

In his large and rather attractive hands he held a rather interesting looking… vibrator?

Lorne blew his breath out, shaking his head before coming forward, placing the tray on the table and letting each man reach for what he wanted.

It always had to happen at night.

Lorne wondered miserably if anyone ever had any respect for the Aura Reader's need for a good night's beauty rest.

"All right… I'm not going to even ask what's with the clothes, Angelcakes," he muttered, settling down on the other side of the counter, taking his own cup of hot, black liquid and sipping it, grimacing at the bitter taste.

Angel, broody vampire with a soul, looked down at the clothes he wore, and closed his eyes, shuddering. "I'm gonna just-"

"Sit your cute little butt down, is what you're going to do," Lorne said firmly, reaching forward to take the big dead arm and yank the body back down into the seat.

"But the baby -"

"Connor is just fine," Lorne snapped. "Asleep, fed, and dry, lucky devil. Better off than me, and MUCH better off than you bunch of sour pusses. I swear, I couldn't find a more pathetic bunch of lovesick hound dogs if I-"

"Hey," Wesley said, raising his head to sound out a miffed syllable. "I happen to believe we are much more than –"

"Forget it dog," Gunn mumbled, rubbing at his cut, grimacing at the caked scab. "We're pathetic. Time you faced it."

Lorne cocked an eyebrow, reaching for the package he had pulled from the freezer and handing it to Wesley. "Put that over the eye, buck-o, before you start to swell like a float on New Years."

The Ex-Watcher took the procured frozen steak and hissed slightly when it was placed it over the bruised area.

A little peace and quiet was all Lorne really wanted. It wasn't too much to ask, was it? Just a nice night's rest, complete with a pillow and a fluffy down comforter, maybe some nice erotic dreams involving one or two amply endowed co-workers, that was all. Despite what people might have thought, he wasn't at all high maintenance.

Not that he shouldn't have a right to be, he admitted. Considering that he, the Pylean with the colorful robe, was actually the only male in the room that seemed sane and amorously free, he judged himself lucky for that little fact - and mourned himself for being the only one to truly acknowledge that little fact.

Throw the green guy a bone, hmm?

Still, the curiosity was enough to push the morose self directed pity aside, questions were whirling in his head a mile a minute, and once again, Lorne cursed himself for taking on the role of 'babysitter' while Angel Investigations continued their cases.

Being holed up in the nursery with Conner had been a pleasant enough way to pass the time, but he had missed out on some key developments, cases and incidents that had culminated in this – three men with equally pathetic expressions, auras just SCREAMING 'help me' to Lorne.

Still - couldn't this have happened in the morning? At a very sane ten a.m. maybe?

"Okee-dokee," he began, mumbling through the hand smoothing down his face in a frustrated gesture of helplessness, watching as each man brooded on their own, "I think I've been good enough about not asking why each of you look like rejects of 'Passions'. Who's first, hmm?"

At this question, Angel looked slightly alarmed, shifting in his seat before cocking his head. "What?"

"Yes, Angel," Wesley began testily, turning what seemed to be rather… angry eyes on the vampire.

Lorne sat up, eyes widening. Well…

"I would like an explanation for the position I found you in with -"

"Don't even, Wesley," The vampire growled back. "If it wasn't for you this damn thing wouldn't have even happened!"

"Hey, dude, don't you claw into Wesley," Gunn muttered.

"Thank you, Gunn."

"Not until I get a good fist into the bastard's face for doing what he did with my -"

Lorne's jaw dropped, sitting up at the sudden hostile turn the events had taken.

"WOAH! WOAH!" Gulping helplessly, Lorne waved emphatic arms in each of their faces, forcing the now standing men to turn their angry glares on him. "Can we turn the dial down on that testosterone? I'm getting a little queasy from it."

"Forget it," Angel growled, slamming his hands on the counters before pushing away, heading for the stairs.

"ANGEL." The vampire paused, and Lorne sighed, making sure the other two stayed put before rounding the counter and padding after the vampire in his fluffy, comfy, bunny shaped loafers. "I know Angst 'n Brood is big with you, but obviously it's not doing well for you right now." Taking one cotton swabbed arm, Lorne pulled back, muscles straining when the big strapping hunk of a hero didn't budge. "Uh… it helps if you move, Big Guy."

