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
Special Thanks to: Vanessa, and her beautiful beta reading abilities.

Additional Notes on previous chapters.

--

Chapter Fifteen – AND ON TO THE PRESENT

--

Kate Lockley's Apartment

It took Kate three minutes to get to her bathroom, which was roughly only ten feet away from her bed, because of three narrow misses, a consequence of her momentarily forgetting in her sleep induced haze about her three unexpected houseguests.

The first was Cordelia, who she had nearly run into when she shifted on the bed, startling her awake. The brunette was so fast asleep she didn't hear the muffled shriek of surprise from Kate. The next near catastrophe happened when Kate had gathered her senses enough to swing her legs over the side of the bed, only to panic when she remembered Faith was asleep on the floor. Kate managed to defy gravity long enough to keep her legs from slamming the Slayer in the abdomen, a maneuver, she was sure, could very well have saved her life. Unfortunately, in her momentum, she nearly plowed into Fred, sleeping nearby, and it was only when she reached the bathroom did Kate truly feel safe from any more brunettes hiding in her apartment.

Closing the door behind her, Kate closed her eyes, allowed herself one sigh of exhaustion, and then stumbled to the sink. The reflection in the mirror revealed a person who had obviously spent a restless night. Dark shadows tainted the pale skin, and her blonde hair, unwashed, was stringy. Piercing blue eyes studied themselves in the mirror, and Kate, with all the strength of observation she carried that came from being a detective, still had absolutely no idea what to do with this aftermath. In her bedroom were three girls, incredibly young, incredibly old, lost and searching for an anchor.

With trembling hands, she wet her face, trying to wake herself up, attempting to find a way to come to a decision on what to do. With a rush of breath, she came to one decision: there was nothing she could do. There was something to be said for all of this, however, Kate thought, as she opened the door and studied the three sleeping girls in her bedroom. For a glimpse, they had experienced love, and all the joy, all the heartbreak that came with it. For one agonizing second, Kate envied them all.

Straightening up, her face purposely closed, she slammed the bathroom door shut. Immediately, Fred shrieked, sitting up, hair tumbling over her shoulder as she scrambled for her glasses, slipping them on and blinking Kate's form into focus.

"Oh. Hi there."

Kate smiled grimly. "Hi."

"Oh… fuck…" Faith's hand was squeezed into a fist, and she pounded once at the floor, eyes closed. "I hate hangovers," she whispered, holding a hand to her head as she rolled over, opening one eye warily, and closing it just as quickly.

Awareness came to Cordelia more slowly. Her hazel eyes opened after a minute, and her arms pushed up her body, until she was in a sitting position, the Pylean Princess blinking at them all, pulling her knees into her chest, as if trying to decide what everyone was doing here. Cordelia's head was still aching, and out of discipline, she forced her hands to stay where they were, despite the overwhelming urge to reach for her hand bag with her pills. She closed her eyes, and with a harried sigh, she slipped off the bed, turning to her friends.

"Cinderella time?" Faith asked.

"I think we've plagued Kate more than she deserves," Cordelia agreed, slipping into her heels.

Fred immediately stood, folding the various blankets she used into neat squares. "This was kinda fun! Like a sleepover!" When everyone stared at her blankly, she flushed, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Well, I mean, except for everyone getting their heart broken and everything. And the hangovers. And the whole sleeping on the – I'll just go put these back."

Cordelia bit back a smile as Fred walked out of the room, meeting Faith's wondering glance with an amused one. "You'll get used to her."

"Fungus type?"

"Kinda."

"Huh?" Kate asked, stepping into the room, grabbing the other side of the blanket and helping Cordelia spread it over the bed.

"She grows on you, like a fungus," Cordelia explained quickly.

Kate blinked. "Huh."

--

The sun was large and luminous, and it glared into Kate's windshield, making her squint when she stopped at the stoplight. Only a block away. There had been no discussion, no resolution as she drove the three women home. Absolutely nothing but silence, and Kate had no problem with that. She was, by today's standards, not a chatty woman, and for now, the tension was biting even through her. Her fingers were tight on the wheel, and in her rearview mirror, she checked Faith and Fred's expressions as they sat in the back seat, both staring out the window, silently contemplating.

Cordelia, again, never failed to surprise her. The brunette Seer was quiet, alright, she seemed visibly tired, but instead of inwardly reflecting on what Kate knew must have been on the forefront on her mind, her focus instead was on the two women in the back. Once, Cordelia caught Kate staring, and she had dismissed it without a word, instead looking again to the back, where the two girls were seated. Kate hitched in another nervous breath, and pulled over, yanking her hand up to set her gear into park.

The silence remained. For a minute, no one moved. Cordelia stared up at the hotel. It was impossible to read her mind, to discern what was going behind those unnaturally clear eyes.

Suddenly, the Seer reached for the door and opened it. "Let's go." Kate nodded, watching as the girls filed out, Cordelia pausing to turn. "Kate." Kate watched curiously. Cordelia's face gave into a soft, tired, but sincere smile. "Thanks. We owe you one."

The ex-detective found herself giving a truly sincere smile back. "Yeah. You do."

"I'll call you."

"You better."

There was a warmth in the exchange, in Kate's eyes, that hadn't been there before, and she truly felt grateful as she stepped back, allowing Kate to pull away from the curve, back to her apartment. Sure, Kate had done nothing but listen, but that was more than what a lot of people would have done. Kate had been a friend.

Turning back, Cordelia turned tired legs toward the Hyperion, walking with the two up the stairs, dread seeping into her heart as she realized the magnitude of what happened last night. Again, there was a nag inside of her that told her to fix things, but Cordelia was tired. When Fred and Faith walked in the room, and they all discovered three men sitting in various positions, all anyone could do was stare.

It was a long beat, a long moment, until Fred tore her eyes away from a beseeching Gunn and moved to her room, up the stairs two seconds at a time. Faith's eyes locked with Wesley's seconds before her gaze hardened, and she too, moved toward the stairs, dismissing him with a hostile stare. Cordelia's heartbeat slowed as she watched Gunn's shoulders drop, moving around her and away from the hotel. Wesley waited a beat later, and then, her shoulder brushed his black covered arm, and he was gone too.