"I'm not sitting anywhere with him."

"Ditto on that, bro -" Gunn said, pushing up.

"Bloody hell – leave you pissy farts," Wesley growled, holding the steak to his black eye, attempting to look as furious as possible, "See if I bloody care -"

Once again the situation had gotten just completely out of control.

"Alright, STOP RIGHT THERE." When no one seemed to listen, Lorne closed his eyes, pushed down the anger, and finally just let out a belting, "THE HILLS ARE ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUUUUUUUUUUUUSICCCCCCCCCCCCCC!"

The rather nice rendition made them all freeze, Gunn's hands moving to cover his ears and Angel visibly flinching.

"That's right," Lorne said, grinning. "And I've got plenty more where that came from, so sit those tight butts down or I'll keep right on going with 'My Favorite Things', and trust me, I can belt that sucker until my head bursts – and that's not much of a problem."

When Angel hesitated, Lorne began warningly, "Snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes-"

"ANGEL, JUST SIDDOWN!" Gunn bellowed, burying his head into his folded arms.

"Fine, fine," the vampire growled, turning back and pulling the stool further away from Wesley, flopping into it.

Lorne sighed, hands on his hips as he viewed the three compatriots. "Look at you three. I'm ashamed, truly ashamed. You three are friends. Family."

"Dude, if you start with the 'mother guilt trip' shit I'm gonna -"

"What? Shoot up my bar or blow it up? Oh wait. You already did that."

That was enough to clamp Gunn's mouth shut, and Wesley gave an uncomfortable little shuffle.

"That was cold," Gunn muttered.

Angel just closed his eyes, burying his head into his hands.

The Hyperion Hotel was haven to all different spectrums of auras, and Lorne had to admit, there were as many good times, maybe even more, than there were bad during his stay with Angel Investigations.

Things had been tumultuous, to say the least. What with Connor's rather surprising induction and the fact he seemed to be on every hit list in the area, and then of course – as if there wasn't enough time to breathe - Cordelia's own little visit from that strapping demon Skip and right on the heels of that came that little wild Child's unexplained release from prison -

Little things – okay big things- all managing to screw up the little work dynamic so much that they had resulted in this…

Three pathetically desperate men – one demon – and three brunettes that were now missing in action.

Pushing out a long breath and seriously considering announcing his candidacy for sainthood, Lorne reapproached the corner, mentally pondering how the Hotel Lobby could look with a little redecoration, before reaching for the filing cabinet, and taking out the heavy artillery.

"All right. Obviously, I've been missing out on a few things," the demon began, placing the shot glasses on the counter, pulling the Tequila bottle after them. "So, a little explanation is in order. I want to know exactly HOW you managed to send Cordelia to the hills," he handed the tequila bottle to Angel, nudging a glass toward him, "how you managed to fall into the bed with Miss Wild Child," he said, pointing a glare Wesley's direction, "And why on earth you thought it would be a good idea to shack up with a drunk Fred," he finished glaring at Charles Gunn.

All three men shot each other quizzical and surprised glances, and Lorne rolled his eyes for what had to be the forty second time. "Auras only tell me so much, amigos. So spill."

"I don't care how I got here, Lorne," Angel snapped, hands wrapping around the glass thoughtfully. "I just want you to tell me how to fix it."

"Ditto."

"Same here."

He had to have been stuck with the mostly insanely stupid men in the world.

"I can't tell you how to 'fix' it," Lorne responded with an exasperated huff. "GOD! Dense is given new meaning by the three of you." Pausing, he spread his hands wide on the smooth counter, eyes meeting the faces of each warrior before shaking his head. Maybe he was taking too much for granted here. They were after all… men. That did tend to explain the look of utter blankness that ran rampant on each of their expressions. "Fine," he lied. "I'll tell you how to fix it if you tell me how you got here. Each of you. Starting with you, Angelcakes."

One green hand with immaculately manicured fingernails reached for the bottle, pouring the liquid into the glass, reaching for a lime sitting a few feet away in the fruit bowl.

Lorne had to admit, the curiosity was killing him. If only he had managed to get in touch with the girls. At least they would have spilled.

Angel immediately slammed the amber liquid down his throat, choking a bit before grabbing the lime, biting into it, foregoing the salt completely.

"It'll take a while," he said finally, voice twinged with husky regret.

He was afraid of that. Nodding, Lorne settled himself down, leaning forward. "Tell Auntie Lorne all about it."

"Can't I just sing?"

"Angel, just tell him before I stake your sorry ass."

"Please don't make him sing," came Wesley's plead.

Angel cast them both angry glares, but finally shrugged. "Fine. But why do I have to be first?"

"Angel," Lorne warned, "Quit stalling. People want to know."

Gunn and Wesley both swiveled their heads to watch the hunched over vampire in the scary white polo shirt.

Lorne licked his lips. "My guess this all started a week ago for each of you?" Surprised, hesitant nods were given by each man, and Lorne gave himself a proud smile. "Figured as much. Let's go, SugarLips, time to spill."

And when the vampire opened his mouth, Lorne closed his eyes, rubbing at his temple, trying to ignore the confliction, confusion, and lovesick anger that was coming off in waves from all three.

It was going to be a long night.

--

CHAPTER ONE - MONDAY MORNING
--
Monday - six days ago

When reality pulled her from the sweet serenity of sleep, it was gentle. Her breath fluttered, coming back to her when it was met with some unseen force, and Cordelia shifted slightly, freezing when she realized her body was not in her usual nocturnal position.

Eyes drifting open, she blinked, her cheek grating against colder, paler skin that seemed rougher…

Inhaling, she breathed in a familiar masculine scent, and the recognition brought a smile to her lips, as her fingers moved experimentally, drifting over fabric and skin, over a broad chest.

A chuckle coming from her companion made the chest underneath her seeking palm rumble slightly, and the smaller form settled between them gave a soft sigh.

"That tickles."

"Shhh." Cordelia grinned, readjusting her body so that Connor wasn't quite so smooshed between her and his big vampire daddy's lazy ass. "You'll wake the baby."

He had bed head, but his eyes were wide open, even as hers had to blink once or twice, orbs shrinking and adjusting to the darkness of the room. He had been awake for a while.

When she moved, his arms automatically tightened around her, restricting her, and the small action of possessiveness sent a warning signal through the recesses of Cordelia's brain, forcing her to smile tightly. "I fell asleep didn't I?"

"Looks like it." He had morning breath, his faces inches from hers, smiling at her with dark, luminous pools that held the strength of his ever weary soul. But his hand smoothed around her waist, gaze flickering down to the child nestled between them, and his forehead rested against hers, eyes closing in peaceful silence.

Cordelia swallowed, her heart skipping a beat, forcing her to push out her breath as the realization slipped over her body.

This wasn't exactly platonic.

"Angel…"

"Hmmm…"

She hesitated, unsure. His fingers lazily traced circles on her hips, skimming over the cotton, sending tingles over her skin, shuddering goosebumps up her forearms. He inhaled deeply, as that infernal hand now moved over her palm, tangling their fingers.

How had she ended up in here?

Cordelia didn't want to voice things that weren't true, but … if she spoke now… was she rushing things? Making things up that weren't there? Was the glint in Angel's eyes imagined?

God… he had never held her like this.

"You're thinking too much."

"What?"

His lips curled into a sensuous smile, eyes still closed as he adjusted again, so his legs now tangled with hers, a squirming Connor the only thing keeping them apart.

"You're thinking too much," he repeated, fingers rubbing rhythmically against her in a slow, gentle dance. "Just…sleep."

Sleep. Right. Sleep with Angel. Uh-huh.

"I should get up and change the bab-"

"The baby's fine." His fingers tightened around her wrist, pulling her back down, and readjusting the child so Connor now settled on top of his non breathing chest, he spooned her into him, cheek rubbing against her forehead, as his arm wrapped around her waist. "Just… rest. You need it."

She was almost afraid to breathe as he inhaled again, in her hair, letting out another sigh of contentment before turning into her, burying his face in her shoulder.

Carefully, her heart beating a mile a second, heartbeats she was sure he could hear, she crept hands up a broad chest she had skimmed so many times, in training, in bandaging, never in an actual caress.

The action brought a beautiful smile to lips on a vampire that rarely showed such an expression, and it did something to her heart, making it tremble and ache inside her weary body.

What was it about this year that had changed things?