All that was left was her and Angel, holding a sleeping Connor. Her heart pounded, and suddenly the aching was too much, and she understood why the others fled in the wake of their issues. She wasn't strong enough to handle this now. And neither was he. Angel was ashamed, or scared, or angry, because he walked up the stairs, and she watched all the way, until his door closed, and she was left alone in the Lobby.

Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless. Not.

Cordelia grimaced, the pain in her chest almost physical as her heart ached. How could they help the hopeless, when they couldn't even help themselves?

--

It had been an eerily quiet day. Faith was anxious, though about what, she had no idea. Her mind was muddled with fears and insecurities, and there was the tight coil inside of her that reminded her she still had to get rid of Holtz, figure out a way to get out of this whole little deal he thought he had. There were so many complications, and her own mind betrayed her as she wished herself evil again. Things were so much easier when all she did was ignore, destroy. Even if it emptied her, at least she didn't feel like this.

The phone call from Cordelia filled her with apprehension, but it had been something at least, and she found herself rushing to get to Cordelia's, for the sake of doing anything at all. It gave her more comfort than she wanted to admit, when Cordelia opened the door to her. Faith fought the smile that drifted on her lips and failed, as she stepped inside, for the moment ignoring the grim look on the Seer's face in favor of glancing at the couch. That damned couch.

She closed her eyes as her insides twisted, and fighting against it, she turned quickly to Cordelia, suddenly wanting to be out of there as quickly as possible. "What'd you want?" she asked quickly. Cordelia gave a small, grim grin, as she settled down on a rug on the floor, making a point of not sitting on the couch. Faith noticed.

"I'll wash the damned thing, okay?"

"Faith, just sit down."

The Slayer still wasn't used to taking orders, but she obeyed, coming forward and sitting cross-legged across from 'C. Cordelia's piercing hazel eyes held something behind them, Faith wasn't sure what. She wasn't even sure if she wanted to know that she was hiding. Cordelia was silent for only a minute, before she took a breath, and began rapidly, "This has gone on long enough."

Faith's eyes narrowed in confusion. "Huh?"

"This… problem, that we're all having. We can't let it interfere with the mission, so I'm asking you, to go talk to Wes."

The fucking 'W' word. Faith immediately stood. "Fuck, no."

"Faith-"

"I'm not-"

"Look… Wesley cares about you, okay? As far as I know, nothing happened with Virginia."

"I don't want to listen to this -"

"Well tough." The volume in Cordelia's voice rose from firm to angry, as she clamped a hand on Faith's wrist and pulled her back down, keeping her gaze locked with hers. "Face it, Faith. You're part of the family now, and families forgive each other. No matter what happens. So find a way to fix it."

Damn, but Queen C knew how to give orders. Faith swallowed hard, but Cordelia's eyes remained firm as she stood, pausing to wipe fringy bangs from her forehead, tucking them behind her ear.

"Where're you going?" Faith asked, as Cordelia headed for the bedroom.

"I'm going to call Fred," she answered. "And tell her exactly what I told you."

It was an order, that was what it was, but it wasn't one Faith was sure she could follow. She licked her lips, crossing her arms, and wishing she could hate Wesley, she sank down on the couch, running palms over the fabric. Shit. She wanted to hate him, she really did.

The door bell rang, and Faith lifted her head from her palms, walking toward the door when Cordelia didn't emerge from the bedroom. When she opened the door, she promptly tried to shut it again, but an unseen force stopped her panicked gesture, and she never hated Dennis more.

Virginia Bryce looked equally surprised to see her standing there, mouth dropping open, and stepping back to stare at the numbers before a small squeak emerged from her throat.

"I was looking for Cordelia," she managed.

Faith had two choices. Kill her, or let her in. It actually took her a full minute to convince herself Cordelia wouldn't like redhead blood on her carpet, before she managed to get her feet moving to allow the taller girl in.

"She's on the phone," she said stiffly, moving away from the door, not caring if Virginia followed her into the room or not.

"Thanks," the rich debutante replied, just as awkwardly. Faith settled back down on the couch, and found her gaze back on the red head. Cordelia wouldn't mind if she just pull off one little ar-

"So is um… that the couch?"

Faith blinked. "Huh?"

"The one you guys had sex on."

Oh, this girl was dead. "WHAT?!" Faith hissed, launching to her feet.

The move visibly frightened Virginia, who took a startled step back, blurting out quickly, "I uh… he was drunk at the time, and it just came out! Sorry! I- it… so you –" Faith continued to advance. "Oh, God, look, didn't he at least manage to talk to you about… us?"

"Us?" Faith repeated, eyes narrowed into a glare.

"Well, okay, the fact that there IS no us? I just - geez, you're scary stop! Cordelia will be pissed if you beat me up, I promise! She likes me! Kinda…" That at least managed to make Faith stop. A relieved sigh flowed from Virginia, shoulders slumping. "I'm actually kinda glad you're here. I just wanted to… apologize for what happened the night before… It really wasn't what you thought it was… and I thought Wes was going to tell you but… He didn't do anything wrong…"

Faith was stunned into silence, shock pervading her features at the startling turn of events. Blinking once, she realized exactly what Virginia was doing. "So what?" Faith said after a minute, a sneer coming over her features. "You wanted to be all big and shit? Coming over and trying to defend him cause you feel sorry for me?"

"No, I hate you," Virginia burst, and then had the decency to look embarrassed, and she shrugged slightly. "Sorry. I just… you look scary, and you're everything I thought he wouldn't want, and… I love him and he loves you…"

"Come again?" Faith said suddenly, head whipping up, her face a startled expression.

"Look. Personally, I think you're all wrong for him, but he's a good man. And… he's sweet… and you made him happy. Even with the torture." Virginia gave a crooked smile, the admission almost painful. "I just… he's gone through so much, and he's got such a big heart, and…" Faith swallowed, stepping back slightly when Virginia straightened, green eyes boring into hers. "He loves you. That's it. That's the bottom line. And you would be an idiot, to throw that away." There was absolute silence as Virginia wiped the tears from her eyes, stepping backwards, as if suddenly realizing she no longer wanted to be there.