Her mind lingered on the departing words of Skip, words she had sworn to forget, to act as if they had never happened, words that she had assured Angel were not true…

Because here they were, in bed, with a child - not her child - but a beautiful child she loved, and carried, and cared for…

His child.

"Angel." Her tone was husky, unsure.

"Mmm." His eyelids fluttered, fighting the vestiges of sleep, the haziness of dreams.

"What are we doing?" The words were frank and honest, and it finally made his eyes drift open.

"Is it scaring you?" The tone was unsure, hesitant, the peace drifted from his eyes and she cursed herself for it. Angel rarely had peace.

But her mouth continued to ramble on about her stupid fears. "A little."

"Does it help, if I say it scares me too?"

That made the tip of her lips quirk, bringing up a grin that made him smirk back, before the child shifted and Cordelia's eyes left his to smile upon his son.

She put away the other fears, the other reservations. "Go to sleep Angel," she whispered. "I'm not going anywhere."

Just to make sure she wasn't lying, he curled both arms around her, letting her cradle the slumbering child in her own, eyes closing, seconds before the door burst open and both bodies swiveled to face the open doorway.

Wesley stood in the hallway, stalking through into the bedroom, fists clenched into balls.

"What the bloody hell is Faith doing here?"

--

The Present – Kate Lockley's Apartment

Kate Lockley had never been one for female companionship. It wasn't that she wasn't… sociable, but growing up a pretty much self ordained tomboy, in an Academy class with men, in a male dominated work environment, with a male dominated father…

Not much time to catch up on girl talk.

Now, her fingers curling around a hot mug as she viewed the three females on the couch, Kate wondered how on earth she was going through get through this night. She had been anticipating a quiet evening. The latest novel on Oprah's book club was placed on her nightstand, her favorite throw was placed on her preferred spot on her beanbag, and the fire had been lit, casting comforting crackles and warm glows over her modest living room.

Instead she had been subject to pounding on the door that made the frame rattle, followed by slurs of what might have been a very botched job of her name, and a croon that sounded something like, "Oh, Miss LAYDEEEEEE MAAAAAM."

When she had turned the knob, pulled open the door, she almost flinched it back closed at the sight that befell her.

A strong hand blocked it from shutting again, and Kate closed her eyes, praying for strength before stepping back, letting the door swing open.

The dark-haired girl with the wild curls gave her a harried smile, and Kate immediately recognized her as a convicted killer and a very dangerous person. Her hand unconsciously went to the gun that was no longer on her hip.

"Hey," Faith said, her voice harried and a little frustrated, "Kate, right?"

"Hello, Laydee." That came from tall, thin girl with curly brown hair who was leaning back against Faith's shoulder, stumbling a bit.

"What's going on here?"

A brunette with honey blonde streaks, the most familiar face of all, finally straightened, wobbling slightly, teetering stopped only by Faith's arm snaked around her waist. "KATIE!"

They all reeked of alcohol.

"I'm sorry," the ex-con said, shrugging and looking truly apologetic as she shifted weight between the two women. "I really tried to get them home but they wouldn't go and Cordelia said she knew where you lived and -"

"Kate's BLONDE!" Cordelia had happily exclaimed, and Kate found herself stumbling back when Cordelia threw herself into her arms, forcing Kate to move away from the door, letting the other two step in.

"They're not big drinkers."

"No shit," Kate said, cupping Cordelia's face between her palms and studying the Seer's glazed eyes.

"It's okay," Cordelia said, sighing. "Blondie here can help us figure it out."

Now, twenty minutes later, she had managed to get two cups of coffee into the two drunk women and made sure she knew where her gun was in case the other one got too rowdy, but the dark haired vixen only sat back against the couch, hand absently stroking Cordelia's blonde streaked hair as the Seer lay her head in her lap.

Fred (apparently she really called herself that) was on the other side of the couch, dozing off.

From what she had managed to get out from the monosyllabic Faith, the rambling Fred and the still drunk Cordelia, was minimal. Something about a fight with Angel, Gunn and Wesley – apparently each one had managed to get paired up with one of them, though who with who was the confusing part - and Cordelia, in her infinite drunken wisdom, had decided to show up on HER doorstep because she was… BLONDE?

"I'm still not quite sure I know what's going on here," the ex-detective finally said, breathing out in an attempt to gain a little more patience.

"Don't look at me," Faith said, her eyes flashing slightly as she shifted under Cordelia, mouth pulling into a pout, body tightening at the thought. "Men are fucking bastards and I hope they rot."

"'Specially Angel," Cordelia managed from her half comatose state.

Kate cocked an eyebrow, and looked for an explanation from Fred, but the physicist, her sunflower dress streaked with just a little bit of blood, was only watching now, blinking.

"Okay." Kate pulled herself out of the armchair. "Do you want me to call somebody, a cab or something?"

Kate was half hoping they would say yes. She wasn't a fan of Angel's uppity Seer on a good day, but Cordelia, the killer she had put behind bars AND some rambling Rose?

Not exactly heartening, even for the most stoic and heroic.

"Nah. We just needed to crash for a while," Faith said, shrugging, eyes a mysterious dark brown as she shifted on the seat. "The only place to go back to is the Hotel or Cordelia's place and I really don't wanna be in either. Brings up some … shit."

"WHAT shit?" Kate suddenly burst, hands coming up in exasperation. "And what the hell are you doing out of jail?"

"Duh. She got paroled." Cordelia sat up, rubbing at her eyes, swallowing and grimacing. "Augh. I smell like beer."

"Well you drank enough, Queen C."

"You did drink a lot, Cordelia," the little one that was the tallest, ironically, offered from her prone state on the other side.

"Shut up, Fred." Cordelia shifted back, and her eyes caught Kate's, finally widening. "Oh. Hi."

There was only so much Kate could take. "Tell me what the hell is going on, or I'm booting you out."

"Please. Like you could throw her out," Cordelia snapped, rubbing at her eyes. "And relax. I was drunk, totally didn't meant to crash the OH-so-jumpin' party."

Kate's jaw dropped slightly and the Slayer grinned, squeezing Cordelia's shoulder. "Uh… C? Not exactly winning points with the Ex-Cop Lady."

The blue eyes seemed startled, and finally Kate settled for the oxymoronic move of turning to the only coherent one for answers.

"What's happening?"

Faith looked at her, gaze locking for a bit, before the smirk faded and her shoulders shrugged. "In a nutshell? Men fucking suck."

--

Monday - The Hyperion Hotel

Curiosity had given him the first glance, a small look in the direction of the courtyard that had resulted in a longer look.

That action made him freeze, the old handkerchief he was using to dust off the books in his collection frozen in place, as his eyes squinted and he watched the scene unobserved.

In the courtyard, light flickering and birds chirping, she was laughing, leaning back and giggling, reaching forward and tapping lightly at the large chest in front of her.

Wesley frowned.

Placing the book down carefully, he moved around the desk, closer to the window, watching little actions that seemed innocent, added together that made Gunn's intentions, however unconscious, obvious.

The gaze that lingered too long on Fred's upturned face. The smile that grew into a silly grin when he made her laugh, the acorns he continued to juggle now going faster, as the large black muscular man encouraged her to throw another into the mix.

And beautiful little Fred, with her hair swaying, flowing behind her shoulders in the small breeze, leaning in a little too close as the dark hands of his friend carefully pushed strands back over her shoulder, bringing her in closer.

The tightening in Wesley's heart made the realization all that more painful, and Wesley, in a panic, almost stumbled into the doorway to join them in hopes of ruining the obvious intimate moment when the sound of a duffel bag landing on the floor made him turn.

"Bloody hell."

Casting curious eyes over the Hyperion Hotel, the form seemed all too familiar, complete with longer, dark brown hair and a smile that seemed almost a sneer. "Wes."

"What the hell are you doing here?"

The words came without thinking, and they came out hard and harsh.

Wesley's fingers moved immediately to his arm, echoes of a scar still painted there, stepping back, and her eyes followed the action, the smile fading as she quickly looked away.

"Angel around?"

"What are you doing here, Faith?" he asked again.

Faith was silent, studying him with the same quiet intensity that he suspected she studied everything, from books to weapons. "I'm looking for Angel," she said again, her voice terse. "He here?"