"Tell Cordy I stopped by," she said flippantly, leaving as quickly as she came, Dennis closing the door behind her.

Faith was unnerved enough to sink to the ground, eyes wide in shock, heart bursting with wonder.

--

The Hyperion Hotel

Angel sat with his child in his arms, the bottle held dutifully to his son's mouth as his mind lost itself in silent contemplation.

He was alone, the hotel was silent, and no one had emerged. It was worse than before, and he knew it couldn't go on, that some how, someway, he was responsible for how this would end. But it didn't make getting up any easier, not when he had no idea what to do, what to day… how to even begin…

Closing his eyes, he allowed one sigh of anger, before his form froze, and helpless with his nodding off child, afraid to move, he stared hungrily at the door, hoping against hope the scent was not deceiving him, that his grief and love hadn't started to play tricks on his addled mind. But it was indeed Cordelia, who slipped inside the door, watching him with a serious, sad expression. His body jolted, but he didn't move, unsure, and maybe even a little scared. He had never seen that expression on her before, and even if at that moment, he would have done anything to make things right… there was no way to tell where he stood, now.

"We can't keep doing this," Cordelia said finally, eyes locked on Angel's dark orbs as she stood stiffly in the center of the room, arms crossed, closing herself off from him. "We can't keep making everything about us. This isn't about us. We have a family now, Angel. YOU have a family now. We can't go off into tantrums, or refusing to speak to each other, or pushing each other away just because of a thing called love."

He was quiet, silent with his child in his arms, a dark, haunting presence that had seeped into her own soul. Forcing her tone to remain flat, despite the heartbreak that filled her now, Cordelia continued, hand rising to massage at her aching neck. "I'm tired, Angel. I know we haven't exactly discussed what's going on between the two of us, but it's something. And, we have to get through it, or get over it, or do something to fix it, WITHOUT breaking this up, breaking the family up. They need us, Angel," Cordelia finally said, her tone a strangled whisper, tears coming to her eyes. "I didn't want it, and neither did you, but it happened. We've got four people in there that depend on us, on what we stand for. So find a way to fix it. I'm tired. It's up to you, and we fix it. We ignore it, or we do something, but we can't leave. It's not about us, anymore."

She stepped forward, toward her frozen vampire, a dark, grim smile on her perfect lips as she knelt in front of the rocking chair, burning a warm embrace on his knees. Her eyes were on his child as she smoothed a delicate finger over his forehead. "And it's not just about him. It's about everyone. And I'm not letting them down again." Her eyes met his, moist with her emotion. "Help me find a way to fix it."

She stood, ignoring his beseeching eyes as she walked to the door, posture straight and firm, moving the door, opening it, and closing it behind her. Angel was left behind with his child, in the dark, alone. It was the last place he wanted to be. His eyes continued to burn his gaze into the door, eyes on the place he had last seen her.

There was no solution to love, he had learned that the hard way. And with his heart breaking, and his mind whirling, Angel continued to sit, immobile, not breathing. To even think about breathing would have been painful. Because there was no solution.

--

Gunn's Apartment

Fred tangled her fingers and walked away from the door from the tenth time. She had never been to Gunn's apartment, and it reminded her of a fox hole. Just small and cramped, and dark, and come to think of it, kinda cozy. Like the sewers. Without the smell.

Forcing herself to stop, exercising at least SOME discipline over herself as she turned back and stared at the door. She had promised. She had promised Cordelia she would come.

Biting her lip, she continued to stare at the door nervously, noting that it didn't seem to be getting any larger. Her fingers clamped together, and she winced, realizing she had unintentionally cut off her circulation. Now, her hands lowered to her waist, palms open wide as she realized she was no less angry with Gunn as she was before. But the anger was different now, and maybe it was because of that that she was standing here, outside his door.

Was this what friendship was? Being furious because he hadn't called, hadn't tried to see her? Forced her to come walking all the way over here, overcome with longing to see him? This wasn't right. Something about this just wasn't right. She shouldn't be waiting for him, she shouldn't be thinking of wrongs and rights, and what ifs -

But she was. She was standing right there, thinking of the hurt expression in his eyes, and the anger in hers, and what if she hadn't said what she said -

The doorknob shook, and she froze in shock, momentarily stilled as it opened, and when Charles stepped out, she took a step back.

He closed the door behind him, and turned, and when he saw her he shrieked, jumping back a full step, landing against the wall in the hallway.

"FRED?!" he whispered furiously, once he had a second look.

"Uh…" Heart suddenly beating in furious pants, Fred's steps faltered, right alongside her courage. Would Gunn believe her if she went with her first impulse and said it was NOT Fred, but some parallel universe look alike, who just HAPPENED to show up at his doorstep? Probably not.

"Fred?" This time, the word was accompanied with a hopeful tinge, as Charles pushed away from the wall, overcoming his shock to step forward, hands reaching forward to touch her, pausing at the last minute, and coming away. "What are you… doing… here?"

Fred seemed to be struck mute.

Charles quickly considered his options, and never one to question his luck, he fumbled for his keys, and opened his apartment door. "I…" his voice shook slightly with hesitation. "I was gonna come and see you, but since you're here…" He pushed the door open, very aware of his hammering heart as he moved away from the open door, giving her time to make up her mind.

Fred looked like a deer stuck in headlights, the way her eyes darted to the door, and then to him, and then back to the hallway. Gunn was fully prepared to run after her if she bolted, because… well… bolting was something that Fred had a tendency to do.

It was a terrible moment, until she took a breath and stepped forward into his room. Exhaling with a sigh of relief, Charles followed her in, closing the door behind her.

Okay, Fred was in the apartment. Great. Now, what? Charles swallowed down, hard, past a lump of emotion that seemed almost painful in his throat.

"I uh… okay." He hopped in place, trying to get his momentum, his courage, in front of the girl who was staring at him like he had grown a second head. "Come on, Charles," he breathed. "You can do this. Fred-"

"I was waiting," she blurted, blowing her breath out in an unsteady rush. "For you to come to me, like you did before, you know… apologize and everything…" He looked uncomfortably, away from her, down at his hands. "But then I remembered," she began again, voice slightly shaky, "What you said before, about me … you know… about you… never kissing because you thought I wouldn't kiss you back and… I came here, instead."

"Fred, Justine -"

"No… please don't mention her now," Fred said, closing her eyes against the pain that came up inside of her at the thought of the woman. "I don't like her."

"I know, bu0t -"

"And I know, that you want to help her, and I respect that…well, I respect that, NOW." She frowned, shaking off the irrational anger at the mention of her. "I didn't want to come here, because I knew I would get nervous, and every time I do, I just start to ramble and… you know… I think I'm doing that already, aren't I?"

He gave a slight smile, and that made her hope just a little bit, pray that what she would say next would come out right, without losing him, without losing everything they had gone through in the last…. Was it really only six days?

"I'm sorry," he said suddenly. "I know it's like I say that a lot and all but…" He gave a small shrug, looking like a nervous school boy, her big old bear, with his hands in his lip, unsure of what to say or do next. Moving past her, he sank down on his little bed, gazing up at her with adoring eyes.

It only served to make her frown, and that wasn't what Charles was going for at all. Her hands were pressing against each other, but she wasn't looking at the door. That was a good thing. Apprehensively, he watched with growing concern as she sat down beside him, mouth moving silently as she tried to phrase her words.

"I don't want to be friendly, anymore, Charles," she finally said plaintively, voice breaking slightly as she saw his flushed face, the hurt look sliding over his strong features. "I just… I don't like the way it just tears at me…" her fingers knit into uncomfortable knots in her lap. She looked at them, at the way the digits tangled in the uncomfortable silence. "I just… miss you…" she finished.

He was quiet, looking down at the floor. Suddenly, he turned to her, eyes bright, "Fred-"

"Charles…" she stopped him with a hand on his arm, a crooked smile on her face. "What would you say if … you know… we…-"

"Fred, shut up." Gunn's eyes were shining brilliantly as he leaned forward, brushed his lips against hers, and it was gentle, so very gentle. She gasped slightly, leaning back in shock, but he only stared, and moved closer, slipping hot palms around her waist and pulling her closer, before tilting her head and plundering her lips again.

"No, Fred," he said again, his voice almost harsh in it's firmness. "We're not bein' all friendly." He swallowed, and suddenly his eyes were tender, sliding a finger over her lips, in his eyes a simmering passion that made her breathless. "We're being in love. You got it? We're being in love…" And his lips pressed against hers, body slanting over her own, a warmth that consumed her. Her eyes closed involuntarily and when her mouth opened to give a breathy sigh, he took the advantage, gently invading the moist heat. Her own brush of her tongue against his let a soft moan out from his throat that made her smile, and her hands, with absolutely no self control, slid over his shoulders, pulling him closer to her.

Her big old bear.

When he released her, she had no escape. He had her wrapped in his arms, his legs were tangled with hers, and on this bed, her body was betraying her with thoughts of nakedness and Gunn's mouth on… certain places and it was whirling with thoughts before she blurted, "We're in LOVE?!"

The outburst made him chuckle softly, and he nodded. His palm was distractedly tickling her ribs as he said, "I think so…that cool with you?"

And there he was, in that insecure smile. Fear and genuine hope, as he stared at her with glowing eyes. She managed a crooked smile, despite the crashing heartbeat and the way her legs kept rising up his thighs, bringing him in further. "I think that… yeah. I think that's just fine, Charles. I never liked the whole being friendly thing, anyway."

He grinned again, a little shaky at the corners of his mouth, most likely a remnant of the relief flooding through him, lowering his head and kissing her once more, slow and tender, until she was tired of slow, tired of tender, and nipped him, hard.

"OWW! FRED!"

She grinned, suddenly gratified that she COULD trust him enough to do this, be able to snake her palm down his abdomen, and cup the front of his jeans. His eyes widened, and then closed, a ragged groan torn from his throat as he shuddered against her, pushing forward. Her smile widened at his reaction, and with her free hand she caressed his cheek, letting him move against her, the entire situation sending tingles through her body, desire that was almost impossible to resist.

When the passion was sated some time later, she found herself without clothes, without modesty, but spread firmly against a tight, warm, muscled body, her head resting against his strong chest, rising and falling with his breaths. The chocolate skin underneath her was smooth. Her fingers ran over it gently, lips pressing against him distractedly as he continued to consider, speak gently, softly to her. Confessions of a friend now were being admitted, and she relished that, thankful she had his trust back, and so relieved she had HIM back.

"I don't know what to do, Fred. For the first time, in my LIFE. I have no idea what to do."

Fred was silent, keeping her cheek against his beating heart as she held him, pulling him closer into her. "I don't know, either," she whispered. "I used to know everything. Math problems, and riddles and puzzles… even in Pylea, where I was scared all the time, I knew how to break the collars and … here… I don't know. I'm still lost, Gunn." His fingers slid up her spine, comforting in their presence, and she took his silence for support.

"You're not lost, Fred," he said finally. "Sometimes, I think you got it more together than any of us." Her eyes widened in surprise, and startled, she lifted her head to gaze upon her Charles. He gave her a small smile back, delicately tracing her cheek with his fingers. "You got a lot to learn about love, baby doll. But that don't make you lost, that just makes you human."

The grin with which he said those words made her smile, and she shrugged, chin resting on his chest as she remarked, "I happen to think you do, too, Charles."

He conceded with a grin. "So we figure it out together, then?"

She smiled. "I think so… and… I'll help you with Justine, if that's what you want…"

"Fred…" his smile had faded, his palms tightened around her shoulders in an act of concern. "Are you-"

"I trust you, and I support you, and I believe in you and if you believe in her…"

He gave her a ragged sigh, leaning his head back to look at the ceiling. "That's a hell of a lot of pressure you're putting on me, girl."

"It is," she said, somberness in her tone as she resettled herself against him, finger tracing a circle around his left pectoral. "I… think you can handle it. And you won't be alone."

He was quiet for a long time, and she knew he was considering his options. She waited, a little anxiously, until the strong chest under her released a huge breath, and his arms slid around her, tracing a shuddering line up her spine.

"You're my hero, Fred."