His heart rattled against his chest, seemingly against his lungs making it impossible to breathe, and Wesley closed his eyes, sucking in his breath, the obvious agitation and uncertainty catching him by surprise as memories of this same lithe girl straddling him, sharp glass in her hand and eyes dark with wicked, perverse pleasure, flooded through him.

He shuddered, stepping back.

When he finally had the control to open his eyes, she was still in the same spot, almost glued to it, on her face an unreadable expression.

"I'm not sure how often Angel visits you," he clipped, voice steady and even despite the huskiness that he was unable to control, "but I'm the boss now. And anything you have to say can be said to me."

"Right. Cause you're sure giving me a fair and un-biased opinion," she drawled, eyes looking away as she looked down at her bag, crossing her arms. "Look. I just want to SEE him."

"You're not bloody going to until you tell me what you want."

"I thought I did," she said, clearly losing patience when her mouth tightened. "I want to SEE him."

"About?"

"How about the stick up your ass, Watcher?"

"Somethin' wrong, English?" Wesley dared not tear his eyes away from the Borne Again Slayer as Gunn and Fred stepped up behind him, the dark eyes moving over the young Slayer's body.

"Charles, Fred, meet Faith."

Faith smirked slightly, tossing up her head in mock greeting. "Hey. What's up."

"Ohhh… Isn't she good now?"

"That depends entirely on her definition of it."

The words made her flinch, visibly, but Wesley, his throat now clogged with unshed emotion, brought so easily to the surface in her presence, was beyond angry. Emotion he couldn't control - anger… hate… it came so easily with her.

And his eyes drifted to Fred, remembering a night that still haunted his dreams – when his anger had become everything.

"You know what? FUCK you, Watcher. Angel said I was welcome when I got out and I'm gonna see him with or with out your dorky little white hat blessing -"

"Angel said WHAT?"

Pulling out a wrinkled letter from her jean jacket lapel, she unwrapped it, waving it in his face. "Yeah. Bite me."

The sight brought another wave of anger to the surface, and it rumbled through his chest, up his throat, as his hands clenched and he ran for the stairs, not caring who followed him.

"ANGEL!"

--

Present Day – Hyperion Hotel

Lorne blinked, looking at Wesley with a slightly open mouth.

"Oh, here, honey, better replace the icepack on that eye before it swells up again."

Wesley reached for the pack gratefully, hissing when the ice jolted the tenderness of it.

Gunn smirked at the wounded Watcher.

"Gunn, feel free to kiss my behind," Wesley snapped, closing his eyes.

"Whatever, dude. I'm not the one beaten up by a girl."

"Faith is hardly an ordinary girl."

"That ain't the one I meant and you know it."

"Odd."

"What?" Angel asked the pondering Lorne. The demon pursed his lips, hands tangled into fists together as he blew out his breath.

"Where was I? Oh, wait. I remember," he added before anyone could remind him. "Looking at new places for Caritas." Waving a hand in the general direction of the three men, he motioned. "Carry on."

--

Monday – The Hyperion Hotel

It had taken Angel six full seconds to allow Wesley's angry question to float in.

He stared at him blankly, mind stubbornly not wanting to be pulled away from the serenity of the moment until the hearty little scream that came from his little guy made Cordelia move away, letting his hands slide from her body and onto the blanket.

"What?" he asked dumbly.

"Faith," Wesley edged out again between ground teeth. "What the devil is she doing HERE?"

This time Cordelia absorbed the question, and in addition to Wesley's angry glare, he had another pair of startlingly clear hazel eyes beamed in his direction.

"Faith is HERE?"

"Now, Faith is HERE."

Angel pushed himself up, feeling slightly vulnerable and a little out of his element as the room suddenly became much more crowded.

Between Wesley's accusing glare and Cordelia's hurt expression that mimicked the look he had received when Darla had walked back into their lives, Angel really had no other place to look but the passive, slightly hopeful look on an unsure Faith's face, as she stood, half in the room, half out of it.

"Faith. Hey. You're out."

The four words seemed the most obvious in history, but Angel really had no idea what else to say, eyes darting back to Cordelia, who was cradling his now screaming son, swiveling her head between him and Faith – and this wasn't good.

"You invited her here?!"

Was that a trick question? Angel gulped, feeling suddenly very small on the bed, having everyone looking down on him.