Those four words were enough to make her smile, to lift her head up and grin at him, and when their lips met in an all consuming kiss, Fred knew that they wouldn't be going to sleep for a very long time.

She was okay with that, closing her eyes and letting her head fall back as Gunn pressed his lips against the spot between her breasts, holding him tightly against her. It was never easy, and love was all consuming, and terrifying… and all those bad things… But love was also everything. It was in Gunn's dark gaze, in his scared expression… in the hurt of his features when he thought she didn't trust him. And it was in his hands when they touched her, his smile when he kissed her. It was in his arms when they held her, and it was in her heart when she spoke to him.

She couldn't explain love with theory, with logic, because to be honest, this… what was going on with Gunn… had no logical explanation. She couldn't explain why it happened, and why it happened with him… What she could say, was that, quite simply, it did. And it wasn't easy, it would never be easy, but there was this, this love, this passion - And that made everything.

It was everything, she decided, when his lips trailed back up her chin, and she moved her mouth to meet against him, pressing against him and kissing him harder. And then, Fred simply ceased to think, and began to feel.

--

Wesley's Apartment

When Faith put her mind to something, she damned well put her mind to it. Despite the fact that her knees were practically shaking, and her common sense was screaming into her ear that she was an absolute MORON for doing what she was doing, her palms moved into fists, and she pounded at the door.

She was damned scared. But her eyes were hard, and her resolve was clear, and when beautiful Blue Eyes opened the door, she didn't shake, and to her credit, didn't even punch him again. Her eyes took in his surprised features, the way his eye seemed to be healing nicely, the way the nose was just a little swollen, and she kept her features passive.

"Faith," he breathed, in that beautiful English voice of his. Get it out, Faith. Just get that shit out, before you punch him again or run away like the lame ass coward you are.

"The redheaded bitch came to see me," Faith said flatly, with no introduction whatsoever.

"Did she?" he responded, stunned into polite conversation. The Slayer nodded, pushing off the doorway and walking inside of his room, almost glaring at him from behind dark brown orbs.

"You've got a real way with woman, English," Faith said. "For that chick to be brave enough to come after me alone. Got a bad ass tongue, too," she added. "Almost bitch slapped her more than once."

"Ah… I see…" Wesley whispered, unable to tear his eyes away, mind whirling as to Faith's intentions.

"Said something's about me… about you… and it got me thinking." Faith was silent for a minute, and then moved forward, sitting down next to him on his bed. "All right," she said finally. "I'm going to listen to you. And then you're going to listen to me." She continued to not look at him, staring at something fabulously interesting on his wall. "And then we're going to try to do one of those conversation things… with the talking… and without hitting each other."

"Ah…" Wesley swallowed down hard, hands fidgeting on his bedspread. "I… see."

She was quiet for a minute, staring at the wall silently, before finally turning to him, a look of impatience on her beautiful face. "Any time now," she prompted.

"Oh, me?" He blinked, and once again looked away, taking in a breath. "I…" His mind scrambled for words, an attempt to say something, anything to understand what it was that was happening between them. Wesley, with his books, and his mind, could think of nothing. Instead, his eyes went to the hands with the short painted fingernails, up the pale skin, to the tattoo etched onto her arm, past the smooth shoulders to the jawline, and finally, to her eyes. "I don't know what I can say, that would … Faith…"

She looked confused for a second, and in all honestly, Faith's little show of bravado was quickly running out of steam. Words were never her strong suit either, and she had been depending on the English guy to get the ball rolling, hoping they could figure it out without the violence that had become a staple in their whirlwind courtship. She looked at the door, mind shifting again to try to view it as an escape -

The warm touch of skin against her palm startled her, jerking her eyes back to lock with his. Once again, she was distracted by the beautiful blue in his eyes, and once again, she resisted the urge to pull the glasses off, to attempt to drown herself in their depths.

"I've really made a muck of everything, haven't I?" he said frankly, drawing her palm into his lap.

The gesture left her breathless, a short pant coming from her as her eyes locked on their entangled fingers, his smooth brown digits a contrast from her paler ones.

"Uh… yeah. You did," she admitted, a short chuckle coming from her when he gave a small smile. "Bastard. But I didn't exactly start things off on the right foot…"

She waited, unsure of what she wanted, but body tingling with anticipation for it. God, what was it drifting through her? Hope?

"Faith," he began heavily, eyes on their hands, glasses glinting. Her palm was carefully turned over, his index finger smoothing over the lines of her hand. "What this is… what happened… is something we undoubtedly should not pursue -" The instinctive urge to pull her hand away, a reaction that came immediately after the sinking of her stomach, was stilled when he closed his grip around her hand. "You promised you'd listen," he reminded her. She swallowed, achingly aware, that she was never great on keeping promises. "As I was saying," he said again, keeping her hands tight in his. "We are two rather conflicted people. We have pasts we'd like to forget, both of us tend to… demean our own importance. And we hurt each other. More than… we WOULD each other, Faith. Deeply. You lash out, I close myself off… -"

"You're also a moron," she reminded him.

He gave another distracted smile, conceding. "Perhaps. But I did have a point."

"Oh, good," she couldn't help but answer dryly.

"We're no good for each other, Faith," he said finally, eyes locked against hers, not allowing her to look away. "And yet, my hand is still in yours, and I can think of no place in this world, at this moment, that I would rather be, than wrapped in your embrace, in your arms, in your lips." His gaze was somber, his hand gentle as he slid his hand to her cheek, tilting his head to smile at her. "I'm offering you a broken vase, Faith, and if you choose not to take it, then I can certainly understand. I can't promise you forever, but I can promise you, that I love you. And I'll do anything in my power to keep you from hurting ever again."

She froze at the words, jerked back, and the flinch made Wesley's hand drop self consciously, as she breathed out, "You can't, Wes. You can't stop the hurt. No one can."

He was quiet, but she continued, raking digits through long brown hair. "Fuck Wes, life sucks. We know that. And the pain isn't ever going to stop. I learned that. No matter how much good we fight, no matter how … white hat-ty we get, it's never gonna stop. But… that's okay. As long as I can believe in this." Her fingers found their way into his palm, and her voice broke slightly, edged out I need. "I believe in you, Wesley," she finally managed. "Fuck knows WHY, with the way YOU'VE been acting… but I do. And if I can believe in you, then maybe… I can believe in myself." The next three words choked on their way out, and she laughed in embarrassment, insides shuddering at her own vulnerability as she whispered, "I love you."

His expression was blank for only a second, black eye and bruised nose aside, there was still nothing more beautiful to Faith, than the moment he smiled. Her eyes closed of their own volition when he kissed her, tender nips at her lips, his body a welcome weight against her own as she sank back onto his bed. HIS bed. But when her hands slid to his shirt, pulling it up to smooth over the muscles of his back, he paused, pulling back.

"Not fast, Faith," he whispered thickly, breath fluttering against her lips. "For now, please just let me hold you. I've waited so long just to hold you."

And her bruised and battered lover touched her, pressing his lips against her closed eyelids, smoothing over the tears, as she gathered him to her, scars and all, and held him tightly, shuddering with emotion as his face buried into her neck. The embrace was desperate, the weight of the man on top of her different somehow, to every previous experience.

She knew she would wake up in the morning, and he would still hold her. She knew that the scars, small bumps over her searching fingers, would still be there, just as she knew the glint in her eyes would never fully be lost, the hate would always seep it's way into her soul.

There would be pain, and hatred, and rage. But something was different now, and it made her press her lips against the man who held her past, her present, and her future in his broken hands. There was love, now. And with that love, came hope.

Closing her eyes, she breathed in his scent, and finally let her mind drift off to a peaceful sleep.

--

The Hyperion Hotel –

Two days.

Cordelia never truly understood Fred's theory on time. The first time Fred had tried to explain it, Cordelia had cut her off, the second time, her eyes had glazed over and her brain promptly exploded. But she understood it now, how time moved depending on how you were aware of it.

Sitting here, in the nursery, things had been… awkward. People were still finding their grooves, attempting to move and understand what happened in the last six days. No one could change the past. Faith had still tortured Wesley, Gunn had still lost a sister to vampires. They weren't healed completely, no one really was. She wasn't. But something had changed. Fred and Faith, and Gunn and Wesley, had managed to patch things up, come to some sort of understanding. It didn't make things any easier, but it helped.

The future was so uncertain here. And still, everyone was waiting, and Cordelia knew why. She had promised herself she would trust him, and even now, her heart was hammering, knowing Angel could make the wrong decision. What WAS the wrong decision, when she herself had no idea what the right one was? Her weakness, had landed her here. In Connor's empty nursery, in Angel's bed room, away from the others, seated in the darkness, waiting.

She was prepared to wait for as long as it took, but she knew, it would be a wait that would take forever. There was simply no answer for a problem that couldn't even be addressed. Maybe it hadn't been fair to Angel, to make him decide, but he was the Champion. And she was so tired of fixing things only to have them break.

The door opened, and her hazel eyes blinked with surprise as the soft light of the lamp flooded the room, and a vampire with a human child stepped inside.

"I thought I would find you here," he said, uncertainly, keeping the door closed behind him by tapping against it with his foot. A second of waiting, and he glanced down at his child, and then back up at her. "I know how we can fix it," he announced.

For a moment, she was stunned, rising out of her chair, surprised when he stepped forward, placing the child in her arms.

"Okay," she said, as easily as she could, taking the baby and brushing a distracted kiss against his forehead. "I'm listening."

"We don't."

Now THAT she wasn't expecting. Cordelia's mouth fell open, surprise apparent on her features.

She managed one blink, before she responded with a stuttering, "Huh?"

"Just listen." Angel seemed almost … chipper, as he came forward, eyes brown and intense, and his body language was so firm. Cordelia had rarely seen him so sure of himself. Rendered speechless – and that was QUITE a feat, thank you very much – Cordelia only watched blankly as he began to pace.

"I've given this some thought, and we can't fix this. I mean, I've tried, Cordelia. I've thought of leaving, or you leaving, and I can't let you leave, and *I* can't leave, and Connor can't leave, and… they know we can't leave-"

"Okay," she interrupted, clearly losing patience. "We're not leaving. We covered that, Monty Python."

"Right. So… no one's leaving. But there's clearly feelings here, which is… not good. But it's too much responsibility. It's too much, Cordy. There's too much law, and order in this world of chaos where a dead person can have a kid, vampires can be brought back from the dead, and miracles can happen." He paused, turning and coming to stand in front of her, eyes almost glowing with his observations. "And if all that can happen, if miracles can happen, then all we have is hope, right? And love… and the hardest thing we can do is believe in it." And the tone got dark and slow, her Angel's voice so labored now, "That you won't die, and I won't lose my soul - There's no resolution for this, but to go forward… and I know that we can't fix things. I know that Holtz is out there, and the vision thing and… in the end… Whatever does happen… at least, we'll have the happiness WITH the heartache."

She was openly panting now, eyes moistened with tears as she looked at him, so full of emotion, she had no idea what to say, what to think. He paused, and sank to his knees, prostate in front of her, reminiscent of a time that seemed so long ago, when she learned of the killer he released to save her.

And her mind was overcome.

"My body aches for you," he admitted. "Every minute, every hour, I want to feel your skin under my thumb tips, slide my palm under your thigh, I want to see how high that tan goes-"

Cordelia released a low, unsteady breath. "Angel…" she began imploringly.

But he wouldn't shut up, as his hands squeezed on her knees, sliding up and making her shudder. "It's your eyes, Cordelia. Your words. Everything I've done, everything I've done since the moment I've stepped in Los Angeles, you've had something to say about it. You've always been there. And there's a reason for that. There's got to be a reason -"

"Angel." It was labored, heavy, overcome with emotion.

"Listen to me," he said again, lips quirking up into an almost smirk, gentle and sweet, and it filled her eyes with tears, as he kept his gaze on hers, reaching up to cup her cheek. "I don't know what's ahead, Cordelia. I can't promise that I'll be the perfect man. I can't promise that things aren't only going to get worse from now on, but I do know that I'll be the one that's right here." He swallowed hard, testing his emotion, looking away, no longer able to view her face in his heartfelt admission. "I'm scared, Cordelia. I can't do this without you, but you make me strong. And I want to be the one to make you strong. I want to be the one to wipe away your tears. I want to be the one to feel your breath on my neck. I can't fix this…" When he dared look again, her eyes were bright with moisture, her lower lip trembled, and a lone tear drifted from her eyelid.