"I… yes I did." Finally, his senses seemed to come back to him as he pushed off the mattress, rising to his full height, smiling his best 'welcoming' smile to the parolee. "It's good to see you, Faith."

The act of kindness was enough to make the Slayer take another step into the room, grip loosening on her duffel bag as she came forward, giving him a familiar, friendly smile. "Was afraid you were gonna forget about me for a second there, Angel."

"Never."

"This is absolutely ridiculous, she can't stay here."

"ANGEL," Cordelia began, eyes wide and angry. "This is Faith!" Angel felt himself flinch underneath the anger in the words, said in a low and furious whisper, in a tone that would have been much louder had it not been for Cordelia carrying his son in her arms, rubbing at the child's back soothingly.

Faith's smile froze once again, and she stepped back towards the door. Angel frowned, his heart wrenching as he came forward, grabbing her bag. "You're welcome to stay -"

"Bloody hell – well THANK YOU for letting US KNOW -" Wesley snapped. "Let's all be a big happy family, shall we? Bloody forget all about torture and the little things -"

Cordelia's eyes only narrowed against the Slayer.

Angel felt his irritation take hold, keeping Faith behind him as he faced his two oldest friends. "Guys, I know this is a shock, but -"

"A SHOCK? Oh, you THINK?!" Cordelia snapped.

"You guys know about Faith -"

"She's a killer -"

"So was I!"

He felt the shifting behind him, could almost see the shrinking of self confidence in the once proud Slayer, and he held onto her hand, but it wasn't enough.

"Fuck this – I don't need this shit."

"FAITH -"

But she was already gone, pushing past Gunn and Fred in the doorway and storming down the stairs.

"Dayam. You know she's outta here," Gunn commented.

Angel growled, a frown directed toward the two friends as he whirled on them. "She's changed. You know that. She's changed and she's lost and she came to us for HELP. Because she thought maybe we were the ONE group of people who might have actually given her a CHANCE. That's what we're fighting for, RIGHT? Helping people? Who the hell are we to judge who deserves that second chance?"

The snap was full of anger, and Cordelia took a full step back, hazel eyes softening, looking down, blush in her cheeks inferring she was ashamed.

He didn't stop to see Wesley's reaction as he moved for the stairs, calling Faith's name as he moved.

Fred's eyes were wide as she looked from the group to the departing Angel.

"Guys, I think she was crying."

Gunn shuddered as Wesley groaned, burying hands in his face, sinking down onto the bed, Cordelia hiding her expression by pressing her cheek against Connor's bald little head and closing her eyes.

"Umm… not saying I'm not likin' the oh so obvious tension that doesn't involve us," Fred heard whispered into her ear, "But whaddya say we get out of here until they work the issues out?"

Not fond of tension of any kind, Fred was only too happy to follow Gunn down the stairs, casting sympathetic glances back toward the pair in Angel's bedroom, and nervous eyes toward the doorway, wondering all the while if Angel would catch up with the psychotic girl with the tears in her eyes.

--

Present Day – Kate's Apartment

"So I'm assuming that he DID catch up with her?" Kate asked, curling her legs underneath her as she regarded the soft shining eyes of Faith. "Considering you and Cordy there seem all sorts of chummy?"

Cordelia and Faith cast each other glances, the Seer apparently sobered enough to say softly, "A lot's happened since Monday."

Kate now found herself truly intrigued, her mind fluttering with possibilities of how exactly the Slayer, the Seer, and the crazy girl had ended up reeking of alcohol and who exactly had ended up with who -

It was obvious every one was nursing a broken heart.

"I don't…" she was hesitant. "There's three stories here."

"Actually one big one," Cordelia said, wiping hair out of her eyes as she took another sip of the coffee. "But lots of little subplots."

"Mine comes next," Fred added, pushing herself up with one elbow. Her expression was whimsical, and bittersweet, as all three women looked toward her curiously. "Cause what happened at the taco stand with Gunn - that's what really matters."

Kate's glance shifted between them, her voice questioning. "What does she -"

"Gunn is a big old idiot," Cordelia said frankly, Faith murmuring her agreement as she tossed a lock of dark hair behind her.

"Fuckin' idiot,' she muttered.

"Only an idiot would take Fred to his favorite taco stand, in his old hood, only months after turning on his old Gang of Self-professed Vampire Haters."

--