Suddenly wanting this to be sacred, needing it to be sacred, Angel's voice drifted to a soft whisper, as he gathered her smaller hands into his dead fingers, caressing the digits as if they were precious and gentle. Because they were.

"I can't take away the pain, Cordelia. I can't be your champion. I'm not your champion. I'm just a man… pire…" That made her smile, a crooked, barely there smile, but it was there. "I can't promise you a future, in my world, I don't even know if we have one…" He paused, overcome with emotion, as he gazed up at his Seer. "But I promise you, I swear to you this: I promise to love you. More than any man, has ever loved any woman. And all I want, is for you to let me. Let me love you. All I want to do is love you as much as I can, as best as I can, for as long as I can."

The words sank into the air, and he waited, his heart laid out in the open, for Cordelia to make any indication that she had heard.

Boy. He really did a hell of a lot of thinking here. After a minute, a sob emerged from her tired body, and her head cocked, as the tears slipped down her face. "Oh, Angel," she said in a soft whisper. "You dumb, beautiful man. That's everything."

He was stunned into silence, but he carefully pulled Connor from her, placing the child in his crib, before stepping into Cordelia's waiting embrace. His arms wrapped around her, as she pressed into him in a shuddering hug. Immediately, relief slipped over him, and he held her close, pressing kisses to her cheek and her shoulder, her hair, any place he could reach, closing his eyes, and pulling her tighter. Cordelia's warm body trembled, and he knew then, he had his answer. He was right, they couldn't fix it. There was nothing they could fix here… there was nothing, and it was everything.

Suddenly he had hope, as he held her close, breathed in her scent and thanked the Higher Powers for keeping her with him. He wouldn't lose her, because they would find a way. There was a reason she was here, in his arms, there had to be. There had to be hope, what else were they fighting for, when they were helpless themselves?

We help the hopeless…

The old motto drifted through his brain, and he smiled, pulling away to run a gentle palm down Cordelia's face, smiling before tilting her chin, pressing a long kiss into her lips, meeting her mouth with a gentle whisper, a promise.

"I love you."

That was it. That was all he had. And it was everything.

--

They had come out of this no better than when they went in. She still dreaded the next vision, she still knew he was thinking about Holtz. But now, as he rained kisses down her throat, soft lips that pressed and gently slipped along her column, she knew she had one more thing.

She had him.

"Close your eyes," he whispered, in a low, sultry tone that made her weak, sending a soft, tingling spiral through out her. With a breathless sigh, she obeyed, body on edge as she leaned back into the soft cotton of his sheets, head resting against his pillows, a position she had been in only a week before. But she had never seen his eyes shining, the way they were, never seen the way the smile curled at his lips, and her heart beat rapidly in response, with the realization that this was dangerous -

"Angel…"

"Trust me," he whispered, settling his weight on top of her, a welcome relief to her aching body, a cool body that her legs immediately parted to allow a better position. His lips brushed against hers once, twice, and she moaned in response, rocking her hips against him.

God, she wanted to trust him, as his palm wrapped around one breast, her breath caught in a ragged gasp, body arching against him, pressing into his hand. She heard his moan, as his face buried into her shoulder, felt the hardness against her, her body falling into an easy rhythm that was quickly overcoming her senses, pushing all other thoughts away.

It would be so easy to believe that there was just them, just two bodies, and two lives, fighting the good fight, with passion and love and hope…

"Oh, God," she whispered achingly, eyes closing as one palm slipped under her shirt, skimming the tip of one bauble, making her shudder. "Angel…"

He had to stop, she knew it, he knew it. Labored breathing hindered movements, it took Angel a second to try and control his body, his arms, his hands, as he slipped them out of her shirt, grinning at her weakly, pressing a distracted kiss to her closed mouth.

"We have to get out of here," she whispered, forehead tipping against his in an intimate embrace. "Figures you'd get all hormonal on me NOW, Broody."

"Right…" he began pulling away, swallowing hard. "We can't…"

Cordelia grinned, pushing at Angel's chest. "No! I mean, no, you're right we can't, but that's not what I- we have to do something first."

--
The Hyperion Corridor

"Guys!" Cordelia knocked on the door, hard.

Angel looked slightly uncomfortable as he slipped his hands in his pockets, edging away from it. "Cordy, maybe we shouldn't-"

"Oh, shut up. This needs to be done. Go find Wes and Faith."

"I … uh… They're in Faith's bedroom."

"What?"

He gave a colorful, embarrassed, sheepish grin. "They're umm… you know…" Cordelia's eyes widened, and she shuddered away the vision of Wes and Faith… you know.

"TOO much information. And how the hell did you know?"

"I can… um… hear… them."

"Oh, gross." Cordelia shuddered, and pounded again. "Fred! Come on-" Losing patience, Cordelia pushed on the knob, slipped inside, screamed, and slipped out, slamming the door behind her, and leaning against it, face as red as a tomato.

"Good LORD! Is there anyone in this hotel NOT having sex?"

"We're not, Cordy." Angel's answer was pained.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Shut up." Angel shrugged. The door jerked open, and Cordelia was saved from falling through it, only by Angel's quick reflexes.

"Oh, hi! Cordy! I'm sorry about the - you know - Gunn and I were just… reading, you know, cause that's why the sheets are rumpled, and the…" Fred blushed profusely, holding the sheet up to cover herself. "You didn't… see anything, did you?"

Cordelia watched in blank shock, leaning against the vampire, who gave Fred a perplexed and disturbed look. "Meeting downstairs in a half hour," he said finally, nodding to Gunn, who was furiously pulling on a shirt in the background.

"Right, sure… half hour, got it!" Fred nodded quickly, and closed the door. Cordelia sighed, holding a hand to her head.

Angel was silent, holding her to him. "So… wanna go get Faith and Wesley?"

Cordelia opened one eye to glare at him. "Why don't we wait?"

He couldn't help but grin at her look. "Sure. We'll wait," he agreed, steering her by the shoulders away from Fred's bedroom. "I'm sure Connor needs to be sung to."

"You're not going to sing, are you?"

"Cordy, shut up."

--

The Hyperion Lobby – an hour later

"All right, so is everyone clear here?" Cordelia pointed again at the list on the dry erase board. Faith looked mildly bored, looking at her fingernails. Fred nodded enthusiastically. Wesley only stared at the board with a furrowed brow, and Charles Gunn smiled, amused. "Pay attention!" The Seer reiterated. "This is important."

"We got it, Queen C," Faith said dryly. "Cordelia will no longer screen her calls, always pick up, no matter WHAT the hell Angel does. Mister Broody there, will always make time for any of us -"

"But there will be no sleeping with Faith -" Wesley interrupted, flinching when Faith smacked him on the arm. "Oww."

"And I'll try to stop obsessing about… stuff." Angel mumbled. Cordelia smiled, pleased.

"Good. Not too much, though. I kinda like… the obsessing about me. Sometimes." Angel grinned, and Cordelia blushed, pushing on. "Fred will learn to become a tattle tale when it involves a life threatening situation. Wesley will stop going into brood fits and not TELLING us anything. Charles Gunn will STOP with his stupid little-"

"Hey!"

"You'll tell us when you need help, Gunn," Angel snapped darkly. "We're your family. That's what we do. And we'll be there this time. I promise."

Charles gave the vampire a look, and finally, a smile. "I got ya, dog."

"Faith, Fred and I, owe Kate a dinner, and a man of her own. She needs a life. Badly. You men, will assist Lorne in rebuilding Caritas, since that's the least you can do after bitching him out for a night. And EVERYONE will stop hitting Wesley. Except for Faith, who might have reason to in the near future if they keep insisting on dating. Lastly. There will be NO MORE SEX ON ANY COUCHES. ANY couches. This is what beds are for, and to be specific, NOT MY BED. Are we all clear?"

"All clear, Cordelia!" Faith said, rolling her eyes and giving a mock thumbs-up. "Can we go now, Teacher?"

Cordelia grinned, looking over her ragged peers. "The point is," she said, her tone serious now. "We're a family, guys. All of us. We're all we have. So, let's act like it, okay?"

The group stared, and one by one, everyone nodded.

Cordelia smiled, straightening and crossing her arms. "Good. One more bonding thing. Then we're free to live our little lives."

--

"All right! I've got the blue chips."

"You can't have all the blue chips, Faith," Wesley leaned over the counter, giving her a dark glance. "The point is that you have to have all of them. This isn't Monopoly."

"Oh, how would you know? You suck at making money."

"I'LL disperse the chips," Cordelia said, grabbing the small box from the Slayer. Angel moved around her, looking concerned.

"Are you sure we should be spending that much?"

Cordelia elbowed him sharply in the ribs. "You're such a tightwad. It's just fake money, Angel. Stingy Vampire Bastard."

"Don't want to get into any bad habits -"

"Angel, the Money Man. Next thing you know, Vamp's gonna start ranting about how cheap it was to play 'back in the day'," Gunn commented, pulling Fred into his lap, features darkening as he ignored Angel's glare to pull the cigar out of his girlfriend's hand. "What's this?"

"Lorne gave it to me," she said, plucking it back. "Says I look good with it."

"Fred don't you stick that in your mouth," Gunn said sharply, hissing inwards when she began to squirm in his lap, trying to keep his roving hands away from the cigar.

"No! I'm not even lighting it!"

Faith rolled her eyes, turning away from the impromptu lap dance to linger over the cards. "This is some stupid bonding shit, Cordelia."

Cordelia gave her a cool glare, depositing the cards in her lap. "Here. Shuffle."

Faith took the cards, frowning at them, and turning them upside down. "Demon cards? Like, with demons on them?" Pulling them out, she studied each in turn. "Oh, God. This HAS to be yours," she said, dropping them into Wes's lap. "God, you're such a loser." Before he had a chance to react, she leaned forward, planting a kiss on his cheek. "Good thing you're such a hack in the sheets."

"Yes, well…" Wesley blushed. Angel shuddered against the visual image.

Lorne stood in the hallway, admiring the scene from afar.

All in all, not a bad resolution. Minimal bloodshed, little to no interference, and a very 'Friends'y quality to add to the whole shebang. He wondered if they would learn to cherish moments like these, with bickering and all, in the days to come.

Bloodshed, horror, loss… unbearable agony…

The future was so uncertain, the Powers knew it, he knew it. Lorne, aka the Host, was a very unsure man indeed, and even now, he wondered how they would come out of it, how HE would come out of it.

"Hey! Where the hell is Lorne?" Cordelia asked, shouting above the chaos.

"Don't worry about me, Sugar Cakes," Lorne spoke up, giving them a way, straightening his tie.

"Don't you look spiffy," Cordelia said, eyes roving appreciatively over his ensemble. "Very… colorful."

"He looks like a cartoon," Faith remarked flatly.

"Faith!" Fred had the grace to blush. "You look very nice, Lorne."

"Well thank you, Fred Girl." He grinned, saluting the six as he turned. "And a good night to all. I don't expect to be back early."

"Where are you going?"

He paused, turning back. "I have a date with a beautiful blonde, with wonderfully raspy voice, and a terribly conflicted soul." He moved to the door, pausing only to smile at them all. "And if I'm lucky, I may just get to tell you about how the greatest love affair of all time happened, six days from now."

With a flounce, and a wiggle of his hips, Lorne left the hotel, whistling a happy tune.

All was silent, until Faith broke the quiet reflection of Angel Investigations.

"Kate DOES know he's green, right?"

Cordelia looked seriously disturbed.

"Oh, God. What the hell WERE they doing in that bathroom?"

-
end

END NOTES
- well, geez. That was sappy.
- if you're interested in Faith/Wesley – a friend of mind started a faith/wes mailing list – it's located at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/imperfectfw/ . Think about joining.
- Thanks for taking the ride with me guys, it's been fun. *Misty salutes*

DISCLAIMER
No red-heads were harmed in the making of this fan fiction. The same can not be said for Wesley's nose.